Private network and conference-producer GWC has been pulling together innovators and executives in the mobile tech space since 2008, but the Silicon Valley and Beijing-based business has since turned early-stage investor, stepping up it’s investments in Indian startups.
“Most investors in Silicon Valley don’t invest out of Silicon Valley, let alone [outside] the US,” says GWC, (also known as the Great Wall Club) co-founder Barrett Parkman.
The tendency for venture capital deals to remain local to Silicon Valley began out of sheer convenience – and continued as the region attracted high caliber startups and investors.
But Parkman, who co-founded GWC in 2008 along with Beijing-based partners Wen Chu, a serial mobile tech entrepreneur and current CEO of Moabc, a Chinese mobile community, and Yiqun Bo, founder of the DayDayUp office community in China, felt global investment opportunities were not to be ignored.
Considered the world’s third largest startup hub with over 19,000 startups, India is a strong contender for investors looking for an innovation fueled emerging market.
Although valuations for Indian startups certainly remain lower than among their US counterparts, it is difficult to compare the market – India tends to be more value driven. As an aside, there’s also a hefty debate ongoing about whether valuations for Indian startups are in a bubble.
However, despite a thriving domestic venture capital scene, Indian startups most frequently note access to capital as one of their big challenges.
GWC entered the country as an investor in a slightly unusual way.
At the time of founding, GWC was simply an elite connector platform, enabling mobile technology companies to connect with one another and develop business interests outside their home arena.
Their foray into India was through Bangalore, known as the country’s ‘Silicon Valley’, where they started their GMIC Conference – attended by everyone who is anyone in the Indian tech scene. Bangalore is home to five out of India’s eight unicorns.
Indian unicorn InMobi, now one of the world’s largest independent mobile advertising platform, received early support from GWC, and in turn offered up office space to get them to bring their experience to India.
It was this that evolved into an investment opportunity – Parkman says GWC this year launched its GWC Innovator Fund, a $20 million allocation for investing in early stage startups.
Along with this they launched the G-Startup Worldwide competition – – a mini-accelerator, which takes place within their global GMIC Conference setting. It encourages young startups from anywhere in the world to apply, and compete, first on a regional level, with winners moving on to compete in Silicon Valley. The offer to startups: a total of a million dollars in investment opportunities.
Working with Google, FB, and FBStart in India, they’re looking for innovative local tech solutions, with plans to back at least five to 10 Indian-made startups a year.
Parkman says his interest lies in the innovative nature of Indian startups. With a population of 1.2 billion, the variety of startup concepts in India is considerably larger than anywhere else in the world.
“There’s an unfair perspective that India is just full of copy-cats, there is no company in India that is purely successful as a copy cat,” says Parkman, iterating that Indian startups are catering to their own very unique ecosystem.
At this year’s G-Startup Worldwide conference in Bangalore, recipients of GWC’s funding were competition winner Stockviews, a tech-enabled marketplace connecting independent equity analysts and asset managers; Numberz, a SaaS platform for small businesses, and hyper-local multi-model AI and predictive intelligence based ConfirmTkt.
“All the top 15 startups were quite phenomenal,” says StockViews CTO Sandeep Bathina, speaking about the lineup of Indian startups offered a stage by the competition to get in front of investors.
Bathina, an ex-Google engineer, believes that India does have a number of high quality investors, but that the role of the GMIC Competition is an unusual one – opening access to a global playing field of networks for local startups.
“When we’re looking at startups, we’re bringing in a global perspective,” says Parkman, who puts the competing startups in front of a top-notch selection of venture capitalist judges – all of whom are also able to assess the investment potential in front of them. In India this lineup includes Kae Capital, Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed India.
Of his rationale behind looking to step up investment in Indian startups, Parkman says, “there’s more focus on true innovative companies; I see a trend towards innovative startups tackling local solutions.”
“If you’re a little more patient, there are much better outcomes in countries like India, it’s imperative to make smart investments,” says Parkman, “India, Indonesia, China, represent the next billion users.”
GWC believes their approach is unique, and it speaks to the rise of the emerging markets in a way few others approach these new investment markets.
“If you don’t want to miss the next Alibaba, you need to be investing globally,” Parkman says.