A budget for “Digital Economy” sake

Looking deeper in to the budget 2017.

[An immediate official iSPIRT response to the budget was issued as a Press release on 1st FEB 2017. It is placed in media section. You can access it here.]

Budget can’t be construed as main stream policy making exercise. Yet, the policy analysts and experts, track it with utmost seriousness, to understand Government’s thought process in economic policy. Similarly, industry looks in to budget for the sectoral emphasis, allocations that will influence the demand/ supply, reforms and special provisions in the sector. A reminiscent of this in recent period of history is 2012-13 budget speech of then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, when analysts were counting how many times he used “inclusive growth” as a phrase.

This budget speech was unique in many sense and very tactical. The proposed GST regime, the rigours of demonization and skepticism of coming state elections have all effected this budget. The usual rigmarole by media of comparing prices of commodities and consumer goods from cigarettes, electronics to automobiles is missing.  GST being in pipeline, the indirect tax section, which was usually the largest section of finance bill is almost missing. Hence, allocation of resources and the direct taxes had all the share of FM’s mind in budget. The new item on the block is “Digital economy”.

We have been seeking attention of Government on:

  • increasing domestic demand,
  • promote innovation (Startups)
  • ease of doing business and
  • level playing field for Indian companies.

These four parameters impact our “product nation” focus. Let us briefly analyse how these have been taken care in the budget.

Influencing Domestic Demand function

The usual model of a demand stimulating economic policy has been based on consumption led demand relying mainly on sops and taxes for several years with doses of investment driven demand and growth from time to time.

Increased efficiency, transparency, formalization of economy and investment driven growth are four major thoughts embedded in this budget. The former three are additional determinants of demand function of emerging new economies and a means to achieving developmental agenda. Relying mainly on investment driven demand and growth is very need of the time of low sentiments.

A big measure towards increased efficiency is the change from plan and non-plan classification of expenditure. “This will give us a holistic view of allocations for sectors and ministries. This would facilitate optimal allocation of resources”, said the FM in speech.

The agriculture and rural sector of India cannot be ignored by any Govt. Hence, increased focus in budget on these two important sectors is about inclusive growth, and also in “Digital economy” perspective an attempt to avoid a digital divide.

Both continual emphasis on infrastructure investment and targeting doubling farmer income will provide an investment driven demand push and a consumption driven demand function at higher level.

What is most heartening on domestic demand side for ICT sector is the huge recognition of the “Digital Economy” in the budget. For past some years iSPIRT has been pursuing the “Digital economy” agenda at various forums. There was cautious optimism, but not full acceptability. Thanks to demonetization, “Digital” is now a mainstream concept.

Devoting a full section in his speech on “Digital economy” and dealing with it in ‘direct tax’ provisions speaks a volumes of the mind share this has taken at top in the present Govt. The finance minister stated in his speech, “Promotion of a digital economy is an integral part of Government’s strategy.”

Further, the finance minister said, “Government will consider and work with various stakeholders for early implementation of the interim recommendations of the Committee of Chief Ministers on digital transactions.” This is especially important for iSPIRT as Nandan Nilekani and Sharad Sharma of iSPIRT are special invitees on this committee.

The demand conditions for ICT  sector can best be boosted by increased adoption of the ICT by masses and the businesses, especially the SME businesses. This throws open a number of opportunities for many new startups to emerge and contribute to the development of an ecosystem, friendly to “Software product”.

Following are the notable announcements in the budget on “Digital economy” Steps:

