India loses contact with spacecraft during historic moon landing attempt – gpgmail


India’s attempt to become the first nation to soft land a robotic spacecraft at the moon’s South Pole, an unexplored region, has ended in failure, the space agency said Saturday.

Less than two miles above the lunar surface, the Vikram lander (named after Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program) lost communications with the mission control.

A live broadcast from ISRO, India’s equivalent of NASA, showed scientists grow tense as the control station struggled to get a signal from the lander.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was watching the landing attempt, offered words of encouragement to the scientists and children, who had accompanied him at the ISRO campus.

“Be courageous. Our faith in ISRO has not lost. I can proudly say that the effort was worth it and so was the journey. We are full of confidence that when it comes to our space program, the best is yet to come,” he said.

Space is hard. The lunar surface is filled with debris of spacecrafts that have attempted and failed to land in one piece. Because there is little to no atmosphere on the moon, parachutes can’t be used, leaving landers to rely completely on thrusters to modulate the speed.

Chandrayaan-2, a roughly $140 million mission, is, in part, intended to study moon craters that are believed to contain water deposits, something Chandrayaan-1 found in 2008.

A successful touchdown would have made India the fourth country to successfully complete a soft landing on the lunar surface. So far, only the former Soviet Union, the U.S., and China have accomplished it.

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Photo by Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

The 142-foot tall spacecraft that blasted off Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 15, carried an orbiter, a lunar lander, and a six-wheeled rover. The lander and rover were expected to operate for just a couple of weeks, but the orbiter, which detached from the lander earlier this week, will continue to operate for at least one year.

ISRO has come a long way and specialized in low-cost space launches since the early 1960s, when components of rockets were transported by bicycles and assembled by hand in the country.

In 2013, ISRO also launched an orbiter to Mars in its maiden $74 million interplanetary mission — a fraction of the $671 million NASA spent for a Mars mission in the same year. In 2017, ISRO also deployed a record 104 satellites into space in just 18 minutes.

Earlier this year, ISRO said it intends to have its own space station in the future and conduct separate missions to study the Sun and Venus. It will begin working on its space station following its first manned mission to space, called Gaganyaan (which means “space vehicle” in Sanskrit), in 2022 — just in time to commemorate 75 years of the country’s independence from Britain. The government has sanctioned Rs 10,000 crores ($1.5 billion) for the Gaganyaan mission.




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Xiaomi has shipped 100 million smartphones in India – gpgmail


Xiaomi said on Friday it has shipped over 100 million smartphones in India, its most important market, since beginning operations in the nation five years ago. The company cited figures from research firm IDC in its claim.

The Chinese giant, which has held the top smartphone vendor position in India for eight straight quarters now, said its budget smartphone series Redmi and Redmi Note were its top selling lineups in India.

“It’s a testament to the love we have received from millions of Mi Fans since our inception. There have been brands who entered the market before us, yet are nowhere close to the astounding feat we have achieved,” said Manu Jain, VP of Xiaomi and MD of the company’s India business, in a statement.

As competition in its home market intensified, India has emerged as the most important market for Xiaomi in recent years. When the Chinese firm entered the nation, for the first two years, it relied mostly on selling handsets online to cut overhead. But in the years since, it has established presence in brick-and-mortar market, which continues to drive much of the general sales in the nation.

xiaomi india

Last month, Xiaomi said the company is on track to building presence in 10,000 physical stores in the country by the end of the year. It expects offline market to drive half of its sales by that time frame.

More to follow…


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Teaching ethics in computer science the right way with Georgia Tech’s Charles Isbell – gpgmail


The new fall semester is upon us, and at elite private colleges and universities, it’s hard to find a trendier major than Computer Science. It’s also becoming more common for such institutions to prioritize integrating ethics into their CS studies, so students don’t just learn about how to build software, but whether or not they should build it in the first place. Of course, this begs questions about how much the ethics lessons such prestigious schools are teaching are actually making a positive impression on students.

