Why many Indians are moving to South East Asia to launch their ventures


For Navin Suri, who was heading Bank of New York Mellon’s asset management business in Hong Kong, Singapore was the obvious choice when it came to setting up.

He said he had always heard about the “ease of doing business” in Singapore, but even he was taken aback when it took him less than 30 minutes to set up his data technology company in 2014.

From getting his registration number to signed MoUs, it all got done between 10.40 and 11.10 pm SGT. “I even got a prompt from the government with suggestions as to how I could set up a website,” says Suri, co-founder of Percipient.

South East Asia is also a fantastic gateway for startups looking to go global. Chandrima Das, the founder of Bento, says they were working towards an international clientele and hence their decision to be based in Singapore and focus on the Asean market to start with. “Today my focus on the Asian market has paid out. We are actively targeting and working with clients in Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and other countries. For instance, we work today with Siam Commercial Bank, which has an 11 million customer base, a base we have acquired despite, or because of being based in Singapore. If you look at just Singapore the entire population base is 5.6 million,” she says.

Das says being regulated in Singapore also helps immensely. “Because not only are the Singaporean authorities fast and efficient, they are also highly stringent when it comes to security checks and audits. After we got our fund management license from Singapore, we knew it would be much easier for us to enter Thailand and Indonesia,” she says.

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Another major attraction is the tax rate. “It’s half of that in India. South East Asia helps you retain more of your earnings and price your products more competitively,” says Shailesh Tiwari, CEO of GameChange Solutions, which looks to drive employee productivity and engagement with gaming and interactive work models.

He also noted that often the government throws its weight behind a startup. Something that Percipient’s Suri experienced first hand when he got to share the stage with PM Narendra Modi and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) officials at the fintech festival in Singapore in November 2018. “We are creating the exchange Apix, which will connect 100 banks in the next 3 years, with USbased Virtusa. Such government interest really helps young companies like us survive,” says Suri. The fintech festival saw more than 40,000 participants of whom more than 10% were Indians, say organizers.

Indian startups are increasingly occupying center stage. Ankiti Bose’s fashion startup Zilingo raised more than $226 million in its last round of funding, valuing it at $970 million. Another $30 million bump up in valuation and it will become one of the rare unicorns with a female founder.

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