  1. Stepped up the allocation for BharatNet Project to Rs. 10,000 crores in 2017-18.
  2. Targeting high speed broadband connectivity on optical fibre in more than 1,50,000 gram panchayats, with wi-fi hot spots and access to digital services
  3. A “DigiGaon” initiative will be launched to provide tele-medicine, education and skills through digital technology
  4. No transaction above 3 lakh should be permitted in cash.
  5. Limit the cash expenditure allowable as deduction, both for revenue as well as capital expenditure, to Rs. 10,000. Similarly, the limit of cash donation which can be received by a charitable trust is being reduced from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 2000.
  6. All indirect tax/ duty exempted on miniaturised POS card reader for m-POS, micro ATM standards version 1.5.1, Finger Print Readers/Scanners and Iris Scanners. Also components for manufacture of such devices exempted.
  7. Increased digital transactions will enable small and micro enterprises to access formal credit. Government will encourage SIDBI to refinance credit institutions which provide unsecured loans, at reasonable interest rates, to borrowers based on their transaction history.
  8. To make MSME corporate tax with annual turnover up to 50 crores will be 25%
  9. Presumptive income tax for SME tax payers whose turnover is up to 2 crores reduced from 8% to 6%.
  10. BHIM app with cashback and referral schemes
  11. exemption of service charge on railway bookings,
  12. Aadhaar based smartcards for Senior citizens
  13. Create a Payments Regulatory Board in the Reserve Bank of India by replacing the existing Board for Regulation and Supervision of Payment and Settlement Systems.

Also Government has on mid the ‘indigenous’ in ICT sector. This is reflected by the proposal on metro rail policy for upcoming metro infrastructure across the country. The budget statement reads, “A new Metro Rail Policy will be announced with focus on innovative models of implementation and financing, as well as standardisation and indigenisation of hardware and software.”

Further in related electronic sector, the budget has exponentially increased the allocation for incentive schemes like M-SIPS and Electronic Development Fund (EDF) to 745 crores in 2017-18. The draft National Policy on Software Product already intends to have a synergy with the EDF in PPP model.

This is not enough on “Digital economy” if the Government itself does not implement the “Digital” in its own functions in pervasive manner. The thought process of the Government seems to be aligned in this direction also.

The Finance Minister has said in his speech, ”we are trying to bring in maximum use of Information Technology to remove human contact with assesses as well as to plug tax avoidance.” 

Innovation and Startups

Both innovation and Startups still occupy the thought process at top leadership level. There are signals and clear provisions indicating this.

The income tax exemption window slider for Startups, approved under DIPP, has been increased for 3 years in five years to 3 years in 7 years.

Another new measure is promoting innovation right at secondary education level and in backward areas. “An Innovation Fund for Secondary Education will be created to encourage local innovation for ensuring universal access, gender parity and quality improvement. This will include ICT enabled learning transformation. The focus will be on 3479 educationally backward blocks”, mentions the Finance minister, in budget speech.

Ease of doing business

Ease of doing business is an important topic in PART-B of the content list of budget document. Hence, its importance in thinking process of Government.

iSPIRT has pursued a Stay-in-India-checklist with the Department of Policy and Promotion (DIPP) with an intent to remove various frictions faced by industry in funding, company formation, corporate regulation and taxation issues. A number of steps have been taken up by Government in past one year to sort out these issues.

Announcements like abolition of FIPB, rationalization of taxation (on FPIs, convertible instruments, long term capital gains, etc), lower rate of taxation of 25% for companies with revenue of less than 50 crores, rationalization of labour laws, carry forward of MAT for 15 years, etc. are all in line with the philosophy of iSPIRT’s Stay-in-India checklist.

Among key issues from the Stay-in-India checklist which were expected to be addressed in the budget but have been missed out are angel tax and tax parity between listed and unlisted securities etc.

Level Playing Field

There many ‘level-playing field’ issues that iSPIRT has been taking up with the ministry of finance. Most in taxation domain. None of these issues have been addressed in this budget also e.g. TDS on sale of software, service tax on B2C sales of domestic products.

We hope the proposed National Policy on Software product will crystallize ground for taking up specific ‘Software product’ industry issues with Government in future.

Conclusion

Overall the budget is very encouraging. The main take away for iSPIRT is “Digital economy” recognition. We have to further leverage this in our policy initiatives with different departments in Government and most importantly with MeitY to realize the dream of “Product Nation”.

RBI allows convertible notes for Startups from foreign sources

As part of policy hacks, we covered the issue of Convertible notes being recognized by Ministry of Company affairs (MCA) in our earlier blog here.

For benefit of users to start, the convertible note has been explained below.

What is a convertible note?

Convertible notes are debt instruments that converts in to equity, at a later date. The lender initially gives a loan with an understanding that he can convert these in to equity. In most cases, this later date is the date of next valuation of the company. If there is no next round of valuation, the company should return the debt back to lender in a fixed time interval.

