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28 May 2024

GIFT City Ecosystem for Startups – A Complete Guide in 2024

28 May 2024
gift city startups

GIFT City – A Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Spirit

Nestled amidst the Sabarmati River and flanked by the historic cities of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar, Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City) is more than just India’s first International Financial Services Centre (IFSC). It’s a vibrant ecosystem meticulously designed to foster innovation and propel startups to new heights.

GIFT City stands tall as a testament to India’s aspirations for a global financial powerhouse. But beyond the gleaming skyscrapers and state-of-the-art infrastructure lies a nurturing ground for budding entrepreneurs. Here, startups across diverse sectors can thrive thanks to a unique blend of benefits:

  • Unparalleled Access to Funding: Imagine being surrounded by a network of financial institutions, VCs, and angel investors, all eager to support your vision. GIFT City connects you with the financial resources you need to fuel your startup’s growth.
  • A Streamlined Business Environment: Setting up shop in GIFT City is a breeze, thanks to a hassle-free process and supportive regulations. You can focus on your business goals, leaving the administrative hurdles behind.
  • A Culture of Collaboration and Innovation: GIFT City isn’t just a physical space – it’s a community. Here, you’ll be surrounded by like-minded individuals and businesses, all fostering a culture of creativity and groundbreaking ideas. This collaborative spirit can ignite your own innovation and propel your startup forward.


Understanding International Financial Service Centres (IFSCs): Gateways to Global Finance

International Financial Service Centres (IFSCs) are specialized zones within a country that operate under a separate regulatory and tax regime compared to the domestic economy. These centers aim to attract international financial institutions and businesses by offering a number of advantages, including:

  • Globally Competitive Regulations: IFSCs typically boast streamlined regulations designed to facilitate international business activities. This can include faster approvals, simpler processes, and more flexible rules compared to the main domestic financial system.
  • Favorable Tax Environment: One of the key attractions of IFSCs is their tax benefits. Entities operating within these zones often enjoy significant tax exemptions, including income tax holidays, reduced capital gains taxes, and exemptions from Goods and Services Tax (GST).
  • Access to International Markets: IFSCs provide a platform for companies to access global financial markets and investors. They can raise capital in foreign currencies, conduct cross-border transactions, and participate in international financial products and services.


How IFSCs Cater to International Business?

IFSCs play a crucial role in facilitating cross-border financial activities. Here’s how:

  • Serving Foreign Clients: Financial institutions like banks, insurance companies, and asset managers operating within the IFSC can offer their services to foreign clients. This allows for efficient management of international investments, trade finance, and other financial needs.
  • Global Fundraising: Companies can leverage IFSCs to raise capital from international investors. This can be particularly beneficial for startups and businesses seeking funds for expansion or global operations.
  • Risk Management: IFSCs can be used by companies to manage their foreign exchange exposure and other financial risks associated with international business activities.


The Case of India: GIFT City as the First IFSC (as of April 2024)

India’s first operational IFSC is located in GIFT City, Gujarat. Established in 2008, GIFT City aims to be a global financial and technology hub. It offers a world-class infrastructure, a pro-business environment, and a range of benefits for financial institutions and startups.

  • Growing Ecosystem: As of April 2024, GIFT City has grown significantly, with over 600 entities registered across banking, capital markets, insurance, fintech, and other financial service sectors. This expanding ecosystem demonstrates the increasing appeal of GIFT City for international business activities.
  • Continued Focus on Startups: GIFT City’s focus on creating a supportive ecosystem with flexible regulations, tax exemptions (including a potential extension of the 100% income tax exemption for consecutive 10 years out of a 15 year period on business income), and access to international markets makes it a compelling destination for businesses looking to expand their global footprint, especially startups.


A Haven for Innovation: Types of Startups Welcome in GIFT City

GIFT City, India’s premier International Financial Services Centre (IFSC), isn’t just about gleaming skyscrapers and state-of-the-art infrastructure. It’s a meticulously designed ecosystem fostering a diverse array of startups, particularly within the BFSI (Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance) domain. Here’s a glimpse into the vibrant tapestry of sectors that find a nurturing ground in GIFT City:

  • Banking: Ideal for startups offering international financial services, with world-class infrastructure and supportive regulations.
  • Insurance: Launchpad for innovative insurance products and cross-border services, thanks to the IFSC framework and favorable regulations.
  • Capital Markets: A hub for startups in stock exchanges, trading platforms, and other capital market activities.
  • Fund Management: Robust infrastructure and regulations empower fund management startups to navigate global complexities and attract investors.
  • Fintech/Techfins: A thriving ecosystem with a dedicated “fintech sandbox” for experimenting with cutting-edge financial technology solutions.

