Love thy neighbour: How Chinese cheques are fuelling Indian startups

Love thy neighbour: How Chinese cheques are fuelling Indian startups
18 Apr, 2018

The early days of the venture capital boom saw money flowing into India from all parts of the world. Funding started to dry up in due course as startups grew bigger and sought fatter cheques. Over the past couple of years, there has been a revival largely driven by the likes of Japanese investment behemoth SoftBank and Chinese internet giants Alibaba and Tencent.

From e-commerce to online travel and education to healthcare, the Chinese investors in particular have been steadily increasingly their influence over India's internet companies.

These investors are often consumer internet companies themselves. According to Hari Menon, whose online grocery startup BigBasket is backed by Alibaba, they possibly harbour ambitions of a creeping acquisition at some point.

In most cases, minority stakes are involved and the Chinese investors do not get a seat on the board of the concerned startup. In some cases, the investors hold a large enough stake to influence decision-making. Digital wallet firm Paytm is among the few startups where a Chinese investor - Alibaba in this case - has a commanding majority. 

The Chinese billions have undoubtedly helped Indian startups spread their wings, with a number of these firms such as Ola, Practo and Byju's among the leaders in their respective segments.

But there is cause for concern.

The Chinese involvement is not limited to investment, with several apps and mobile games from the likes of Cheetah Mobile and Alibaba also flooding the Indian market.

With data privacy now a household subject in the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica controversy, Indian authorities are taking a closer look at what is at stake. 

Earlier this month, Reserve Bank of India mandated that all payments data of Indian consumers should be stored in a data centre hosted in India to protect loss.

The Donald Trump administration in the US is increasingly shunning Chinese telecom equipment manufacturers from owning or running the country's internet and telecom infrastructure to protect any data transfer to China. Will India follow suit?