Convertible notes are quite popular in startup ecosystems like Silicon Valley in USA.

Earlier Ministry of corporate affairs has announced acceptance of the convertible note as a concept for startups through a circular no. G.S.R. 639(E) New Delhi, dated 29th June, 2016.

The announcement by RBI is a development further to the above given MCA circular.

How does new RBI provision help startups?

Foreign investors were allowed, foreign direct investment (FDI) by way of equity and other instruments that were at par with equity e.g. compulsorily convertible preference shares/debentures. Convertibles notes were not allowed till now.

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) notification of 10 January 2017 has amended the Foreign Exchange (Transfer or Issue of Security by a Person Resident outside India) Regulations, 2000, to allow ‘Startups’ to issue convertible notes to foreign investors.

This opens new avenues for ‘Startups’ to raise funding.

iSPIRT volunteer Sanjay Khan Nagra, covers the RBI announcement on Convertible Notes here in the video below.

The complete circular is given here  on RBI website.

Other provisions in the new RBI notification explained

Convertible note has been defined in the notification

‘Convertible note’ means an instrument issued by a startup company evidencing receipt of money initially as debt, which is repayable at the option of the holder, or which is convertible into such number of equity shares of such startup company, within a period not exceeding five years from the date of issue of the convertible note, upon occurrence of specified events as per the other terms and conditions agreed to and indicated in the instrument.

Who can invest and how much?

A person resident outside India (other than an individual who is citizen of Pakistan or Bangladesh or an entity which is registered / incorporated in Pakistan or Bangladesh), may purchase convertible notes issued by an Indian startup company for an amount of twenty-five lakh rupees or more in a single tranche.

NRIs may acquire convertible notes on non-repatriation basis in accordance with Schedule 4 of the Principal Regulations.

What is a Startup?

For the purpose of this Regulation, a ‘startup company’ means a private company incorporated under the Companies Act, 2013 or Companies Act, 1956 and recognised as such in accordance with notification number G.S.R. 180(E) dated February 17, 2016 issued by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) , Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

Govt. approval required for some sectors?

A startup company engaged in a sector where foreign investment requires Government approval may issue convertible notes to a non-resident only with approval of the Government.

Inwards remittance of amount?

A startup company issuing convertible notes to a person resident outside India shall receive the amount of consideration by inward remittance through banking channels or by debit to the NRE / FCNR (B) / Escrow account maintained by the person concerned in accordance with the Foreign Exchange Management (Deposit) Regulations, 2016, as amended from time to time.

Provided that an escrow account for the above purpose shall be closed immediately after the requirements are completed or within a period of six months, whichever is earlier. However, in no case continuance of such escrow account shall be permitted beyond a period of six months.

Convertible notes are transferable

A person resident outside India may acquire or transfer, by way of sale, convertible notes, from or to, a person resident in or outside India, provided the transfer takes place in accordance with the pricing guidelines as prescribed by RBI. Prior approval from the Government shall be obtained for such transfers in case the startup company is engaged in a sector which requires Government approval.

Compliance and reporting

The startup company issuing convertible notes shall be required to furnish reports as prescribed by Reserve Bank.

ESOP provisions get a booster from MCA for Startups

ESOP another Stay-in-India checklist item gets MCA nod

Ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) has recently relaxed sweat equity issuance norms for startups. These new relaxations are for limited to Startups recognized by Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP).  The announcement will immensely help startups. For startups not recognized under DIPP, there is not change.

The new announcement is  – Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Third Amendment Rules, 2016 (Amendment Rules). It amends the Rule 8 governing sweat equity shares issuance and Rule 12 of Rules 2014 that pertains to issue of shares under ESOP. The other rules to draw out an ESOP plans remains same.

This blog explains the new announcement and some basic concepts for those who may not be aware of terms like ESOPS and Sweat Equity and how they benefit the startups.

Mr. Sanjay Khan Nagra, iSPIRT volunteer explains the new announcements in below the embedded video.

There is lot of material on internet on examples and ESOPS plans and how they benefit the entrepreneur and the employee both. The objective of this blog is to set a background and describe new announcement.