Beyond BFSI: The opportunities in GIFT City extend far beyond traditional BFSI domains. The city welcomes startups in various other financial services sectors, including:

  • Asset Management
  • Wealth Management
  • Financial Advisory
  • Allied Financial Services

The IFSC status ensures that these startups can operate seamlessly on a global scale, reaching a wider audience and maximizing their impact.


Bringing Innovation Home: Onshoring the Indian Dream

Recognizing the potential of homegrown talent, GIFT City, through the International Financial Services Centres Authority (IFSCA), has launched a dedicated initiative – “Onshoring Indian Innovation to GIFT City.” This initiative aims to reverse the trend of Indian startups migrating overseas and actively encourages them to establish their base in GIFT City.

An Expert Committee constituted by IFSCA recently submitted a report titled “Onshoring of Indian Innovation to GIFT City IFSC”. This report proposes a roadmap of legal, regulatory, and tax reforms designed to make GIFT City an attractive proposition for Indian entrepreneurs. The aim is to provide a compelling alternative to popular offshore destinations like the US and Singapore, keeping the brightest minds and innovations within India’s borders.

By fostering a welcoming environment with supportive regulations, tax exemptions, and access to funding, GIFT City is poised to become a launchpad for India’s next generation of financial service and technology startups. It aspires to not just be a financial hub, but a breeding ground for innovation and a catalyst for India’s journey towards becoming a global financial powerhouse.


Catapulting Your Startup: Why GIFT City is India’s Launchpad for Innovation

Forget the generic startup hubs – GIFT City is where innovation explodes. This meticulously designed financial metropolis isn’t just about glitzy skyscrapers; it’s a dynamic ecosystem specifically designed to propel startups, particularly in the BFSI (Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance) sector. But the benefits extend far beyond traditional finance. Here’s a look at what makes GIFT City a launchpad for ambitious entrepreneurs:

  • Funding Fiesta: A Network of Financiers Fueling Your Dreams in GIFT City Imagine a constant stream of potential investors at your doorstep. In GIFT City, you’ll be right next door to leading financial institutions, VCs, and angel investors actively seeking to invest in high-growth startups. This proximity fosters a vibrant “Funding Fiesta” environment, where your company can easily connect with the capital it needs to thrive. With tech titans like Wipro setting up fintech centers and a growing pool of investors, GIFT City provides the perfect launchpad to propel your business to new heights. 
  • Business Friendly Regulations, Tax Holiday Bliss – Forget the bureaucratic nightmares of setting up shop. GIFT City boasts a streamlined regulatory environment under the unified regulator IFSCA, which simplifies the business setup process. Startups benefit from a tax holiday for ten consecutive years in a fifteen year period, exemption from GST and MAT, IT / ITeS state subsidies and other incentives that significantly reduce the bureaucratic overhead and operational costs. This allows you to focus on what truly matters – transforming your innovative ideas into groundbreaking solutions.

  • A Collaborative Cauldron of Creativity: Breeding Ground for Fintech – Innovation thrives in a vibrant ecosystem. Unlike isolated co-working spaces, GIFT City fosters a dynamic environment where creativity explodes. The collaboration between GIFT City and Zone Startups India is set to further bolster the fintech sector. This partnership aims to develop a robust base for fintech and related sectors, offering programs that attract both domestic and international startups in fields like digital banking and insure-tech. Surrounded by like-minded businesses and supported by targeted programs, you’ll find the perfect space to brainstorm, iterate, and collaborate, fueling the development of cutting-edge solutions that can disrupt entire industries. 
  • Location, Location, Location: A Talent Hub with Global Connectivity – GIFT City’s strategic location between Ahmedabad, a burgeoning commercial center, and Gandhinagar, Gujarat’s capital city, offers a distinct advantage. The city boasts state-of-the-art infrastructure, enhancing connectivity and access to major urban centers. This facilitates the smooth operation of businesses and attracts talent. With a skilled talent pool readily available, you can build a strong foundation for your startup’s success. 
  • Operational Cost Efficiency: Optimizing Your Expenses – Beyond the tax holiday, GIFT City presents additional cost advantages that are attractive to businesses looking to optimize expenses. Incentives like waivers on withholding tax for lenders in foreign currency loans and lower taxes on interest earned on bonds make GIFT City an attractive proposition. This allows you to invest more resources into product development, marketing, and team building – the cornerstones of any successful startup. 

