Once again, an Indian high-value startup seems to have attracted the attention of the country’s goods and services tax (GST) department. This time, the startup in question is Ronnie Screwvela’s upGrad, and on Wednesday, officials from the nation’s GST department visited its offices premises in Mumbai, marking a broader trend of increased regulatory scrutiny amid cases of lacklustre corporate governance.
However, upGrad denies that the current search indicates anything more than routine. According to a statement by Koell Hemdev, Head of Legal at the edtech unicorn – which was further corroborated by media reports, including Reuters – the search by the GST officials is simply a “routine survey,” and the edtech unicorn is “fully compliant and cooperating with the department.”
The searches at the office premises of the eight-year-old upGrad marks the second occasion where a start-up – an edtech startup, to be precise – has drawn the attention of government authorities in recent times. For those who need a refresher, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had conducted searches on three premises in Bengaluru of edtech major Byju’s and founder Raveendaran Byju, under the provisions of FEMA, earlier this year.
The ED later revealed that it had recovered “various incriminating documents and digital data” during its searches, while Byjus maintained that the searches were part of a “routine inquiry,” and that the edtech major had been “completely transparent with the authorities” and would “continue to work closely” with them.
The eight-year-old Upgrad, founded by Ronnie Screwvala, counts the likes of Temasek, James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems and World Bank’s International Finance Corporation among its backers.
Today, the startup has made its name as an online higher education platform that offers over 100 industry-relevant courses and programs to learners in collaboration with renowned universities and industry experts. This includes educational institutions such as Michigan State University, the IIT Madras and IIT Delhi, and Swiss School of Business Management, Geneva, ensuring that the edtech startup can cater to the evolving needs of learners seeking to enhance their skills and advance their careers. upGrad was valued at $2.25 billion in 2022, and has raised $600 million to date, and entered the unicorn club two years ago (as part of a plethora of entrants into the unicorn club in 2021).