An ESOP plan effects the basic capital structure of the company. It also has long term legal or tax implications. A good ESOP plan can maximizing the benefits from the existing and new provisions. Hence, we suggest startups interested in drawing up an Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP) should seek a professional advice.

What is an ESOP?

An Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP) is a benefit plan for employees which makes them owners of stocks in the company. ESOPs have several features which make them unique compared to other employee benefit plans. Most companies, both at home and abroad, are utilising this scheme as an essential tool to reward and retain their employees. Currently, this form of restructuring is most prevalent in IT companies where manpower is the main asset. (Definition Source: The Economic Times).

How ESOPS benefit Startups

ESOPs are a proven tool for startups to succeed and grow. There are many ways that ESOPS can be beneficial for startups.

Some of the ways this helps are as given below:

  • Promoters or founders who can’t contribute capital but bring knowledge and dedication to startup can be have access to equity.
  • Startups can attract experience and talent with sweat equity
  • Startups can use ESOPs as a reward to motivate employees
  • It gives sense of ownership to employees and hence act as an employee retainer ship tool

Change made for Startups

MCA has announced two changes. One, that will increas the base of sweat equity that a startup can issue. Two, that will expand the horizon of sweat equity to promoters and director. Both the changes have are described below.

Increase in limit of Sweat equity shares issued by start-ups

The Rule 8(4) of Rules, 2014 restricted companies from issuing sweat equity shares in excess of 25% of the paid up capital at any time. The rule also limits the issuance of sweat equity shares per year to 15% of the paid up capital or issue value of Rs.5 crores whichever is higher.

The amendment in new announcement expressly permits Start-ups to issue sweat equity shares not exceeding 50% of its paid up capital up to 5 years from the date of its incorporation or registration.

The limits of 15% of paid up per year or capital or Rs.5 crores whichever is higher will still need compliance.

Stock options to promoters and shareholder/directors of startups

The new announcement allows Startups to issue the sweat equity under ESOP to their promoters and to directors who hold more than 10% for the first 5 years from the date of their incorporation. The restriction on issuing stock options to promoters and such directors continues for all other companies

In order to provide this benefit MCA has used notification to exempt the startups from application of Clause (i) and (ii) under Explanation C of Section 62 (1)(b) of Act, 2013 that defines the term ‘Employee’. The Explanation in Section 62(1)(b) reads as below.

Explanation:

For the purposes of clause (b) of sub-section (1) of section 62 and this rule ”Employee” means-

(a)   a permanent employee of the company who has been working in India or outside India; or

(b)   a director of the company, whether a whole time director or not but excluding an independent director; or

(c)    an employee as defined in clauses (a) or (b) of a subsidiary, in India or outside India, or of a holding company of the company but does not include-

             (i).   an employee who is a promoter or a person belonging to the promoter group; or

           (ii).   a director who either himself or through his relative or through any body corporate, directly or indirectly, holds more than ten percent of the outstanding equity shares of the company.

[The clauses (i) and (ii) given in blue does not apply on DIPP registered startups for 5 years]

Investment above Fair Market Value – no more Angel tax for Startups

In this session we take up a long pending issue of “Angel Tax”. It has been given partial reprieve recently, under StartupIndia plan. We also discuss how startups can raise money from Angels, without getting trapped in fair market value rule of finance act 2012.

Sanjay Khan speaks on the problem, the latest announcement and the way out for startups to raise equity without DIPP route, in the below given google hangout video.

What is this issue of Angel Tax? And what changes after new announcement?

Startups receive equity infusions from various sources. One of the most lucrative and internationally prevalent source is the Individual investor (Angels).

In India income tax department is skeptical about angel investment. This is because, at times angel investment was misused to channelize black money. Artificial valuations is mostly the doubt in mind of income tax authorities.

As per, Finance Act 2012, capital raised by an unlisted company from any individual against an issue of shares in excess of fair market value would be taxable as ‘income from other sources’ under Sec 56 (2) of the I-T Act. This came to be popularly called as angel tax.

So, if fair market value is say e.g. Rs. 10 per share and a startup receives Rs. 15 investment from an Angel investor. Income tax treats this difference i.e. Rs. 5 per share, as income.