Beyond the Highlighted Benefits:

  • Global Currency Accounts: Going Global with Ease – Open bank accounts in foreign currency with ease, simplifying financial transactions and international operations. This eliminates unnecessary hurdles and streamlines your journey towards becoming a global player. 
  • Seamless Repatriation: Taking Your Success Home – Repatriate funds outside India with greater ease, enhancing the operational convenience of your startup. This flexibility allows you to attract global investment and talent, further accelerating your growth trajectory. 

GIFT City’s development as a smart city and financial hub aligns with global standards, positioning it as a prime destination for startups looking to innovate and expand on a global scale.  These features, coupled with the substantial funding opportunities and supportive ecosystem, make GIFT City an ideal environment for startups aiming for rapid growth and international reach.


 GIFT City: A Launchpad for Indian Startups

GIFT City, located strategically between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar, serves as a pivotal launchpad for Indian startups, especially in the financial services and technology sectors. It offers a unique ecosystem that combines advanced infrastructure, regulatory benefits, and comprehensive support to foster innovation and attract global capital.

 Role of IFSCA

The International Financial Services Centres Authority (IFSCA) is the regulatory body overseeing GIFT City. Established by the IFSC Authority Act of 2019, IFSCA ensures a conducive business environment with streamlined regulations that facilitate easy and efficient operations for startups and established businesses alike.

 Supportive Ecosystem

  • Highly Developed Infrastructure: GIFT City boasts state-of-the-art facilities including smart offices, high-speed connectivity, and social infrastructure. This setup supports seamless operations and provides a conducive work environment for emerging businesses.
  • Cost-Saving Incentives: Startups in GIFT City benefit from substantial cost reductions, which include:
    • Reduction in operating costs compared to other locations.
    • Single window clearance for quick and easy business setup.
    • Various subsidies like EPF reimbursement, power subsidy, and lease rental subsidy.
    • As per the IT/ITES Incentive Policy (2022-2027), substantial support is provided in both capital and operational expenditures, enhancing affordability for IT-based startups.
    • Supporting Ecosystem: GIFT City is equipped with India’s first district cooling system, automated waste management, and a smart water & power infrastructure, setting a benchmark in sustainable urban living.
    • Strategic Business Location: Its location provides easy connectivity to major transport hubs, including the Ahmedabad International Airport and local railway systems, fostering accessibility and visibility.
    • Access to Talent: Universities like Deakin and Wollongong, located near GIFT City, offer specialized programs in Cybersecurity and Business Analytics. These programs prepare graduates with the in-demand skills needed to thrive in critical fields like technology and finance. This proximity to a talent pool with expertise in Business Analytics and Cybersecurity is crucial for startups in these sectors, significantly increasing their chances of attracting and retaining top talent.

 Key Highlights from the Gujarat IT/ITES Incentive Policy 2022-2027

  • Capital Support: Up to 25% CAPEX support on eligible expenditure with varying maximum caps based on the scale of the project.
  • Operational Expenditure Support: OPEX support up to 15% of the annual eligible OPEX expenditure, fostering ongoing operational affordability.
  • Special Incentives: Include interest assistance, employment generation incentives, and specific support for cable landing stations, further reducing the financial burden on startups.

GIFT City not only offers an unparalleled infrastructure but also integrates a vast array of services and facilities that cater to the diverse needs of startups aiming to compete on a global scale. The combination of regulatory support from IFSCA, financial incentives, and a robust infrastructure makes GIFT City an ideal ecosystem for nurturing innovative startups and accelerating their growth trajectories.


