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Indians spin start-up dreams in South Africa

NEW DELHI: Up until early this month, Yugandhar Prasad Jasti was heading ICICI Bank's South African operations. After working for the bank for nine years in geographies like India, UK and Belgium, he decided to give it all up to become an entrepreneur in South Africa. A chartered accountant, Jasti, along with Kurren Naicker - former associate director with PwC in South Africa - and three other senior professionals launched advisory firm Tactus this month.

The firm offers services in business consulting, 
mergers and acquisitions, cross-border advisory and equity and debt capital raising with a special focus on the Indian market. Opportunities in the African continent drove Jasti's decision. "Africa is like India, but 15 years behind us," he says, adding, "Wherever you see, there are opportunities."

Jasti has also forayed into commodities trading through Amtrade Africa this month. From
chartered accountants to information technology specialists and doctors, Indian professionals are leaving high-paying jobs for business opportunities in Africa. An abundance in raw materials and a business-friendly regulatory environment are conducive to fostering the legendary Indian entrepreneurial spirit in this region.

"Indian professionals are beginning to see the growth opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa owing to the improved ease of doing business, living standards and a rising middle class," says Suresh Chaytoo, sector director and head of banks and DFIs for Rand Merchant Bank in South Africa. "They intend to stay here a lot longer and are prepared to 
invest in developing their niches," he says.

The number of residency applications by entrepreneurs of Indian origin are growing, adds Chaytoo. Patna-born Rohit Singh came to South Africa from India in 2005, after graduating from University of Pune, to work as a software developer with 
insurance firm Discovery Health. Three years ago, Singh launched Copious Software, which looks at mobile and desktop application development. Besides this, Singh has launched Indian fine dining restaurant Raashee.

He decided to turn a businessman as he was tired of the corporate rat race. "I will return to India, but I felt starting out would be easier here as India is fiercely competitive and I find people here to be more honest and loyal," he says.

A 2012 Ernst and Young report, 'The African Growth Story', stated that 33% of the top 30 economies that improved the regulatory environment for business the most over the past five years were in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly 16 African countries ranked ahead of Brazil and 17 ahead of India on the World Bank's ease of doing business rankings, according to the report.

Ophthalmologist Dr Arun Kumar Jairath runs a chain of restaurants called Raj in South Africa. He says the number of Indians exploring 
entrepreneurship has risen dramatically since he started out in 1994. With operations in Cape Town and Johannesburg, Raj is expected to clock a turnover worth a hundred million rand this year. Dr Jairath has plans of taking the chain to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Ghana next year.

"The Indian entrepreneurial spirit has always been there. But I see this peaking in the younger generation," he says. Most Indians come through the multinational route and then start businesses here. But a relaxation in visa rules and a greater support from Indian financial institutions would augur well for Indians looking to start immediately he adds.