As per the above provisions, the angel investments are subject to assessing officer’s approval. The jurisdictional assessing officers of income tax enjoy the discretionary powers. Instances of misuse of these discretionary powers by assessing officers created problems for startups.

Many startups are not serious about the documentation. Mostly, such startups get into problems due to lack of documentary evidence about their valuations.

Govt. of India recently announced a change under StartupIndia policy of DIPP. A Central Board of Direct Taxes notification, dated June 14, made the required changes to Section 56(2)(viib) of the Income-Tax Act, exempting startups raising funds from angel investors. This is limited to the startups approved by DIPP.

Is it available to all DIPP registered startups?

No, not to all startups approved or recognised by DIPP.

There are three kinds of startups now.

(a) General Startups, that have not applied to DIPP or are not even eligible to apply to DIPP.

(b) those who applied and got recognised by DIPP but did not apply for Income tax exemption.

(c) those who fall under (b) and also got the income tax exemption approval of the inter ministerial board of DIPP.

Only the third (c) category of startups are eligible. These startups need not worry about the assessing officer discretion now. The benefit is available so long as they enjoy the income tax exemption under startup policy.

So, if this is not applicable to all startups, does it mean other startups cannot raise equity from Angel investors at all?

The Finance act 2012 provision does not bar angel investments. Startups not under (c) above can raise the investment from Angels (individual investors). The limitation is that the valuations in such cases will  be subject to examination by assessing officer approval.  They have to extra careful about the valuation at each round of funding.

Such startups should get a professional third party valuation reports. Get a valuation reports for all rounds of valuations with proper documentary proofs. You can face the assessing officers with proper documents without any fear.

The recent hype created in media was mainly arising from down rounds. That is when the new round of investment was done at a lower rate than the previous round. This led to income tax doubting the misuse.

In such challenging valuation situations like down round valuations, the startup can get a professional third party valuation from 2 or 3 sources. This way they can deter the assessing officer’s misuse of discretionary power as well as stand any litigation test, if put through.

In essence, a startup can raise honest angel investment at right fair market value. A professional valuation exercise with all objectivity can help you cover the risk.

iSPIRT’ stand

Startups ecosystems in developed countries enjoy a favourable investment climate that proactively promote and protect the angel’s investments.

Government of India should show give clear signal of favourable investment climate in the country.

Government of India should think of measures that can deter black money getting invested in the Startups, instead of doubting each and every investment. For this Govt. should repeal the the provision introduced by finance bill 2012 should. Discretion to assessing officer is not serving the cause of building investment climate.

India seriously needs a policy that promotes angel investments in general, with responsibility of money invested taken by investors rather than Startups.

DIPP – New Secretary catalyzing the past efforts, for Startup Ecosystem.

Mr. Ramesh Abhishek, Secretary of DIPP in a learning-session with iSPIRT.
He formerly headed the Forwards Market Commission and has subsequently served as the secretary of performance management at the Cabinet Secretariat. He has been the key driver behind several reforms including the FMC being merged with SEBI. Mr. Ramesh Abhishek, is the new Secretary of DIPP (Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion), following his senior Mr. Amitabh Kant. Mr. Ramesh is now also in charge of Invest India, National Investment Promotion Agency, as well as Startup India campaign. He met up with iSPIRT, on Friday, 10th June, at 91Springboard in Bangalore, participating in a learning-session to understand the plethora of Technological Break-throughs and Policy Transformations that iSPIRT is facilitating for the benefit of the Startup Community. He provided some very useful advice by participating in an interactive learning session for close to 4 hours.
Below are some of the key highlights of the Learning Session.

