UKTI’s Senior Dealmaker shares with e27 his journey from a barrister to an entrepreneur and how being a migrant does not let you settle for less
Alpesh Bipin Patel wears many a hat. He is a published author, a former barrister, and a private equity financier. Being the Senior Dealmaker of UK Trade and Investments (UKTI), he manages the Global Entrepreneur Programme (GEP) as well as oversees Strategic and Ministerial relationships. In this role, he facilitates entrepreneurs entering the UK to use it as a global headquarter and a launchpad into European markets, and to capitalise on the free trade available to businesses in the EU.
He is also a Board Member of the UK-India Business Council (UKIBC) and the Founding Principal of Praefinium Partners, a private equity fund focussed on the Indian and South Asian markets. He is also a former Visiting Fellow in Business and Industry at Corpus Christi College, Oxford University.
At Echelon 2014 in Singapore, Patel spoke on the rise of global entrepreneurship. That’s when e27 got an opportunity to have a one-on-one with him.
An excerpt from the chat:
What led you to Echelon 2014 and how did you find the event as a whole?
I loved it. It was good to have so many entrepreneurs in one room interacting in such an efficient manner. It was great to hear from experts as well as entrepreneurs. Meeting with Facebook Co-founder Eduardo Saverin was an amazing experience.
What made you choose private equity?
I used to be a barrister, but I left the legal profession to start trading derivatives on my own account. I eventually looked at setting up a hedge fund and doing trading for others. In 2004, I set up an asset management company, Praefinium. It led to private equity, as both are in the asset management business. Managing money led me into private equity.
We were asked to raise funds and manage investments into India, since Praefinium is known as an India expert in the UK. We managed money for Indo-centric investments, investing in companies which can tap into the Indian growth story. Our aim, essentially, is to connect our clients to the Indian growth story and generate returns from that.
Has the law background or your later foray into PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) helped in your entrepreneurial success?
Well, the legal background has been extremely helpful, especially in terms of contracts and legal matters. PPE helps me, since I have a government role. The political background allows me to have an understanding of different governments and how they work. Economics is also useful, especially when you’re dealing with market failure, which is where governments get involved.
Which technical competencies have contributed the most to your professional success?
My legal background and economics education. It’s very rare to find people with both specialties, making it very helpful in my professional development.
What’s your view on the prospects for India’s entrepreneurs in the light of political developments there (i.e. Modi’s election victory)?
The Indian stock market is at an all time high, which makes investors keen to enter. It’s good for Praefinium, as a lot of foreign investors want to re-enter the Indian market. My role as a Dealmaker allows me to meet all these stakeholders, exposing me to entrepreneurs, investors and government administrators. More companies based in India are looking outwards to global market now, rather than just looking inwards, so I think it’s good for everyone.
Is there an ‘entrepreneurial DNA’ or ethos rooted in specific cultures?
It’s often said that South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures are highly entrepreneurial. But if you look at GDP, that hasn’t been the case for the last 200 years. It’s certainly akin to America, which is regarded as the paradigm of entrepreneurialism. The cultural heritage matters, in terms of not wanting much but desiring to have a better life for our children. And I think that’s been borne out by the number of businesses and the GDP growth increasing year in and year out.
In your view, what is the difference between a businessperson and an entrepreneur?
They are one and the same. It’s about having that ability to spot opportunities. However, businesspeople oversee larger ventures and do more management, while entrepreneurs focus on fast growth, with the core purpose being to grow and develop the business and the company together. Businesspeople should learn to be more entrepreneurial, and entrepreneurs should aim to be more businesslike, especially when scaling up.
What can corporations learn from startups, and vice versa?
It’s a matter of energy. Big corporations can learn about energy, while startups can be inspired from looking at the larger companies and their growth stories. This would allow them to avoid the mistakes of the larger firms and make better decisions, especially in their own operating context.
What matters more in entrepreneurship – the individual, the team or the ecosystem?
The obvious answer is all three because all of these things matter in combination, not just one alone. Governments often don’t realise the importance of the need to develop capable individuals and teams through the school system, as well as developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem through government spending.
Does being a migrant play a role in the success of entrepreneurs, such as yourself?
I was born in the UK, in the 1970s, in Leeds. My parents are originally from Gujarat. My mother was a nurse, while my father was a businessman. It’s often said that migrants are self-selected for success, and I subscribe to that view. You don’t travel 6000 miles only to fail, and I think that makes a big difference. Migrants often come to countries with very little, and that creates a hunger to have more. So, definitely.
Do you feel this is the reason for the success of the participants of UKTI’s GEP?
Very much so I think. We’re looking for those who are willing to take the risk, move countries and have a hunger to go global, and the GEP looks for companies that want to be global. In a way, we are self-selecting those most likely to be successful in moving towards being a global business.
What are your defining moments with UKTI and Praefinium?
With Praefinium, it was the launch of our first fund about five years ago. It’s been producing great results from private equity investments into India. The launch of your first product is always a key moment. The other defining moment would be the launch of the GEP, which is enjoying its 10th anniversary this year. Since its inception, we’ve raised a capital of about US$1.7 billion for all the companies that we’ve brought into the programme.