GIFT City: A Hub for Fintech Innovation

 Introduction to GIFT City as the Current Sole Operational IFSC in India with a Dedicated Fintech Framework

Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City) is an integrated development designed to be a global financial and IT hub, representing India’s first and only operational International Financial Services Centre (IFSC). Spanning 886 acres with extensive commercial, residential, and social spaces, GIFT City combines state-of-the-art infrastructure and strategic location near Ahmedabad to facilitate international finance and technology firms. As of March 2024, GIFT City houses over 600 registered entities.

Revolutionizing Fintech Innovation in GIFT City: A Closer Look at the Streamlined Regulatory Process

GIFT City is paving the way for financial innovation with its Fintech Framework, spearheaded by the International Financial Services Centres Authority (IFSCA). This initiative is designed to cultivate a nurturing environment for startups across various domains such as banking, insurance, and fund management. By simplifying the regulatory framework, it allows fintech startups to obtain necessary authorizations swiftly, fostering an atmosphere where innovation and scalability can thrive.

Simplified Regulatory Environment

The Fintech Framework within GIFT City stands out for its integrated and flexible regulatory landscape. Unlike traditional financial centers, this framework significantly reduces bureaucratic hurdles, facilitating a quicker and more efficient process for startups to kickstart their operations. This streamlined approach is instrumental in enabling startups to focus on innovation and rapid scaling without being bogged down by lengthy regulatory procedures.

Who is covered under the FinTech framework?

  • FinTech: Fintech solutions resulting in new business models, applications, processes or products in areas/activities linked to financial services regulated by the IFSCA
  • TechFin: Advanced/innovative technological solutions that aid and assist activities in relation to financial products, financial services and financial institutions

Entities that are eligible to benefit from this framework include:

  • Indian startups recognized by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), Indian companies, and LLPs, even those already regulated by domestic financial regulators such as RBI, SEBI, IRDAI, and PFRDA.
  • Foreign entities that are based in Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-compliant jurisdictions.

Innovative Sandbox Framework

GIFT City introduces a unique sandbox mechanism to support fintech innovation:

  • Regulatory Sandbox: Enables testing of new technologies in financial services without the need for full regulatory compliance from the get-go.
  • FinTech Innovation Sandbox: Allows startups to develop their technologies using market-related data in a controlled environment, separate from the live market.
  • Inter Operable Regulatory Sandbox (IORS): Supports testing of hybrid products/services that span multiple financial regulatory jurisdictions.

Fintech Incentive Scheme

To attract more fintech companies to GIFT City, the IFSCA has rolled out a comprehensive FinTech Incentive Scheme which includes:

  • Startup Grant: ₹15 lakhs to support the development and marketing of new fintech products.
  • Proof of Concept (POC) Grant: ₹50 lakhs to facilitate the conducting of POCs in both domestic and international markets.
  • Sandbox Grant: ₹30 lakhs to aid in the testing of innovative products within a controlled setting.
  • Green Fintech Grant: ₹75 lakhs allocated for the creation of sustainable finance solutions.
  • Accelerator Grant: ₹10 lakhs grant shall be utilized for supporting accelerators at the IFSC for capacity building, build capabilities around mentors, bringing investors, bringing more projects or PoC, tie ups, etc.
  • Listing Support Grants: ₹15 lakhs grant shall be utilized for supporting Domestic FE aspiring to go for listing on stock exchanges recognised by the Authority.


Navigating the Regulatory Framework for Payment Services in GIFT City

The burgeoning fintech sector in GIFT City has seen an innovative leap forward with the introduction of the IFSCA (Payment Services) Regulations, 2024. Established by the International Financial Services Centres Authority (IFSCA), this comprehensive framework is designed to oversee and enhance the provision of payment services within GIFT City, ensuring operations are both secure and efficient.

Overview of Payment Services in GIFT City

The IFSCA has delineated specific types of services that fall under the umbrella of payment services. These include:

  • Account Issuance: Facilitating the creation and management of financial accounts.
  • E-Money Issuance: Issuing electronic money for transaction purposes, where the monetary value is stored digitally and denominated in specified foreign currencies.
  • Escrow Services: Holding funds or assets in trust while two or more parties complete a transaction.
  • Cross-Border Money Transfer Services: Enabling the transfer of funds across national boundaries efficiently and securely.