But at a time when demand for qualified computer scientists is skyrocketing around the world and far exceeds supply, another kind of question might be even more important: Can computer science be transformed from a field largely led by elites into a profession that empowers vastly more working people, and one that trains them in a way that promotes ethics and an awareness of their impact on the world around them?

Enter Charles Isbell of Georgia Tech, a humble and unassuming star of inclusive and ethical computer science. Isbell, a longtime CS professor at Georgia Tech, enters this fall as the new Dean and John P. Imlay Chair of Georgia Tech’s rapidly expanding College of Computing.

Isbell’s role is especially given Georgia Tech’s approximately 9,000 online graduate students in Computer Science. This astronomical number of students in the CS field is the result of a philosophical decision made at the university to create an online CS master’s degree treated as completely equal to on-campus training.

Another counterintuitive philosophical decision made at Georgia Tech — for which Isbell proudly evangelized while speaking at conferences like the MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Next, where I met him in June — is to admit every student who has the potential to earn a degree, rather than making any attempt at “exclusivity” by rejecting worthy candidates. In the coming years all of this may lead, Isbell projected at EmTech Next, to a situation in which up to one in eight of all people in the US who hold a graduate degree in CS will have earned it at Georgia Tech.

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Isbell speaks to Gideon Lichfield, Editor-in-chief of the MIT Technology Review, at its EmTech Next conference in June. Image via MIT Technology Review.

“What they’ve done is pretty remarkable,” said Casey Fiesler, a 3x recent graduate of Georgia Tech and a founding faculty member and CS professor at the University of Colorado’s College of Media, Communication, and Information.

And it’s promising that Fiesler, who has become known in the tech ethics field for her comparative study of curricula and teaching approaches, told me, “ethics can be integrated into online [CS] courses just as easily as it can be into face to face courses.”

Still, it is as daunting as it is impressive to think about how one public school like Georgia Tech might be able to successfully and ethically educate such an enormous percentage of the students in arguably the most influential academic field in the world today. So I was glad to be able to speak to Isbell, an expert on statistical machine learning and artificial intelligence, for this gpgmail series on the ethics of technology.

Our conversation below covers the difference between equality and equity; cultural issues around women in American CS, and what it would look like for ethics to be so integrated into the discussion of computing that students and practitioners wouldn’t even think of it as ethics.

Greg Epstein: Around 1/8 of Computer Science graduate degrees will be delivered by your school in the coming years; you’re thinking inclusively about providing a relatively huge number of opportunities for people who would not otherwise get the opportunity to become computer scientists. How have you achieved that?

Charles Isbell: There’s an old joke about organizations: don’t tell me what your values are, show me your budget and then I’ll tell you what your values are. Because you spend money on the things that you care about.


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Why Walmart’s Flipkart is betting heavily on Hindi – gpgmail


To win India’s next 200 million internet users, e-commerce giant Flipkart wants to speak their language

Flipkart, the largest e-commerce platform in India, said Tuesday it has concluded the roll-out of a range of features to its shopping app in what is its biggest update in recent years.

Chief among these new features is access to Flipkart in Hindi language. Prior to the revamp of the app, Flipkart was available only in English, a language spoken by 10% of India’s 1.3 billion population.

Flipkart says it is hoping that the new features, which includes a video streaming service, would help it reach the next 200 million users in India.

The major bet on Hindi, a language spoken by more than 500 million people in India, illustrates a growing push from local and international companies operating in the country as they adapt their services and business models to go beyond the urban cities.

And that’s where much of the opportunity, which countless startups and companies have trumpeted to investors to successfully raise hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and venture capital in recent years, lies in the nation.


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Accion Venture Lab launches $23M inclusive fintech startup fund – gpgmail


Accion Venture Lab—the seed-stage investment arm of non-profit Accion—has raised $23 million for a new inclusive fintech startup fund.

The Accion Venture Lab Limited Partnership, as its called, will make seed-stage investments in inclusive fintech startups, defined as ventures that “that leverage technology to increase the reach, quality, and affordability of financial services for the under-served at scale,” per a company release.

The new fund was raised with capital contributions from a number of participants, including the Ford Foundation, Visa Inc. and Proparco—the development finance institution of the French government.

