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Alexander de Goederen gave up a high paying job with ING bank in Amsterdam and came to India about four-anda-half years ago. For a year, he worked in the Gurgaon office of DTZ, an international real estate company. It was only a means to an end. In December 2008, he set up his own business, founding Bricks India, a property consultancy in Delhi, with two partners.
"We could have chosen any city but wanted to live in an emerging market, " says de Goederen, who is Dutch. "We opted for India because we wanted some adventure, were familiar with the culture and Indians spoke English. It was also not too far from home. "
De Goederen is part of a growing tribe of foreigners who are coming to India to set up businesses. Enticed by stories of economic growth, these entrepreneurs are setting up businesses ranging from real estate and innovative health and mobile technology to restaurants and spas.
Nathan Sigworth first came to India in 2004 as an undergraduate volunteer at a health centre in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh. Here, the American witnessed the challenges of connecting rural patients with specialised doctors. In 2007, Sigworth moved to the country to found Pharmasecure, a US and Gurgaon-based company that enables people to check the authenticity of hundreds of millions of medicines in India. Another service the company provides connects patients in far-flung areas of the country to health advisors over telephone.
Recession in the West has prompted some, like Bert Mueller, to explore business opportunities outside their country. The American landed here in December last year with the intention of starting India's first burritos chain. "The US economy seems stagnant at the moment and India offered growth potential, " says Mueller. "There are opportunities here that aren't there in the US. " Mueller has joined hands with two of his American kindergarten friends to set up the project in Bangalore.
It isn't always easy for these entrepreneurs to push their businesses through. Mueller, who incorporated his company in the US before coming to India so that it became easier for him to bring funds into the country, says that while it took a week for him to register his business in his own country, he spent four months trying to do the same in India.
Joon Kang moved here in 2009 because he wanted to start business in an emerging market. His Delhi-based firm imports, installs and maintains electronic security systems like CCTVs, Xray machines and infra-red sensors. A South Korean, one of his biggest clients is Samsung India.
Filipino Ema Trindad, who set up a spa and anti-ageing centre in Bangalore about three years ago, realised how punctuality figured low on Indians' list of priorities soon after starting her enterprise. "Now, if I want something delivered by the 15th, I say I want it by the 1st, " she says. "There are everyday struggles here - like getting a gas connection. But you must learn to adapt. I know of many who returned home because they failed to adapt, " says Trinidad, who also founded the Expat Entrepreneurs Circle of India, a Bangalore-based networking group.
Trindad says she has discovered it doesn't help to throw one's weight around if you want to get something done - the trick is to appear helpless. "You've got to accept the things you can't change, " she says. "For example, whenever I go to the Foreign Regional Registration Office, I take a book along because it takes the entire day. "
But there are advantages as well. De Goederen believes being a foreigner has given him easier access to company boardrooms which has helped him pitch his services to a greater number of prospective clients.
The rewards of perseverance are bountiful. De Goederen's real estate company, for instance, has been growing at an average of 100 per cent for the last three years. "But as a company gets bigger, it becomes more difficult to achieve high growth rates. This year, we are looking at a 60 per cent growth, " he says.
Trinidad says some clients leave tips so large they are more than the cost of the service. The success of her first spa inspired her to launch a second one in Bangalore next month. Sigworth's company, meanwhile, has posted a 500 per cent growth in terms of volume over the last two years.
Despite the country's current sluggish growth, these entrepreneurs are looking forward to being a part of India's history. "Things are changing in India, you can see that, " says Alexander de Goederen's wife, Lalita, who is a Dutch but was given an Indian name by her father, an Indophile. "We are very lucky to be a part of it. "
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