 

iSPIRT Show-case – INDIA Going from Data Poor To Data RICH
The session started with a presentation by Sanjay Jain on the iSPIRT’s jobs perspective. He explained that while new-age startups won’t create many jobs they will build platforms which will drive formalization of the Indian economy. This will materially expand the economy and create millions of jobs. IndiaStack is enabling this transformation of the economy. HouseJoy, NinjaCart and CapitalFloat CEOs shared their own perspective on this change and added to the discussion.
DIPP-secyThe follow-on session, by Shekhar Kirani, presented how INDIA is becoming a major player in the GLOBAL Software Product Industry and how Startups from INDIA are disrupting some major players. Subsequently Unbxd, ShieldSquare and Hotellogix discussed their own journeys and added depth to this discussion..
The most intense session was when Mr. Venkatesh Hariharan presented the Patent & IPR Policy Details, If we have to unleash India’s true innovation potential, India needs to remain a no-software-patenting jurisdiction. Only then can it capitalize on its mathematical foundations, and keep away the patent-trolls.
This last session was by Sanjay Khan and covered the progress around the Stay-in-India Checklist. Mr. Abhishek was very impressed by the progress that has been made and reiterated his commitment to get the remaining items on the Checklist resolved. He agreed that stopping exodus of new-age startups is very critical to the success of the software product ecosystem.
DIPP-2ndSession-2Insights and Advise from Mr. Ramesh Abhishek
Government wants to make a big difference with our Startup Movement. Mr. Ramesh felt that we should make it the biggest, so that it will leapfrog the West. He was immensely supportive to all policy efforts of iSPIRT and, in fact, extended immediate help for on a particular issue that had come up in the discussions. He had 3 important pieces of advice:
  • Startup-Hub as part of the Invest India program, should be supported and adopted with good ideas from the Startup Community.
  • DIPP will address Startup challenges quickly in aget time-bound manner.
  • DIPP wants to so much more, so iSPIRT should continuously engage with it.
Mr. Ramesh later proceeded to visit some Hardware and software Incubators in and around Bangalore.
DIPP-2ndSession-3Conclusion
Mr. Ramesh Abhishek went away with a deep understanding of the forces changing India and the landscape that is emerging. was very impressed with the body of work presented to him. He stressed that this Government wants to go much more.  iSPIRT on its part is fostering and facilitating many such learning-sessions to nudge Policy Makers help the ecosystem, and bridge the gap of Intellectual distance between Delhi and Bangalore. Let us all move-the-needle with collective vigor to catalyze the effort of building India into a Product Nation.

 

Q-Prize – A US$ 350,000 opportunity for Startups in Make in India week

With only a few days to go for the Make In India week, the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP) is set to announce a Rs 2 crore bounty along with Qualcomm.

During the Make in India Week being held in Mumbai, the DIPP and Qualcomm Incorporated, through its venture investment arm, Qualcomm Ventures, have announced India’s largest Startup prize till date will see the winner walk away with US $ 350,000 in equity funding.

QPrize-MakeinIndia-Banner-3To submit your entry, download the application form here, fill your startup details and email it to [email protected]m, for further information please click here.

Don’t forget these key dates:

  • Contest opens on February 4, 2016
  • Start-ups can submit their entries on the DIPP / Make in India website.
  • Last date for submitting entries isFebruary 12, 2016
  • DIPP will announce the shortlist onFebruary 15, 2016
  • Shortlisted companies will be invited for the final pitch presentation during the grand finale on February 18, 2016
  • Jury will consist of eminent names from the Government, industry and Qualcomm
  • Winner will be awardedUS$ 350,000 (Rs. 2 Crore)as equity investment from Qualcomm Ventures

The grand finale will be held at the Make in India Centre, MMRDA Grounds, Bandra – Kurla Complex and will be televised nationally. Winners can look forward to a large dollop of publicity, glory and much more, thanks to the hundreds of CEOs and founders of top Start-ups from across the country that are attending the Make in India Week.

Startup Action Plan: Glass Half Full

Innovation and entrepreneurship are cornerstones of sustained economic growth. The Government has done well to recognise this by launching the Startup India Action Plan. The event was an unprecedented and resounding success. The energy in entrepreneurs, leaders of unicorns, seasoned investors, Government officials, etc was intense and, for most part, contagious. No doubt the Startup India Action Plan has provided various important exemptions and incentives to startups. However, the key question is this – Whether the Action Plan adequately addresses the irritants that make the Indian startup ecosystem unattractive? In our view, the answer is no.

