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56 Indian firms in talks to invest in Bahrain ahead of Modi’s visit

By Avinash Saxena, Gulf Daily News

AS many as 56 Indian businesses are in talks with Bahraini authorities to explore prospects of their foray into the kingdom, it has emerged.

Bilateral economic relations and co-investment across financial services, ICT and start-ups sectors were expected to get a boost as a result of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s debut visit to Bahrain this Saturday and Sunday.

Bahrain’s Economic Development Board (EDB) co-chief investment officer for financial services, ICT, start-ups and international offices David Parker told the GDN that India has been identified as one of the priority markets as part of Bahrain’s drive to develop an innovation-focused, knowledge-based economy leveraging fintech, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain.

The EDB has 16 investment promotion offices around the world, of which three are in India; at the capital in New Delhi, the commercial hub Mumbai and the newest one in Bengaluru, widely known as India’s IT hub and ‘Silicon Valley’.

“We are hiring to expand our presence in Bengaluru so we can better target the ICT triangle that includes the cities of Hyderabad and Chennai,” he said.

He added that at least 12 new Indian businesses were expected to set up shop in Bahrain by the end of the year as a result of EDB’s outreach.

Underlining India’s importance, Khalid Humaidan, who will take over as EDB’s new chief executive from September 1, is expected to lead a road-show to India within a year of taking charge.

The EDB is also working on building fintech bridges with Indian states such as Maharashtra, where it signed two agreements last December, and Kerala, which is home to the majority of Indians living in Bahrain.

“Indians are convinced that Bahrain fully supports fintech’s lean, agile model with economic freedom and long-term stability that enables entrepreneurs to benefit from the region’s lowest operating costs,” said Mr Parker.

“We have made great strides in recent years to develop the start-up ecosystem with initiatives like the Al Waha Fund of Funds, the Bahrain Fintech Bay, launch of incubators and accelerators, and legal reforms like the new bankruptcy law.”

It is around 30 per cent cheaper overall to do business in Bahrain than in neighbouring hubs, while office real estate and employee costs are among the lowest in the GCC.

A delegation of 24 start-ups from Kerala attended the Start-up Bahrain Week earlier this year.

The businesses ranged from healthcare to cyber-security, fintech, travel and data management.

Indian Ambassador Alok Kumar Sinha has also highlighted the emerging opportunities between India and Bahrain in the arena of start-ups.

“India has actively pursued development of start-up ecosystem in the country and now has the third largest start-up ecosystem in the world,” he told the GDN.

“Start-ups have emerged as an important area with immense opportunities for greater collaboration between India and Bahrain.”

Investments in Gulf-based fintech start-ups are expected to reach $2 billion in the next decade, according to a recent study by Mena Research Partners (MRP).

The fintech market in India is likely to expand to $31bn in 2020, Amitabh Kant, chief executive of India’s economic planning authority Niti Aayog, had said in May.

Mr Kant said that India was the only country in the world with over a billion mobile connections and biometrics, providing enough scope for penetration of fintech technology.

avinash@gdn.com.bh

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