India has over 19,000 tech startups, by the government’s most recent count. But when it comes to exits – either through mergers and acquisitions (M&As) or initial public offerings (IPOs) – the numbers haven’t been at all impressive.
Between 2015 and 2016, tech IPOs in India rose from one to four. But in 2017, by the end of July, there had been 10 IPOs – six companies went public in the last two months – and 101 M&As, according to data from CB Insights.
IT services provider Infobeans, electrical product manufacturer Shri Ram Switchgears, optical and data networking products company Tejas Networks, and stock brokerage platform Steel City Securities are among the tech IPOs counted by CB Insights. These are old companies – some as old as 25 years – not startups. And they’re not venture capital-funded. Still, the rise in tech IPOs could pave the way for startups to take that route to an exit.
“Given that I obsess with India exits/liquidity of tech startups, I have undying belief we will get there. Now we are at step 65 of 500,” M. Thiagarajan, who heads M&A for #startup think-tank ISPIRT, tweeted.
In an earlier study for ISPIRT, Thiagarajan had pointed out a lacuna in M&A exit data. The bulk of them in India are small pops, and the deal value comes mainly from a few large ones. The number of M&A exits in the range of US$5 million to US$100 million needs to go up for investors to start getting meaningful returns, the study had pointed out.
The funding exuberance of 2015 in India, which saw US$8.8 billion invested in tech startups, had a steep fall to US$5.2 billion last year. But it has picked up pace again in 2017, with a couple of major investments in the first quarter of the year – a US$1.4 billion round for ecommerce site Flipkart, led by Tencent, Microsoft, and Ebay, followed by a matching US$1.4 billion for Alibaba-backed ecommerce and mobile payments company Paytm from a single investor, Japanese giant SoftBank.
But even as funding gains momentum again in India’s startup ecosystem, what will really enthuse investors are exits. They get a return on their bets only with exits, which can be redeployed in emerging startups.