Political Nexus In Indian Startups: Essential Checks For Investors

Ankura Consulting Group LLC


Ankura Consulting Group, LLC is an independent global expert services and advisory firm that delivers end-to-end solutions to help clients at critical inflection points related to conflict, crisis, performance, risk, strategy, and transformation. Ankura consists of more than 1,800 professionals and has served 3,000+ clients across 55 countries. Collaborative lateral thinking, hard-earned experience, and multidisciplinary capabilities drive results and Ankura is unrivalled in its ability to assist clients to Protect, Create, and Recover Value. For more information, please visit, ankura.com.
As the Indian startup ecosystem continues to thrive, attracting substantial investments from around the globe, investors are increasingly eyeing opportunities within this burgeoning market.
India Corporate/Commercial Law
To print this article, all you need is to be registered or login on Mondaq.com.

As the Indian startup ecosystem continues to thrive, attracting substantial investments from around the globe, investors are increasingly eyeing opportunities within this burgeoning market. However, investing in Indian startups comes with unique challenges, one of which is the potential political nexus of startup founders. This article delves into why it is crucial for investors to perform thorough due diligence on Indian startup founders, particularly to assess any political affiliations or influences.

The Indian Startup Landscape

India's startup scene has seen exponential growth over the past decade. With favorable government policies, a growing digital economy, and a large pool of talented entrepreneurs, the country has become a hotspot for innovation. However, this rapid growth has also led to concerns regarding transparency and governance within some startups.

The Politico-Business Nexus

In India, the intersection of politics and business is not uncommon. Historical and systemic issues have led to scenarios where businesses are used as fronts for political figures to channel their money and influence. This nexus can pose significant risks for investors, including:

  1. Reputational Risks: Associating with politically influenced businesses can harm an investor's reputation, especially if the political figures involved are controversial or corrupt.
  2. Regulatory Risks: Political affiliations can lead to unpredictable regulatory environments. Startups with political ties may benefit from favorable regulations, but a change in the political landscape can reverse these advantages swiftly.
  3. Operational Risks: Political influences can skew the operational priorities of a startup, diverting focus from innovation and growth to maintaining political alliances and favors.

Layering and Complexity in Investment Structures

To obscure direct political connections, various sophisticated structures are employed, including:

  1. Investment Vehicles: Politically connected individuals often use investment vehicles like private equity funds, venture capital firms, and special purpose vehicles (SPVs) to inject money into startups indirectly. These layers make it difficult to trace the ultimate source of funds. Some of these vehicles prefer to operate in a particular state or city.
  2. Accelerators and Incubators: Accelerators and incubators with political backing may provide funding and resources to startups, creating a veil of legitimacy while masking the underlying political connections.
  3. Shell Companies: Shell companies and offshore entities are frequently used to further distance the political figures from the direct operations of the startup. These entities can be involved in complex ownership structures that are challenging to untangle.
  4. Nominee Directors: Appointment of nominee directors who act on behalf of political figures without revealing the true beneficiaries. This adds another layer of separation between the political entities and the startup.

Case Studies and Examples

Several instances highlight the potential risks of political affiliations in Indian startups:

  • Case Study 1: A well-funded Indian startup was found to have deep-rooted connections with a regional political party. When the party lost power, the startup faced severe regulatory scrutiny and operational disruptions.
  • Case Study 2: Another high-profile startup was discovered to be a front for laundering money for a political figure. This led to a massive crackdown by law enforcement agencies, causing significant financial losses for investors.

Due Diligence Best Practices for Investors

As the head of Ankura Consulting in India, specializing in forensics, I recommend the following due diligence practices for investors and private equity funds:

  1. Background Checks: Conduct comprehensive background checks on founders and key executives. Look for any historical political affiliations or connections.
  2. Corporate Governance: Assess the corporate governance structures of the startup. Strong, independent governance can be a safeguard against undue political influence.
  3. Legal and Regulatory Compliance: Ensure the startup complies with all legal and regulatory requirements. Engage local legal experts to navigate the complex regulatory landscape.
  4. Local Partnerships: Partner with local due diligence firms and consultants who have a deeper understanding of the political and business environment in India.
  5. Tracing Fund Sources: Go beyond surface-level checks to trace the origin of funds through multiple layers, including investment vehicles, accelerators, and shell companies. This often requires forensic accounting and thorough investigations.
  6. Lifestyle Checks: Investigate the lifestyle of the founders and key executives. Unexplained wealth, lavish lifestyles without a clear source of income, or sudden rises to prominence without a corresponding professional or educational background can be red flags.

Red Flags to Look For

Investors should be vigilant for the following warning signs:

  • Sudden Emergence: Founders who emerge suddenly with significant funding but lack a clear financial, educational, or professional background.
  • Unexplained Wealth: Lavish lifestyles that seem disproportionate to the founder's reported income or the startup's financial health.
  • Political Connections: Any indirect or direct links to political figures, especially if the startup's success seems to correlate with political favor. Historic social media face recognition provides vital clues and the history of such connections.
  • Complex Ownership Structures: Overly complicated or opaque ownership and investment structures that make it difficult to identify the ultimate beneficiaries.


Investing in Indian startups offers immense potential, but it is not without its challenges. The politico-business nexus in India can pose significant risks to foreign investors. By conducting thorough due diligence, investors can better navigate these complexities, safeguarding their investments and fostering sustainable growth in the Indian startup ecosystem.

While the allure of India's dynamic startup landscape is undeniable, a cautious and informed approach is essential. By recognizing and addressing the potential political influences on Indian startups, investors can make more secure and profitable investment decisions.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

See More Popular Content From

Mondaq uses cookies on this website. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies as set out in our Privacy Policy.

Learn More