On the way up: India-UK tech partnership
I heard three phrases repeated on a busy Friday evening during the joint launch of the India-UK Future TECH month and the TECH Rocketship Awards 2017-18, the British government’s flagship technology entrepreneurship programme. Last year’s TECH Rocketship Awards benefited from a royal launch—by the duke and duchess of Cambridge—and being brought to a close by two prime ministers. There were over 600 applications from high-tech start-ups looking for the chance we were giving to secure investors. That Friday evening saw a career-first for me, playing “dragon” at perhaps India’s toughest pitching session. My fellow panellists were India’s finest thought leaders, funders, torchbearers of entrepreneurship and Start-Up India.
So let’s take the first phrase, “marriage made in heaven”, referring to the UK-India partnership on entrepreneurship. It came from the “father of Indian entrepreneurship”. You just can’t buy that credibility! But you are right to want facts. Technology-led entrepreneurship drives the already strong traffic of investment between India and the UK. This is carried on a “living bridge” of people, language, ideas, culture, education, food and sport but backed up by hard businesses. India is among the top four investors in the UK, with technology companies accounting for the lion’s share at 31%. Indian information technology (IT) giants like Infosys Ltd, HCL Technologies Ltd, Wipro Ltd and Tech Mahindra Ltd find the UK a home away from home. And I know they want to continue putting their money where their mouth is, increasing their current 13% revenue share from the UK to closer to the 60% from the US.
This reflects the wider India-UK commercial partnership, which has always been strong. India presents huge opportunities for UK economy and business; bilateral trade is over £16 billion, with positive growth over the last financial year during a tough global environment. The UK has been India’s single largest G20 investor in the last 10 years, investing almost double what Germany and France do combined. One in 20 of those in the organized private sector work for UK firms. Last year, Indian companies safeguarded more jobs in the UK than any other country, even the US. And when the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and his deputy, Rajesh Agrawal, visit India next month, both will talk about London’s strengths as a global financial centre, the best location globally for fintech investment.
Complacency kills innovation and ambition. So I take the second phrase—“a well-trodden path”—as a challenge that the UK must become even more responsive to India’s needs as we exit the European Union. We have no option but to build an even stronger free-trading nation, forming new partnerships with the world’s leading economies.
This month marks two years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to London, and one year since our Prime Minister, Theresa May, chose India, and more specifically the India-UK Technology Summit, as the landing point for her first overseas trade mission. Between them, the visits delivered over £10 billion of tech-driven commercial deals. Just as important, however, are the closer, more responsive commercial partnerships that have now formed. In the first week of November, the Indian and British science and technology ministers announced the first Newton Bhabha prize for technology and innovation, presided over by Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, someone who embodies that “living bridge” I referred to.
In this spirit of responsiveness, I am pleased to kick off, alongside our secretary of state for international trade Liam Fox, the India-UK Future TECH month. India needs to produce only fully electric cars from 2030—that’s why our oversubscribed electric vehicle mission will showcase the best battery power and automation offer across the Midlands and the UK, matching India’s emerging competitive federalism with the UK’s regional offer. India’s rapidly rising middle class consumes ever more complex creative, virtual reality-driven services—that’s why we are introducing more than 100 Indian tech buyers, innovators, government officials and entrepreneurs to the best technology the UK offers. They will open the eyes of hundreds of potential UK exporters to the Indian opportunity, landing business deals during a series of “Meet the Buyer” events and conferences, including “Innovate 2017” in Birmingham.
And finally to the future. Prime Minister Theresa May set out at the start of the year that our aim is to be a magnet for international talent, a home to pioneers and innovators who will shape the world, a global free-trading nation that is best friend to European partners and reaches beyond Europe to other leading economies—that means India! Technology just doesn’t care for market access. India’s recent 30-place jump in the ease of doing business rankings—and we are proud to have been engaging with India on this in recent years—emphasizes the potential for growth together.
What we mustn’t do is slow down. Once the India-UK Future TECH month draws to a close, we will drive more traffic over the multilayered “living bridge” of ideas, technology, capital and culture between India and the UK. We will organize another creative “peak” of activity in Mumbai in February covering design, retail and fashion—once again sprinkled with visiting stardust.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the UK and India “an unbeatable combination”. I look forward to technology confirming the angel investor was right to talk of “a marriage made in heaven”.
Dominic Asquith is the British high commissioner to India.