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Not China, India will be my first bet outside the US: John Chambers, CEO, JC2 Ventures

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India offered a more conducive environment for tech and innovation-led firms now than China, said John Chambers, founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures and former executive chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems.

While India has in recent years worked on giving a free hand to tech firms, China has just done the opposite, said the tech visionary at the India Internet Day organised by TiE, Delhi-NCR.

“I have done business in China for almost 45 years … and for my first two-and-a-half decades in China, it was a win-win with tough negotiations. Never did a Chinese leader ever not deliver to me, either business or government-wise, on what they committed to doing. But in the last decade, it has become a win-lose. With a lot of stifling of the independence and the democratic trends, with the Chinese spin on it, now it is a tough place to do business that’s not predictable,” said Chambers.

One country that he would bet on outside the US in the coming years would be India, he said.

China has in recent months launched a campaign to reign in technology companies, which it considers to be wielding great influence. Everything from online gaming to edtech has come under regulatory scrutiny, leading to great upheaval within the tech fraternity. IPOs have been scuttled and companies like Tencent, Meituan and ride-hailing app Didi Global Inc, have all come under investigations.

If investors don’t have predictability in government regulations, it’s hard to make investments. Thanks to an increasing role of the Chinese government in the affairs of the innovation-led firms, the country is increasingly losing the sheen as a preferred destination for IT-based news-age companies, said Chambers. “What China has done to their tech industry, especially over the last three to five years, I think, is a mistake. I think it will come around. India has done the exact reverse. India has created a very open environment — not perfect, and always room for improvement — but a very win-win mentality with democracy, protection of intellectual property startups, etc.”

Chambers is considered a visionary and authority in the tech sphere. At JC2, he is now focusing on investing and mentoring disruptive new-age firms that can be built and scaled up. He is a believer that startups are the core driver of innovation and economic growth in the digital age.

Speaking about India’s conducive tech environment, he pointed out that on an average; it took seven years for a startup in India to turn into a unicorn. This also demonstrated the level of support tech firms now enjoyed in the country, he said. “Innovation has never been faster. There has never been more capital available than now.”

In recent years, India’s gap with China in nurturing and hosting tech firms is said to be getting narrower at a fast pace. This is evident from the fact that India is now home to 65 companies that have turned unicorns, of which 28 were created in 2021 alone. The feat makes the country the third largest home for unicorns, after the US and China, says data from Venture Intelligence. The East Asian economic powerhouse has 170 unicorns, according to Tracxn.

China launched its crackdown on tech after Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group last October spoke about the need to allow innovation to happen without regulatory pressures. The authorities have also introduced tougher data protection laws for firms operating in the country. The move is said to have irked many global investors, who are reportedly now eyeing opportunities in India.

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