iSPIRT has been closely associated with the Government in this endeavour, and had put together a list of thirty four key irritants that need to be resolved to arrest the exodus of Indian startups. The list is called the Stay-in-India Checklist. Of the thirty four issues, ten each came under the Revenue Department and the RBI, nine came under the MCA, and the remaining came under multiple departments such as the DEA, DIPP, RBI, MCA, and SEBI. Based on our analysis of the Action Plan and other announcements made, the present status looks like the following:

Startup Action plan

As noted above, only one RBI issue has been resolved so far (that too by way of a clarification during our discussion prior to the Startup India event). There was no announcement on any other RBI issues as part of the Action Plan. For creating a vibrant startup ecosystem, it is imperative that the investments from foreign sources are made easier. While the RBI, MCA, and other authorities had assured us that action will be taken on most of these issues (see the orange category above) once the definition of ‘startup’ is released, so far, there is no clarity as to when such action will be taken.

We will internally continue to interact on the outstanding (orange and red) items with the RBI, MCA, Revenue, and other departments. We hope that these issues will also be resolved by the relevant authorities soon.

Sign Startup Bridge Petition and promote Stay-in-India Checklist

Today’s Economic Times carries an article about “The Dark Secret of India’s Start-up Boom”. This implores the Modi Government to make bold moves regarding the onerous regulations that startups face.

iSPIRT is also part of the new Startup Bridge India campaign, which urges the Indian government to adopt best practices from around the globe to help startups start, flourish and exit.  We’ve been working alongside a consortium of lawyers, think tanks, entrepreneurs and venture capital firms from TiE Silicon Valley to put together detailed legal language and fixes in the current policy. Startup Bridge India is hosting an online petition that demands simpler processes for investing in India’s future, a petition intended to show widespread public support for these important initiatives. Every signature matters and timing is critical to help bring about much needed policy change. You can sign the petition on startupbridgeindia.com.

iSPIRT has been involved in nitty-gritty work with the Government in the past 75 days around its Stay-in-India Checklist. Here is what’s been happening…

What is Stay-in-India Checklist?

More and more technology startups are being forced to redomicile to Singapore or US due to a host of policy irritants that disparage the Indian startup ecosystem. After careful consideration, iSPIRT’s Stay-and-List-in-India Policy Team identified 34 key issues that need to be resolved immediately to stop this exodus. The list includes issues covering incorporation, fund raising, operations, taxation, exits, closure, payments, and intellectual property.

How was it created?

We looked at submissions from TiE, NASSCOM, IVCA and FICCI and put them into a single spreadsheet. After de-duplication we had about 120 items. These were then classified into hygiene and incentives categories. Based on consultations with startups, the hygiene set was further refined to create the Stay-in-India Checklist.

What are some of the key items on Stay-in-India Checklist?

The Checklist includes requests for favourable IP tax regime, harmony in taxation of listed and unlisted securities, relaxed external commercial borrowing norms, faster incorporation and liquidation processes, and permitting convertible notes, indemnity escrows, and deferred consideration in foreign investment transactions.

Who manages the Checklist?

iSPIRT Stay-and-List-in-India Policy Expert team managed the Checklist. The team has 7 members – two startup CFOs, two VCs and three tax/legal experts. Mohandas Pai as the mentor to the team.

What’s been the progress on the Checklist?

The Checklist received mixed responses from the regulators. While certain items (like permitting share swap as a valid method of share transfer in FDI transactions) were allowed during the discussion process itself (hence removed from the Checklist), the regulators were hesitant in permitting other items (such as tax exemptions). Largely, the regulators were receptive to the suggestions. We had detailed discussions on each item of the Checklist with the relevant regulators. Wherever the regulators were unable to implement our suggestions, they conveyed to us the concerns that restrained them. We hope these concerns are alleviated in due course, and they are able to implement all suggestions.

What are some of the key meetings that have taken place?

We have a good partnership with Mr. Amitabh Kant, Secretary, DIPP on this. His office has setup about two dozen meetings with the relevant regulators. In these meeting, iSPIRT plays the role of being the subject matter expert on items in the Stay-in-India Checklist.

