Make startup investment profits tax-free like in U.S., VCs tells Sitharaman

Ritu Jha-

At a business roundtable in Palo Alto earlier this week, India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman surprised participants by encouraging constant engagement to understand and address investor concerns and welcoming suggestions to understand pain points and offer redress.

She invited stakeholders interested in Indian startups to engage with the Startup Cell under India’s commerce ministry.

India Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman with Venktesh Shukla, founder & managing partner, Monta Vista Capital.

Venktesh Shukla, venture capitalist and general partner at Monta Vista Capital, told indica, “I talked about increasing the angel investor base in India by 100x by making startup investments the most attractive investment option.”

Shukla, who was nominated a member of the Indian government’s Startup Advisory Council chaired by Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, told Sitharaman about the Qualified Small Business Stock (QSBS) provision in U.S. tax laws that make any profit from investment in any startup tax-free.

“She was intrigued and wanted to understand it. I will follow up with a note to her,” he said.

A former TiE Silicon Valley president who had hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015 said the discussion was wide-ranging with participants engaging the finance minister on a number of issues.

Shukla said she impressed participants with her grasp of issues and willingness to take positions and explain the nuances behind them. The discussions touched upon issues like the new semiconductor policy, digital currency, crypto regulations, investments and repatriation of capital and a number of startup-related issues.

She demonstrated a keen understanding of the issues and was able to articulate her government’s position on them, he said. She also seemed to be open to new ideas and signaled a desire to learn more about them, encouraging participants to follow up with detailed notes.

“Bottom line, the Indian media does not seem to represent her competence fairly,” Shukla said. “I was pleasantly surprised with her ability to engage with the participants on complex issues and demonstrate her mastery of those issues.”

During her visit, Nirmala Sitharaman also visited Bloom Energy, which recently collaborated with the National Thermal Power Corporation Limited, India’s largest energy company under the power ministry, which has selected Bloom’s electrolyzer and hydrogen-powered fuel cell technologies for the country’s first green hydrogen-based energy storage deployment.

As part of India’s pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2070, the project is designed to explore large-scale, off-grid hydrogen energy storage and micro-grid projects at strategic locations throughout the country.

A Bloom Energy spokesperson told indica that discussions are continuing on the next steps on the NTPC project.

The finance minister also alluded to the digital rupee plan of the Reserve Bank of India as well as the plan to set up digital banks and universities. She told representatives of more than 50 companies that there is a continuous digital nudge by the government across sectors.

“India aims to introduce a digital currency by 2023,” she said. But aiding financial inclusion is not its sole purpose. “The government and RBI are looking into several commercial use purposes,” she said.

Subhrakant Panda, senior vice-president, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), and managing director, Indian Metals & Ferro Alloys, said the country is on the cusp of a digital revolution powered by growing broadband and internet penetration, exponential data uptake, and a governmental focus on digitization.

Digital transformation has been a key theme for the country in the recent past. India has more than 500 million smart-phone users, with 68 percent on 4G networks. The ‘Digital India’ program driven by UPI, digital literacy and DigiLocker, among others, has been a bellwether for the transformation underway. The value of transactions under UPI crossed US $1 trillion in 2021-22, representing a five-fold jump in two years.

Panda also alluded to the robust economic recovery in India after the pandemic. “Most sectors have surpassed pre-pandemic levels and the RBI has estimated growth to be in the 7–7.5% range, which will once again make India the world’s fastest-growing major economy,” he claimed.

Taranjit Singh Sandhu, India’s ambassador in the United States, said the two countries enjoy much more confidence and trust mutually. “In the past three weeks, three senior cabinet ministers have visited the U.S.,” he said, referring to Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, besides Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, “showcasing the strengthening of the relationship between the countries. It is reflective of the depth in the relationship.”

Dr V Anantha Nageswaran, chief economic advisor to the finance ministry, said India is much better placed in the global economic situation. “What matters is relative performance and relative strength; that’s where India is better placed,” he pointed out.