Impact of policy environment on funding start-ups in India

Funding has always been the biggest challenge that every venture has to face. Particularly the technology and knowledge based start-up enterprises that are based on intangible assets such as human capital and an entrepreneurial idea. In absence of physical assets, such start-ups find it difficult to secure bank financing and they need to approach equity financiers such as angel investors or VCs. Mostly start-ups do not even have access to working capital loans; though some finance companies offer collateral-free working capital loans to small enterprises with at least three years of operations.

Like any other investment, the investment in start-ups is influenced by the policy environment prevailing in the country. The current policy environment in India is reasonably conducive for start ups, but still leaves a lot more to be desired. Domestic money to VC/PE funds are either restricted or prohibited in current regulatory framework. For example SEBI regulations for Domestic Venture Capital Funds do not permit registration of a fund which would have corpus of less than Rs.5 crore ($ 1 million). This makes it difficult for angel groups and seed funds to get registered and raise funds. Pension funds, which are the biggest source of money worldwide, are not allowed to invest in VC/PE funds. Insurance companies are allowed to invest in infrastructure funds only; even banks’ exposure to VC/PE funds is severally controlled.

The National Innovation Act that proposes tax incentives for angel investors is likely to be passed by the government. The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) in India also plans to incentivise venture capitalists (VC) who invest in small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). It is anticipated that with implementation and stabilization of Goods and Services Tax (GST), the environment will be more favourable for promoting entrepreneurship and business.At present, for a business, planning to set up manufacturing units in India, the existing complex and high taxation structure consumes a large portion of the available cost arbitrage. Though the manufacturing cost of most products in India is nearly half than in the west, but due to tax levied at various stages, the cost advantage is reduced by almost 50%. The existing multi tax structures often compel manufacturers to base their inventory and distribution decisions on tax avoidance rather than on operational efficiency. The implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) is expected to reduce the hassles associated with the existing tax structure and facilitate investment decisions to be made purely on economic concerns, independent of tax considerations.

The policy environment in India is gradually evolving and regulations are expected to evolve in a manner that encourages more investment bringing it at par with that in the mature markets. However the timelines by which these proposed policy changes will be implemented and the overall impact on the VC community is yet to be seen.

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