Business Today

Returning NRIs: Best of Both Worlds

     Print Edition: Jan 6, 2013

Vikram Vuppala (35) spent a decade in the United States, but he never intended to settle there. A 1999-batch Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur alumnus, who went to the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business for his MBA, he stayed on only to earn enough to pay back his education loan. That done, he gave up both his job with global consulting firm McKinsey and his green card, and returned to India in December 2009, to start NephroPlus, a chain of kidney-care hospitals.

NephroPlus currently has 12 kidney-care centres across Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Punjab, employing more than 200 people. In the last three years, it has conducted around 50,000 dialysis sessions, without a single cross-infection. "My passion was to generate jobs in India," says Vuppala. "At IIT, I paid incredibly low tuition fees, barely Rs 1,000 per semester. The government subsidised my education, paying Rs 25,000 for a semester. I had to give back to my country."

60,000 number of Indian professionals who returned to the country in 2010.

Many highly-skilled non-resident Indians are now returning to the country - for different reasons. For some it is family concerns, for others, because unlike before, there are now enough professional and entrepreneurial opportunities available. It is estimated that around 60,000 Indian professionals came back to the country in 2010 alone. All indications are that this is a rising trend.

"When NRIs return, they bring with them professional contacts with high net worth individuals and venture capitalists," says Vuppala. "That helps in financing a company. A former boss of mine back in the US invested Rs 2 crore in an angel round in my hospital chain. And the McKinsey name helped me secure venture capital funding last year."

The 22-million-odd Indians living abroad - almost the population of Australia - have always been contributing to the home country in the form of remittances. India was the top recipient of remittances in 2012, around $70 billion, followed by China, the Philippines and Mexico, according to a World Bank brief on the subject.

One of the papers on the Indian diaspora by Rupa Chanda, Professor of Economics and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, notes also how overseas Gujaratis have lobbied Western capitals for foreign investment in their home state. But now, increasingly, NRIs are contributing to India with their presence and expertise as well.

In the technology sector, entrepreneurs returning to India after having worked in the US are both mentoring start-ups and funding them. Sundi Natarajan, 42, went to the US in 1998 and was part of three technology start-ups, becoming an American citizen, too. But he moved back to India in 2010. "I have two daughters, and I want them to grow up in India just like I did," he says. Natarajan has since then invested in nine Indian start-ups, either in an individual capacity or through networks like the Indian Angel Network and BITS Spark Angels.

"So far, the contribution of NRIs has been more perceptible in sectors such as IT and health care," adds Chanda. "In the IT sector, NRIs have come back to open subsidiaries and influenced outsourcing to the country as well." If the contribution is lower in other areas, it is because of the problems inherent to India. "The problems are the same the Indian investor faces.

Corruption, inefficient bureaucracy, unavailability of land and lack of quality manpower have been the bottlenecks for largescale investments."

Goutam Das

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