Authorization and Operational Standards

Entities aiming to provide these services are required to navigate a series of regulatory requirements:

  • Certificate of Authorization: All payment service providers must secure a certificate from the IFSCA.
  • Company Incorporation and Net Worth Requirements: These entities must be incorporated within the IFSC and meet varying net worth requirements:
    • Regular Payment Service Providers start with a minimum net worth of USD 100,000, escalating to USD 200,000 by the third financial year.
    • Significant Payment Service Providers must reach a net worth of USD 250,000 within 90 days of designation and USD 500,000 by the end of the third year.

Regulatory and Operational Guidelines

The IFSCA’s regulations also stipulate stringent operational and security standards:

  • Fit and Proper Criteria: Directors, key managerial personnel, and other significant stakeholders must meet high standards of integrity, financial soundness, and competence.
  • Safeguarding Funds: Providers must secure user funds in segregated escrow accounts within specified banking units in the IFSC, ensuring they are insulated from other operational risks.
  • Risk Management and Cybersecurity: Payment Service Providers are obligated to develop robust frameworks for risk management and to fortify their IT systems against cyber threats.

The IFSCA (Payment Services) Regulations, 2024, mark a significant step towards establishing GIFT City as a leading hub for fintech innovation and financial services. By providing a structured and secure regulatory environment, these regulations not only protect consumers but also encourage global fintech players to consider GIFT City as a strategic location for growth and development. For startups and established companies alike, understanding and adhering to these regulations will be key to unlocking the potential within this dynamic financial ecosystem.


Conclusion: Launching the Future from GIFT City

GIFT City isn’t just a physical space; it’s a catalyst for India’s burgeoning startup ecosystem. By providing a launchpad specifically designed to nurture innovation, it empowers aspiring entrepreneurs – GIFT City startups – to translate their ideas into reality. The confluence of funding opportunities, streamlined regulations, a collaborative environment, and strategic location makes GIFT City a game-changer, particularly for startups in the fintech domain.

Looking ahead, GIFT City’s potential to propel India’s startup ecosystem to new heights is undeniable. By fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, it creates a breeding ground for groundbreaking solutions that can disrupt industries and redefine the global landscape. Imagine a future where Indian fintech startups are leading the charge, shaping the way we transact and manage our finances. GIFT City has the potential to make this vision a reality.

The city’s commitment to nurturing startups extends beyond financial and regulatory support. The collaborative environment fosters a spirit of exchange and co-creation, where ideas can be tested, refined, and launched with greater confidence. This collaborative spirit, coupled with the easy access to a skilled talent pool, empowers startups to build high-performing teams capable of achieving remarkable feats.

So, how can you be a part of this exciting future? Registering a company in GIFT City (the process is streamlined for ease) unlocks a treasure trove of benefits for startups, including a tax holiday, operational cost efficiencies, and access to a network of investors. For aspiring entrepreneurs curious about things to do in GIFT City, beyond the business-oriented aspects, the city offers a vibrant atmosphere with world-class infrastructure.

In conclusion, GIFT City is more than just a financial hub; it’s a symbol of India’s ambition to become a global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. By empowering startups, particularly in the fintech domain, it has the potential to propel India’s startup ecosystem to new heights and shape the future of finance on a global scale. If you’re a bold entrepreneur with a groundbreaking idea, GIFT City is waiting to be your launchpad to success. Don’t wait – explore the possibilities and register your company in GIFT City today!

Posted by
Treelife at GIFT City
Last updated on
May 28, 2024, 4:31pm


The content of this article is for information purpose only and does not constitute advice or a legal opinion and are personal views of the author. It is based upon relevant law and/or facts available at that point of time and prepared with due accuracy & reliability. Readers are requested to check and refer to relevant provisions of statute, latest judicial pronouncements, circulars, clarifications etc. before acting on the basis of the above write up. The possibility of other views on the subject matter cannot be ruled out. By the use of the said information, you agree that the Author / Treelife is not responsible or liable in any manner for the authenticity, accuracy, completeness, errors or any kind of omissions in this piece of information for any action taken thereof.

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