The additional $23 million brings Accion Venture Lab‘s total capital under management to $42 million.

The new LP fund will consider startups from any geography, as along as they meet specific criteria. Overall, Accion Venture Lab doesn’t have regional investment quotas, but does look to allocate roughly 25 to 30 percent of its funds to Africa, Accion Venture Lab Managing Director Tahira Dosani told gpgmail on a call.

“We want to continue to focus on Latin-America, on Sub-Saharan Africa, on Southeast Asia as well as in the U.S. It really is about…where we see the need and the opportunity across the markets that we’re in,” she said.

In line with Accion’s mandate to boost financial inclusion globally, Accion Venture Lab already has a portfolio of 36 fintech startup investments across 5 continents—including 9 in the U.S., 8 in Latin America, and 8 in India.

“Our goal is to really be the that first institutional investor in the companies we invest in. That’s were we see the biggest capital gap. And it’s where we build capability and expertise,” Dosani said. In 2018, Accion Venture Lab successfully exited Indian fintech company Aye Finance, following exits in 2017 and 2016.

This year Accion Venture Lab supported a $6.5 million Series A investment in Lulalend, a South African startup that uses internal credit metrics to provide short-term loans to SMEs that are often unable to obtain working capital.

Accion’s new LP fund will follow past practice and make investments typically in the $500,000 range. It will start sourcing startups immediately through its investment leads around the world and already made its first seed financing to U.S. venture Joust—a fintech platform for gig economy workers.

Accion Venture Lab’s LP fund is the first time the organization has pooled third-party investment capital, according to a spokesperson.

On the appeal for those contributing, Dosani named Accion’s geographic reach and experience. “We think that’s our strength, because we’re able to invest in similar business models across different markets. And we’re able to bring that knowledge from one market to another,” she said.

The Ford Foundation contributed $2 million, according to an email from Christine Looney, Deputy Director, Mission Investments. Visa didn’t disclose its capital contribution, but told gpgmail it will play a role in governance through its participation in a Limited Partners Advisory Committee for the new fund.

As a point of observation, Accion Venture Lab stands out as a fund for giving an equal pitch footing to fintech ventures across frontier, emerging, and developed markets from Lagos to London.

Accion’s new LP fund—along with the organization’s commitment to make nearly a third of its investments in Africa—means more capital to digital finance startups on the continent. By a number of estimates, Africa’s 1.2 billion people still represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population.

 

 

 


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Goldman backs Kobo360, Rwanda commits to EVs, Interswitch IPO update – gpgmail


Nigerian freight logistics startup Kobo360 raised a $20 million Series A round led by Goldman Sachs and $10 million in working capital financing from Nigerian commercial banks.

The company — with an Uber-like app that connects truckers and companies to delivery services — will use the funds to upgrade its platform and expand to 10 new countries beyond current operating markets of Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and Kenya.

Kobo360 looks to grow beyond its Nigeria roots to become a truly Pan-African company, co-founder Obi Ozor told gpgmail .  He co-founded the venture in 2017 with fellow Nigerian Ife Oyedele II.

Since its launch in Lagos, the startup has continued to grow its product offerings, VC backing and customer base. Kobo360 claims a fleet of more than 10,000 drivers and trucks operating on its app. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, Dangote and DHL.

Kobo360’s latest round is also notable for Goldman Sachs’ involvement. Goldman’s participation tracks a growing list of African venture investments made by the U.S. based finance firm.

Chinese mobile-phone and device maker Transsion will list in an IPO on Shanghai’s STAR Market, Transsion confirmed to gpgmail.

The company — which has a robust Africa sales network — could raise up to 3 billion yuan (or $426 million).

Transsion’s IPO prospectus is downloadable (in Chinese) and its STAR Market listing application available on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s website.

STAR is the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s new Nasdaq-style board for tech stocks that also went live in July with some 25 companies going public.

Headquartered in Shenzhen — where African e-commerce unicorn Jumia also has a logistics supply-chain facility — Transsion is a top-seller of smartphones in Africa under its Tecno brand.

