It's late November in Hyderabad, India. The city, once known for its grand palaces and pearls, is bustling with almost 1500 entrepreneurs from more than 150 countries around the world.
Nicknamed "Cyberabad", India's new "epicentre for entrepreneurship" is dominating news headlines across the globe as co-host of the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES).
Now in its eighth year, the summit is an initiative of the Obama administration that has continued under the new US President Donald Trump.
Indians dreaming of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg used to get their IT degrees in America and then seek out high-paying jobs in Silicon Valley. But migrating to the United States has become harder under Trump's immigration crackdown.
Indian entrepreneurs are being not-so-subtly encouraged to stay at home.
Stemming the immigration tide
Since Trump's election win, Indian-born residents in the US searching for jobs back in India have risen. At the same time, the number of people applying for a high-skilled worker visa, the H-1B, has fallen.
Against that backdrop, hosting the GES in South Asia is a deliberate move.
US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster explains it this way in a briefing to journalists during the summit: "We want to create the ecosystem that will lead to innovation and in the long-term will hopefully stop some of the challenges we face as societies around the world."
It's also part of the US's wider strategic objectives, he says, to "help promote prosperity and stability" in the Indo-Pacific region and throughout the world.
Within India, Hyderabad, with a population approaching 9 million, was an obvious choice for the summit, given its home state of Telangana is ranked as one of the easiest places to conduct business in India.
The city is now home to US tech giants such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple and Uber. New incubators and innovation hubs are opening.
Delegates interact during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, India. Photo: AP
'Make in India' push
"CEOs like Microsoft's Satya Nadella went to school right here in Hyderabad," says the headline act on the opening day of the summit, US first daughter Ivanka Trump.
While questions about low-paid women in her own fashion brand supply chains have been left unanswered, Trump appears to be a welcome guest here.
Posters of her face have been plastered throughout Hyderabad. The city has been cleaned up - beggars are nowhere to be seen and bright lights and re-touched murals have been installed for this special foreign guest.
Trump tells us that T-hub's new incubator facility is set to open next year. It will become the largest incubator in Asia, a platform for entrepreneurs, mentors, investors and academia to interact.
"Come Make in India," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tells the local and visiting entrepreneurs.
Under Modi's Make in India program, the government hopes to create a 100 million new jobs by 2022, largely by moving more workers from farms to industries.
US presidential adviser Ivanka Trump speaks at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, India. Photo: AP
City of job creators?
Telangana's chief secretary, Shekhar Prasad Singh, says India wants to have "job creators rather than job seekers".
In order to accommodate the 300 million people who have been estimated to join India's workforce between 2010 and 2040, India needs to create roughly 10 million jobs a year.
This gap can't be filled by local companies. Instead, India is forging partnerships with offshore enterprises, as well as empowering its youth to start businesses. About 65 per cent of India's population is younger than 35. By 2020, the average age will be just 29.
Internet usage, including in rural areas, is on the rise. It is the world's second-largest online market, with more than 450 million internet users, ranked only behind China.
The government's Digital India initiative aims to modernise the Indian economy by making government services available electronically.
There have also been moves to stamp out corruption. The Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) initiative, linking personal accounts, ID cards and mobile phones, allows direct transfer of subsidies to their intended beneficiaries.
An Indian journalist I am touring the city with tells me it has had a positive impact on the lives of millions of Indians, by taking out the middlemen who used to collect the money and take an illegal cut.
The government's Digital India initiative aims to modernise the economy by making government services available electronically. Photo: Supplied
Improving the lot of women
While India is one of the largest startup hubs in the world - the actual number of startups is projected to grow from about 5000 now to 11,500 by 2020 - only 9 per cent of startup founders are women.
And when it comes to deciding who loans go out to, an estimated 90 per cent of venture capital firms in India are headed by men.
The plight of women entrepreneurs was a key topic discussed during the summit, themed "Women First, Prosperity for All". More than 52 per cent of those attending the summit were women and 10 countries, including Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Israel, were represented by all-women delegations.
India's government has various programs that help rural women access formal skills training. Take for instance STEP (Support to Training and Employment Program for Women) which works in sectors such as agriculture, travel and tourism, and computer and IT services.
The 'Stand up India' scheme offers women setting up new enterprises bank loans. It also acts as a digital platform for small entrepreneurs and provides information on financing and credit guarantees.
Women work in the rice fields on the outskirts of Raipur in India. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Tapping into female potential
There is also the Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency, or Mudra Bank, a public sector financial institution which now extends collateral-free loans to women.
ICICI Bank's managing director and chief executive Chanda Kochhar is widely recognised for her role in shaping retail banking in India.