The whole process kicked into high gear after an intense and productive meeting with Mr. Amitabh Kant on Oct 23rd and with Dr. Raghuram Rajan on Oct 24th. This was followed by a meeting with Principal Secretary, Mr. Nripendra Mishra at PMO on Nov 9th. Subsequently, meetings with Revenue Secretary and MCA Secretary took place. These led to numerous follow-up meetings and calls with relevant officers. Nakul Saxena has coordinated all these meetings.

What are some of the learning’s from this effort?

There is very little awareness about the world of technology startups. So education on the realities faced by the startups is critical. Sometimes one runs into situations where the issue can be closed without much effort. At other times, the dichotomy between regulatory agencies is most frustrating. Also, because of the way liberalisation of regulatory framework has been widely misused in India, the authorities exercise great caution before liberalising any regulation. The approach, therefore, is to not permit any ‘risky’ regulation, rather than punishing those who misuse it. Overall, we find the receptivity of the government agencies is good. Our positioning of being a think tank, focussed on the national agenda, rather than being a tradebody is helping a lot as well.

Guest post by Sanjay Khan, Khaitan & Co

iSPIRT Meeting at PMO – Stay in India Checklist

An important policy agenda for iSPIRT is to reverse the exodus of technology startups. About 75% of the funded technology startups are redomiciling outside India due to regulatory irritants.

iSPIRT has a Policy Expert Team – called Stay-and-List-in-India – working only on this area since December 2014. This is the policy team that worked closely with SEBI on the “startup bourse” that was notified earlier this year. Mr. Mohandas Pai has been an important guide and mentor to this team.

The Stay-and-List-in-India Policy Expert Team has developed a Stay-in-India checklist. This has 36 items that need to be addressed by Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, RBI and DIPP.

After PM Modi’s Silicon Valley visit, Mr. Amitabh Kant, Secretary DIPP, has been pushing hard to make progress on the Stay-in-India checklist. Towards this end, he had organized a cross-ministerial meeting with iSPIRT that was chaired by Mr. Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary – PMO. The meeting was attended by Secretaries including Mr Madhav Lal, Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises; Mr Ashok Lavasa, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change; Dr. Hasmukh Adhia, Department of Revenue, Mr Shaktikanta Das Department of Economic Affairs, both from Ministry of Finance; Mr. Tapan Ray, Ministry of Corporate Affairs; Mr Ashutosh Sharma, Department of Science & Technology and Mr Krishnaswamy Vijayraghavan, Department of Biotechnology both from Ministry of Science & Technology.

Others present included, Mr Shatrughna Singh, Additional Secretary, DIPP; Ms Snehlata Shrivastava, Additional Secretary, Department of Financial Services, Dr. Renu Swarup, Sr. Advisor, Department of Biotechnology, Mr U S Paliwal, Executive Director, Reserve Bank of India, Mr Hemang Jani, OSD to PM and Operations Officer from the World Bank.

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There were three parts in the meeting. The first part was a showcase of 6 technology startups. This was curated, as usual, by Shekhar Kirani, Fellow, iSPIRT (Accel Partners) and Avinash Raghava. The purpose of this session was to highlight that tech startups are key to transforming India at large. They are setup by entrepreneurs from middle class backgrounds who parley their skills into sweat equity to build valuable businesses. The showcased companies included CRMNext, Foradian Technologies, Eko India Financial Services, Snapdeal, Uniken, ForusHealth and Team Indus. They all made carefully prepared 3 min presentations and answered questions.

The Stay-in-India Checklist was discussed in the second part of the meeting. Sanjay Khan (Khaitan Associates) of the Policy Expert Team made the presentation. This was a technical discussion on specific issues. At times, it was very detailed.

In particular, Mr. Shaktikanta Das, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance and Mr. Amitabh Kant, Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) were very proactive in taking suggestions. Mr. Kant did say that they are trying to create a single window to deal with startups.

In the third part of the meeting, there was short discussion about teaching entrepreneurship as a minor in engineering education. This was led by Sanjay Vijaykumar of Startup Village. His talk was very passionate and impactful.

It was cleart that all the officials were determined to make quick progress and were truly concerned by the exodus of tech startups from India. We all ended the meeting with a group photo. One of the senior officials remarked that this moment is important to capture so that we can look back and remember where it all started!

Guest Post by Abhishek Sinha, CEO, Eko India Financial Services