The company has a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia and recently expanded its presence in India.

Transsion plans to spend the bulk of its STAR Market raise (1.6 billion yuan or $227 million) on building more phone assembly hubs and around 430 million yuan ($62 million) on research and development, including a mobile phone R&D center in Shanghai, a company spokesperson said.

The government of Rwanda will soon issue national policy guidelines to eliminate gas motorcycles in its taxi sector in favor of e-motos, according to a preview of the plan by President Paul Kagame at a public-rally

The director general for the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, Patrick Nyirishema, confirmed Kagame’s comments were ahead of a national e-mobility plan in the works for the East African nation.

“The president’s announcement is exactly the policy direction we’re in…it’s about converting to electric motos…The policy is prepared, it’s yet to be passed…and is going through the approval process,” Nyirishema told gpgmail on a call from Kigali.

Motorcycle taxis in Rwanda are a common mode of transit, with estimates of 20 to 30 thousand operating in the capital of Kigali.

Nyirishema explained that converting to e-motorcycles is part of a national strategy to move Rwanda’s entire mobility space to electric. The country will start with public transit operators, such as moto-taxis, and move to buses and automobiles.

Ampersand, a Kigali-based e-moto startup, has already begun to pilot EVs and charging systems in Rwanda and will work with the country’s government on the moto-taxi conversion.

In an ExtraCrunch feature, gpgmail delved into tech talent accelerator Andela — one of the most recognized and well funded startups operating in Africa.

In a byte, Andela is Series D stage startup ― backed by $180 million in VC ― that trains and connects African software developers to global companies for a fee.

CEO Jeremy Johnson dished on the company’s strategy toward profitability and responded to some of the criticism it receives ― namely a claim the startup is creating a second brain-drain when software developers leave Andela and Africa, to take positions with global companies.

Today Andela has offices in New York and five African countries: Nigeria, Kenya,  Rwanda, Uganda, and Egypt ― which largely align with the continent’s top tech VC markets.

Across this network the company recruits software developers, builds software engineers, and deploys teams of software engineers.

Johnson disclosed numbers on Andela’s expected new hires for the year, current developer staff, how many departures the company expects, and how many of those will likely leave their home countries―which actually amounts to a fairly small percentage.

gpgmail checked in with Nigerian fintech company Interswitch for the latest on its anticipated dual-listing London and Lagos stock exchanges.

A Bloomberg News story (based on background sourcing) revived speculation the IPO could happen this year for the company — which provides much of Nigeria’s digital banking infrastructure and has expanded its operations presence and payments products across Africa and globally.

Reports that Interswitch could be one of the earliest big tech companies out of Africa to go public trace back to 2016, when CEO and founder Mitchell Elegbe told gpgmail the company was considering a listing before the end of that year.

Last month, an Interswitch spokesperson would neither confirm or deny a pending IPO, per a gpgmail inquiry. So, it’s still tough to say if or when the company could list. But there are still several reasons why the business (and its possible IPO) are worth keeping an eye on, which we detailed in the update story.

 

One could be an eventual increase in venture funding to African startups, that could come from Interswitch. Another could be an Interswitch IPO adding another benchmark for global investors to gauge Africa’s tech sector beyond Jumia — the e-commerce company that became the first big tech firm operating in Africa to launch on a major exchange, the NYSE in April.

More Africa-related stories @gpgmail

African tech around the ‘net

 


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Urbvan raises $9 million for its private shuttle service in Mexico – gpgmail


As cities in emerging markets grapple with increasingly traffic-clogged and dangerous streets, Urbvan, a startup providing private, high-end transportation shuttles in Mexico, has raised $9 million in a new round of financing.

Co-founded by Joao Matos Albino and Renato Picard, Urbvan is taking the reins from startups like the now-defunct Chariot and tailoring the business for the needs of emerging market ecosystems.

Hailing from Portugal, Albino arrived in Mexico City as a hire for the Rocket Internet startup Linio. Although Linio didn’t last, Albino stayed on in Mexico eventually landing a job working for the startup Mercadoni, which is where he met Picard.

