ATEA in the US signs MoU with Southern India Chamber of Commerce and Industry to widen business opportunities

Ritu Jha–

The US-based American Tamil Entrepreneur Association (ATEA), a non-profit focusing tech and trade ties between the US and Tamil Nadu. has signed an MoU with India-based, the Southern India Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI). A SICCI team with 17 delegates visited California recently to sign the deal on April 11.

Vinod Solomon, secretary general, SCCI, told indica that the MoU would help to cooperate on a range of issues. “With ATEA we are building stronger ties. We already have good linkages between Tamil Nadu and the US. Many of our members are keen on doing business in the US. Based on the request and importance of our bilateral relations, we thought it was time to lead a delegation to the US,” Solomon said.

SICCI delagates visited the Tesla factory during their US visit

SICCI delegates, mostly from medium-size companies, attended an electronics expo called APEX in Anaheim, California. Solomon was upbeat about the experience. “Apex was very good, and we spent a day of good interactions and meetings with US, Czech and French companies.”

Solomon added: “We have our unique strengths, they have their unique strengths. India is a big market by itself and we have niche strengths like electric vehicles. We have a traditional automotive sector and we have now transitioned to electric vehicles. We had a lot of exchanges and learnings. We will return to India and draw up a report on our experiences, the takeaways, and what should the government do to facilitate our future projects in this sector.”

Chennai is home to multiple sectors, dominated by automotive, electronics, and IT. “We have big companies, industrial parks, and lucrative incentives to encourage manufacturing activities.” Solomon says SCCI has also asked the Indian government for uniformity in laws governing electric vehicles in India. “Every state has its own policy and standards. We have asked the central government for uniformity, a common standard. We also requested the government to create a one-stop shop kind of center in every state. For example, Chennai has a shortage of testing centers. When they want to test components, they send them to Europe.”

The SICCI delegation included Inbavijayan Veeraraghavan, a board member associated with the chamber for the last two decades. He told indica, “SICCI has an arbitration institution functioning out of South India and we connect with all the multiple arbitration centers across the globe.”

Vinod Solomon of SICCI

The service sector and the manufacturing sector are eager to build up the US-India partnership. Chennai is the Detroit of Asia and Tamil Nadu is emerging as the fintech capital of India, SICCI delegates said. Government policies are making a lot of investors come forward and the startup ecosystem in the state also is booming.

When asked about cross-border legal issues, he said, “The criteria of termination and the substandard offer given by one of the parties are the major issues that I deal with often. There is no clear understanding of the contractual stipulations or the specifications. The standard forms of contracts are being replaced by customization and that would lead ultimately to a chaotic situation. It has to be relooked,” he added. “For the government’s Viksit Bharat campaign, we need new customized laws. The economic and commercial laws have to be amended and upgraded to the international standard.”

He highlighted the Commercial Courts Act. “Commercial disputes are to be taken only to these commercial courts. Foreign investors, whether through the FDI or other modes, are very particular. They are not interested in entering into the Indian courts, but after the creation of the commercial courts, they are happy to participate in those courts, because it is a neutral system.”

Alex Koshy, Director of SAS Partners and a SICCI member said, “India and the US need a lot more business and people exchanges. These kinds of MOUs and interactions will help that process.” Koshy’s company is a homegrown Tamil Nadu brand, but also operates in Bangalore, Hyderabad, and other cities. “We have an interest in promoting FDI in the state. While we are not restricted to Tamil Nadu, more than half of our work is in the state.” 

Speaking at the ATEA event, Koshy spoke about Tamil Nadu looking to become a $1 trillion economy by 2030. “We are looking to triple the economy over the next six to seven years. Given the kind of growth rate we have achieved in the last few years, Tamil Nadu can become a $2.4 trillion economy by 2046. This means that there are enormous opportunities around.”

Solomon added, “Since 1999, what we typically do are events, knowledge-based activities, B2B connections, and work closely with governments. We act as a bridge between the industry and the government. Through our multiple committees, we are able to work closely with the industry and stay in touch with the industry members. SICCI’s work includes traditional sectors like food, shipping and new sectors like EV, aerospace, and green hydrogen. We work with multiple governments in India like the government of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, and Uttarakhand.”

The next on SICCI’s agenda is an Indo-US summit focused on aerospace and defense, jointly with ATEA. “SICCI is building a startup exchange since we have over 100 incubators in Tamil Nadu,” Solomon said. “Most of these incubators are led by academicians and face a number of hurdles — the industry connection is missing. A second challenge is that these startups don’t have a pathway for maturity, so they’re not able to quickly scale up and move forward. The Tamil Nadu Startup Innovation Mission is trying to bring all the stakeholders — incubators, government agencies, startups, and industry — together.”

The chamber is also in the process of signing an MoU with the Bharathiar University in Coimbatore to set up a deep tech center for training, consultancy, regular events, and R&D. “We have also signed MoUs with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the University of Leipzig in Germany. SICCI also is planning for a blue economy center. Tamil Nadu has the second-largest coastline in India, and multiple departments work in the energy, tourism, and industrial sectors. We are trying to bring all these agencies together to work together to ensure that we fulfill the potential of the blue economy.”

Lena Kannappan, co-founder, American Tamil Entrepreneurs’ Association (ATEA)

Lena Kannappan, co-founder of ATEA, moderated the panel where Soma Velayutham, GM of AI and 5G at Nvidia; Bhaskar Srinivasan,
President of Sienna Corporation; Muthu Krishnan, CEO of Kencor Health; Kishore Rajagopal, CEO of Rapidious shared that input and toughed based topic on AI to Healthcare and Retail. She spoke to indica: “This is the first time SICCI members are here. They are focused on four southern states in India – Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Kerala. They have shown great interest in synergizing with ATEA in a number of sectors. In Tamil Nadu, they tried to focus on working parallelly with the government initiatives. They tried to focus on second-tier, and third-tier towns. In 2019, there was a huge initiative from the state government. They tried to bring non-resident Tamils from 38 countries to participate. SICCI led that effort along with the Tamil Nadu government and approached us.” Since then ATEA and SICCI have been collaborating.

ATEA will connect SICCI members to opportunities across the US. “If there’s a manufacturing unit or interested entrepreneurs with manufacturing backgrounds in Chicago, we can help them connect with SICCI members. It’s not just Silicon Valley we’ll connect them to Texas, Atlanta, Chicago, and New York. We have about seven chapters across the US.”

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