"There is no other country in the world where 40 per cent of the banking sector is headed by women," Kochhar said during a panel discussion at the summit with Ivanka Trump, Cherie Blair (wife of former British PM Tony Blair who now runs the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women) and Karen Quintos (chief customer officer at Dell Technologies).
But she also pointed out that "not even 25 per cent of graduate women in India participate in the workforce".
"We can add, in the next eight to 10 years, $US700 billion to our own GDP if we actually bridge this gender gap," she said. "If you educate a man you educate an individual; if you educate a woman you educate a generation."
Ivanka Trump, second from right, with, from left, Dell's Karen Quintos, Cherie Blair, Telangana IT Minister K.T. Rama Rao and ICICI Bank chief Chanda Kochhar at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Photo: AP
The road to 'red hot' Nashville
India isn't the only country that has work to do in helping women entrepreneurs. And Hyderabad isn't the only city that's aspiring to be more women- friendly.
According to a recent study by WalletHub, the country-music town of Nashville, Tennessee, is the best city in the US for female entrepreneurs.
The study looked at the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas and compared them on 10 key metrics such as "growth of women-owned companies" and "presence of women's business centres".
Fairfax Media visited "The Music City" in December. In the US nationally, entrepreneurship is at a 30-year low. But in Nashville, partly because there's less competition for startups than in Silicon Valley or New York, and partly because there are highly generous tax incentives to attract them, startups are booming.
Nashville has a small but rapidly-growing population. It has 1.8 million residents in a 14-county metropolitan service area. It is the home of the prestigious Vanderbilt University - fast becoming a hot training ground for techies and entrepreneurs - and has been attracting mature millennials from cities all over the US. The average age of people moving to Nashville is 29.
While the city is known worldwide for country music - think superstars performing at the Ryman Auditorium - as well as the Netflix TV series Nashville, it is fast-becoming known in other fields as well.
Country music star Blake Shelton performing at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: AP
Small business the engine
Audra Ladd is manager of small business and creative economy in Mayor Megan Barry's Office of Economic and Community Development (ECD).
She says Nashville's economy is driven by four key areas: healthcare, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality and music and entertainment. Car maker Nissan has its US headquarters here.
"In Nashville, most of the jobs growth comes from small businesses," Ladd says. "Nashville is red hot right now."
It's no accident. Its state and local government gives subsidies for companies looking to relocate, expand or remain.
This is in addition to the fact that in Tennessee, income tax does not apply to salaries and wages (the city raises revenue by taxing sales of goods and services).
Then there's a host of other tax incentives and grants to entice companies and startups. Tennessee provides more than $US2.5 billion worth of incentives annually, including property tax breaks, grants and other subsidies.
Between 2010 and early 2017, Nashville alone awarded businesses property tax breaks and other incentives worth more than $US167 million. (ECD says companies benefiting promised to add about 13,000 jobs and $US1.2 billion in capital investments).
Nashville is "red hot" says Audra Ladd, manager of small business in the mayor's Office of Economic and Community Development. Photo: iStock
An 'aggressive' approach
Launch Tennessee (LaunchTN) is a public-private partnership focused on supporting the development of high-growth companies in Tennessee. Its CEO Charlie Brock says there's an "aggressive" approach to growing the state's entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Statewide it has a network of entrepreneurship centres, college pitch competitions in conjunction with Tennessee's universities, and accelerator programs that provide mentoring to entrepreneurs. Its annual 36/86 Entrepreneurship and Technology Conference brings in business leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs from across the country.
Then there are those special tax credits and funding for startups. The state's Angel Investor Tax Credit applies a 33 per cent tax credit to an investor's income tax liability (there's no state income tax, but there are federal taxes). Individuals, or angel investors, who invest a minimum of $US15,000 of their own money in qualified early-stage Tennessee companies are eligible.
In 2017 the state allocated $US3 million in tax credits to investors with a maximum of $50,000 per individual angel investor. All this provides a "perfect storm" for startups, Brock says.
Nashville has a network of entrepreneurship centres and accelerator programs that provide mentoring to entrepreneurs. Photo: AP
The day that women lead ventures
Kristina Montague is a managing partner at The JumpFund, a women-led angel investment fund backing women-led ventures throughout the state. It's the only fund in the state aimed solely at women.
US companies run by women account for 30 per cent of all businesses in the country.
The JumpFund's first fund made $US2 million worth of investments in 18 companies.
Montague says it is important to help women-led startups since women are the ones that control spending. "Women make 80 per cent of purchasing decisions," she says. "Yet almost everyone heading venture capital funds are male. So you have to start somewhere. My hope is that one day you won't need a JumpFund."
In the meantime, women, millennials and anyone else wanting to make a home in this small city is welcome.
The writer travelled to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and Nashville as a guest of the US State Department.