The two men saw the initial success of Chariot as it launched from Y Combinator, but were also tracking companies like the Indian startup Shuttl.

“We wanted to make shared mobility more accessible and a little bit more efficient,” says Albino. “We studied the economics and we studied the market and we knew there was a huge urgency in the congested cities of  Latin America.”

Unlike the U.S. — and especially major cities like San Francisco and New York — where public transportation is viewed as relatively safe and efficient, the urban environment of Mexico City is seen as not safe by the white collar workers that comprise Urbvan’s principle clientele.

The company started operating back in 2016. At the time it had five vans that it leased and retrofitted to include amenities like wi-fi and plenty of space for a limited number of passengers. Since those early days the company has expanded significantly. It now claims over 15,000 monthly users and a fleet of 180 vans.

Urbvan optimized for safety as well as comfort, according to Albino. The company has deals with WeWork, Walmart and other retailers in Mexico City so that all . of the stops on t he route are protected and safe. The company also vets its drivers and provides them with additional training because of the expanded capacity of the vans.

Each van is also equipped with a panic button and cameras inside and outside of the van for additional monitoring.

Customers either pay $3 per ticket or sign up for a monthly pass that ranges from $100 to $130.

Financing for the company came from Kaszek Ventures and Angel Ventures with previous investor Mountain Nazca also participating.

For Albino, who went to India to observe Shuttl’s operations, the global market for these kinds of services is so large that there will be many winners in each geography.

“Each city is different and you need to adapt. The technology needs to be adaptable to the city’s concerns . and where it can . add more value,” says Albino. “The Indian market is super different from Latin America.. It’s a huge market with a lot of congestion… But the value proposition is a bit more basic [for Shuttl].”

Urbvan is currently operating in Mexico City and Monterrey, but has plans to expand into Guadalajara later this year.


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India liberalizes foreign investment rules in a win for Apple – gpgmail


India has further liberalized its foreign direct investment (FDI) rules for many sectors, opening new avenues for global investors and giants such as Apple as Asia’s third-largest economy attempts to jump-start its years-low economic growth.

New Delhi said Wednesday evening that it is easing sourcing norms for single-brand retailers like Apple. As part of the new proposal, which has been approved, the government said single-brand retail companies will be allowed to open online stores before they set up presence in the bricks-and-mortar market.

This would allow Apple, which has yet to set up retail stores in the country, to start selling a range of products through its own online store. Currently, Apple sells its products in India through partnered third-party offline retailers and e-commerce platforms such as Amazon India, Flipkart and Paytm Mall.

Over the years, Apple has requested the government numerous times to relax the local foreign direct investment (FDI) rules. Company executives have long expressed disappointment at Amazon India, Flipkart and Paytm Mall for offering heavy discounts on the iPhone and MacBook Air to boost their respective GMV metrics.

Even as this boosted the sales of iPhones in India, the discounts diluted the brand image of iPhones in the country, executives felt.

Apple will soon explore selling its products through its online store in India, a person familiar with the matter told gpgmail. But the move is unlikely to materialize before next year, the person said, requesting anonymity.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

New Delhi previously also forced companies like Apple to source 30% of their productions locally (PDF). Now the government says it is broadening the definition to include both materials sold in India and those exported in the local sourcing law.

“It has been decided that all procurements made from India by the single brand retail trade entity for that single brand shall be counted towards local sourcing, irrespective of whether the goods procured are sold in India or exported. Further, the current cap of considering exports for five years only is proposed to be removed, to give an impetus to exports,” Piyush Goyal, Commerce and Industry Minister, said in a press conference.

Apple had urged the government previously to ease this requirement, as well.

India has emerged as one of the world’s biggest battlegrounds for smartphone vendors. As sale of smartphones slow or decline in nearly every corner of the world, Indians are showing a growing appetite for handsets.

The local smartphone market, which is the fastest growing globally and also second largest, was once commanded by local smartphone manufacturers. But things have dramatically changed in recent years with Chinese phone makers such as Xiaomi, Vivo, OnePlus, Oppo and Realme and South Korean giant Samsung together controlling 90% of the market.

