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By Sunny Ahlawat . 27 August 2020
The CA and the former Partner at BDO UAE, helping startups and businesses with mentoring and angel investing

The Startup CA is exhilarated to have met Priyesh Kapadia former Partner of BDO UAE who is currently helping Startups and Businesses with mentoring, angel investing, and sound advice. In 2019, after almost 16 years of working in Dubai, he moved back to Mumbai, India, and started all over as an entrepreneur. He founded Lava Star Ventures which specializes in Angel Investments, Startup mentoring, and business advisory services on the Indian market entry strategy for foreign companies and international expansion strategies for Indian companies.

How did you start your career in Dubai and became a partner at BDO at 33?

I qualified as a CA in 1998 and in 2002 there was an opportunity with BDO UAE in the audit team. I decided to go for it and joined them as a senior associate.   In 2005 and 2006, we were receiving a lot of inquiries from our existing clients on company incorporation and how they could establish their set up in the UAE. So I did some research and took up the initiative of helping clients with this, of course in addition to my auditing role.   With time, we started getting more and more inquiries and that is when with the encouragement of my Managing Partner we started a separate service line just for corporate advisory services and I became a partner of Advisory Services. I was just 33 and was the youngest partner in BDO UAE.   My journey, I guess is of being at the right place at the right time and more importantly ‘taking the initiative when the opportunity presented’.

What was your role at BDO UAE and what is your greatest achievement in the firm?

As an equity partner, I was part of the core leadership team driving the strategic direction for the firm. During my tenure, the firm achieved multi-fold growth and achieved new milestones. I had also been closely involved in the recruitment and finance functions of the firm. In my 16-year stint, I successfully grew and lead the Transaction Advisory Services division which handled special assignments like due diligence, business valuation, feasibility studies, limited reviews, etc. and Corporate Advisory Services wherein I advised on the business structures for the investors willing to establish their presence in the UAE.

How and why did you start Lava Star Ventures?

In 2019, I decided to relocate back to Mumbai due to some personal commitments and be with my family. While still in Dubai, I started exploring angel investments and considered different startups for making angel investments. I am an entrepreneur by nature and the process of reviewing different business ideas and connecting with enthusiastic and passionate entrepreneurs always attracted me. While interacting with entrepreneurs, I noticed some of them needed a bit of handholding and guidance to approach their business in a more structured manner and be ready for the next phase of growth. This gave me an idea of starting start-up mentoring and business advisory services. Hence, I founded Lava Star Ventures when I relocated to Mumbai.

Why not join any other large accounting firm in India? Why start your own?

The idea of joining another firm did occur to me when I was planning to relocate to Mumbai however my main reason for relocation was due to personal family commitment. I wanted to work in a manner where I can maintain proper work-life balance and spend quality time with family. Hence, I chose to start my own advisory.

Was it tough making a transition to an entrepreneur and starting all over?

Starting any new venture from scratch is relatively tough and the same has been the case with me. In fact, I am still under the transitioning phase and it has been challenging but I am enjoying it to the fullest as I can work at my own pace.

How are you finding the transition from working in a big firm to being your own boss?

When I worked with a well-established larger firm, I had all the resources and teams available to provide the support whereas in a new venture it takes time to establish the brand and presence in the market. Moreover, with COVID 19 restrictions, the work gets affected further, as the decisions are deferred and business focus is more conservative.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs like yourself and how can you advise them?

Startups and new entrepreneurs have very limited budgets for advisory services hence you need to start small and grow along with the growth of startup hence it is a long-term game. Patience and consistency are very vital.

How are you using your 20 years plus experience to help startups and businesses in India?

During my 21- year career, I came across a large number of businesses (from smaller owner-managed to listed and large multinational companies) in different industries and fields of activities and conducted various assignments for them. I spent almost 16 years working with BDO in the UAE wherein I interacted with a number of BDO firms across the world and dealt with their clients which helped me to at a deeper and valuable international experience. I was also attached with a number of Indian clients and that has kept me abreast of Indian business scenarios. This has been a very fruitful experience and I will share my knowledge and experience with my clients to assess their business idea and plan for its expansion, helping them with structuring and compliance, having appropriate controls and processes in place, guiding them about fundraising, considering local and international go to market strategy, etc.

Do you also provide angel investing?

I started looking at various startups for angel investment opportunities a couple of years back and started building a portfolio. I am sector agnostic but typically invest in startups where the revenue stream is established. So far, I have invested in seven companies and one investment is in pipeline. My dream is to launch a couple of startups on my own or in partnership with some like-minded passionate people.

Who does Lava Star Ventures potentially partner with?

‘Lava Star Ventures’ is a privately owned Angel Investment and Advisory firm. We make Angel Investments and provide advisory services for startups and entrepreneurs. We are keen to partner with enthusiastic, sincere, and dedicated entrepreneurs that are passionate to grow the market-leading business by disrupting traditional markets or solving problems or improving efficiency using innovative products or services. We help in the entrepreneur’s Vision, Validation, Venturing, and Value Creation process from the first step all the way to establishing successfully. We provide services to aspiring or established entrepreneur, looking for help with any of the following scenarios: I have an idea, need to evaluate with an experienced professional consultant I have just founded my start-up with my own savings, need to get help setting up the business I have been operating my business with few customers, need to understand how to scale the business I need to formulate a business plan/financial plan I need to raise external funding and need to know steps to follow I have received external funding, need help in creating new Innovative Products, Build New Platform or Solution I need a mentor to reflect on my strategies We also support and provide advisory on Indian market entry strategy for foreign companies and international expansion strategies for Indian companies. Do you feel it’s time CAs venture into the startup space and be partners in the growth of startups? The startup ecosystem is growing in India and there have been many success stories of entrepreneurs venturing into new businesses and achieving massive business growth and valuations. Generally, startups are launched by technocrats or budding entrepreneurs who are passionate about their idea. Professional advice and support by experienced chartered accountants can help them in all stages of their growth including evaluation of an idea, commercial viability, structuring, taxation, compliance, controls and process, business plan and budgeting, pitch preparation, fundraising, etc. A chartered accountant with his/her commercial acumen can be the trusted advisor with whom the entrepreneurs can reflect their strategies.

Would you advise finance leaders to venture on their own?

I would say it is a matter of personal choice.   If one can share the valuable knowledge and experience gained over the years of practice with budding entrepreneurs and help they grow, it’s a kind of satisfying experience and in a way, he or she is giving back to the business community. Of course, one may charge for the advice for it to be valued properly.   There has been a number of initiatives and mechanisms by the Government and other larger companies to nurture startup ecosystems. Nowadays, even larger advisory firms are creating start-up support systems within their practice hence one can even contribute by remaining in their existing roles.