Apple continues to largely focus on users looking for a premium smartphone in India. Even as the iPhone maker’s market share in India stands below 2%, per research firms IDC, Counterpoint and Canalys, Apple CEO Tim Cook has said on a number of earnings calls that the company sees major opportunity in India.

To boost sales in India, Apple has started to assemble several iPhone models locally and reached a stage where it can begin to export to overseas markets phones produced in India. Assembling phones in India allows Apple — as it does other phone makers — to enjoy some tax benefits that Narendra Modi’s government provides.

As part of today’s announcement, the government is now also allowing foreign investment in digital media to take up to 26% stakes in companies — a figure that now stands at 100% for the coal mining industry and associated infrastructure and sales of fuel.

“The extant FDI policy provides for 49% FDI under approval route in Up-linking of ‘News &Current Affairs’ TV Channels. It has been decided to permit 26% FDI under government route for uploading/ streaming of News & Current Affairs through Digital Media, on the lines of print media,” it said in a press release.

India’s move today comes as the nation grapples with a slowing of economic growth. The economic growth in the quarter that just ended stood at 5.8%, a five-year low in the nation.


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India’s 9-month-old CRED raises $120M to help people improve their financial behavior – gpgmail


Many Silicon Valley companies and fintech startups in India today share a common mission: They all want to bring their financial services to the next billion users. Dozens of fintech startups that we have spoken to in recent months have told us that they all want to address much of India, one of the last great growth markets globally, in the next few years.

So you can imagine our excitement when we learned there is at least one startup that is going after just a few million users in the immediate future. We’re talking about CRED, a nine-month-old, Bangalore-based startup that is building solutions to incentivize credit card users in India to become more responsible with money and thereby improve their credit score.

CRED has raised $120 million in a Series B financing round, Kunal Shah, founder and CEO of the startup, told gpgmail on Monday. He declined to share more information. The startup, which has raised about $145 million to date, is now valued between $430 million to $450 million, a person familiar with the matter told gpgmail.

According to a regulatory filing, existing investors Sequoia Capital, Ribbit Capital and DST Global’s Gemini Investments led the round, with participation from Tiger Global, Hillhouse Capital, General Catalyst, Greenoaks Capital and Dragoneer.

Hundreds of millions of Indians today don’t have a credit score because they have never taken a loan from a recognized entity nor owned a credit card. According to the government’s official figures, fewer than 50 million credit cards are in circulation in India currently, with industry reports suggesting that the actual number of unique credit card holders is about half of that.

“Nobody taught us about how to use money,” Shah told gpgmail in a recent interview. “This has created a huge trust gap in India. If you look at developed markets, systematic trust is very high between all the entities. Members don’t have to rely on third-parties. In India, even if you wanted to rent a flat, you look for brokers, for instance.”

You can build that trust when you know how someone handles their money, and how they have handled it in recent history. “Our aim is to create a big membership community with high credit worthiness, therefore open up more opportunities for them,” Shah explained.

Shah is not going after the masses. He wants to focus on just the credit card users for now, and if he could win the trust of just half of those plastic card holders in India, he would consider it a success.

“Instead of chasing the mythological mass customers who are currently useful only on paper if you wanted to boast about your daily active user or monthly active user metric, our goal is to serve the existing users,” he said.

On CRED, users are offered a range of features, including the ability to better track their spending, get reminders and check their credit score, but more importantly, access to a range of lofty offers such as membership to a gym at a discounted price, access to good restaurants at low prices and subscription to various services at little to no charge. Users can access these features by earning points, which they can secure every time they pay their credit card bills on time.

Varun Krishnan, editor of technology news site FoneArena, told gpgmail that he has found CRED useful in getting reminders to pay his bills and likes that he can pay them through a range of payment options, including UPI apps and debit cards. “I have several cards and it is hard to track amounts and due dates of payment for each one. They send all these alerts on WhatsApp, which is a blessing,” he said.

These are the reasons that attracted many people like Krishnan to join CRED. That, and some incentive to pay his bills — though he hopes that CRED expands the range of offers it currently provides to customers.

That wish may soon come true. In the coming months, CRED will enable these highly sought-after customers to access some financial services from banks in a single-click. Additionally, it is also exploring expansion to some international markets, the aforementioned source said.

CRED does not charge users any money for joining its platform, nor for availing any of the features it offers. But it is generating revenue from some of the partners that are supplying offers on the app.

It’s not a surprise that Shah, an industry veteran known for speaking the uncomfortable truths at conferences, has won the trust of so many investors already. He built one of the biggest payment apps in India, Freecharge, and sold it to e-commerce giant Snapdeal for a whopping $400 million in one of the increasingly rare exits that India’s fintech market has seen to date.


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India exempts startups from long-standing ‘angel tax’ – gpgmail


India today addressed a long-standing challenge that has been affecting the country’s booming startup ecosystem. As part of a raft of measures to boost overall economic growth from a five-year low, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said New Delhi is exempting startups from Section 56(2) — a provision more popularly known as an “angel tax” in the local income tax laws — that required startups to pay a certain tax if they received an investment at a rate higher than their “fair market valuation.”

Local tax authority in India does not recognize the discounted cash flow method that many investors use to value early-stage startups, and instead value the company for what it is worth currently, which as you can imagine, is very little. Investors assess a startup’s value based on what it could eventually become in the future.

Prior to today’s announcement, the government levied a 30% tax on affected startups. Sitharaman said any startup that is registered with the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, a government body, will be exempted from the angel tax. Those not registered will remain subjected to it, she said in a press conference Friday.

More than 24,000 startups are currently registered with the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion. The law was originally introduced amid concerns that wealthy people could invest in bogus startups as a way to launder money.

“Angel tax was there to stop shell companies from creating capital from nowhere,” Piyush Goyal, a minister for commerce and industry as well as railways, said in a statement Friday.

The angel tax, which was introduced in 2012, impacted only the local investors, becoming a roadblock for many citizens from funding early-stage startups. The announcement today comes weeks after the Narendra Modi government said it would address this issue.

Many prominent investors, startup founders, analysts and other industry executives have long publicly criticized the angel tax, telling the government that it is severely hurting the health of the local ecosystem.

Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra Group, said last year that the angel tax needs “immediate attention or else all chances of building a rival to Silicon Valley in India will be lost.”

Sreejith Moolayil, a founder of health food startup True Elements, said the existence of an angel tax would leave many entrepreneurs like him with no choice but to shut down their companies.

Late last year, India’s tax department sent a flurry of notices to startups demanding them to pay the angel tax on funds they received from individual investors. The notices sparked an uproar, with many calling it “harassment.”

“Hope this will address the concerns of DPIIT registered startups. The proposed cell should look into concerns of all startups including those who are already under notice,” said Ashish Aggarwal, who oversees Public Policy at industry body Nasscom, of today’s announcement.

The government will also set up a dedicated cell to address other tax problems that startups face, Sitharaman said. “A startup having any income-tax issue can approach the cell for quick resolution,” the ministry said in a statement.

Jayanth Kolla, founder and chief analyst at research firm Convergence Catalyst, told gpgmail earlier that the angel tax was the primary reason early-stage startups in the nation were struggling to raise money from investors.

Even as Indian tech startups raised a record $10.5 billion in 2018, early-stage startups saw a decline in the number of deals they participated in and the amount of capital they received. Early-stage startups participated in 304 deals in 2018 and raised $916 million in funds last year, down from $988 million they raised from 380 rounds in 2017 and $1.096 billion they raised from 430 deals the year before, research firm Venture Intelligence told gpgmail.

Sitharaman also announced the country was scrapping a recently introduced additional levy on foreign funds. The government would revoke the surcharge, which increased tax on foreign companies investing in India to over 40%, she said. She also promised to pay out all pending tax refunds owed to small and medium enterprises within 30 days. Companies have long complained that the tax authority takes too much time to refund the money owed to them.




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