Start-up fever grips young tech-savvy In­di­ans

Tech stars opt to carve a new route to suc­cess at home

Global Times - Weekend - - TECH -

Global prod­uct

In the base­ment of a Ban­ga­lore build­ing, hun­dreds of young In­di­ans sit in neat rows of desks typ­ing fu­ri­ously, all dream­ing of be­com­ing the new Steve Jobs or Mark Zucker­berg.

A quar­ter of a cen­tury after lib­er­al­iza­tion kick-started In­dia’s eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion, a new gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple are cap­i­tal­iz­ing on their par­ents’ hard-won fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity to try their luck in the risky busi­ness of tech start-ups.

“It’s re­ally pick­ing up,” said Aneesh Durg, a young In­dian-ori­gin stu­dent from Chicago who came to the south­ern tech hub of Ban­ga­lore to help de­velop a de­vice that as­sists blind peo­ple to read writ­ten text.

“It’s ac­tu­ally not what I ex­pected it to be. I thought that they would be a lit­tle bit be­hind, but they are ac­tu­ally work­ing just as hard and there’s re­ally cool stuff com­ing out of In­dia these days.”

More and more young peo­ple in the coun­try of 1.25 bil­lion peo­ple are opt­ing to go of it alone, in stark con­trast to pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions that val­ued the sta­bil­ity of em­ploy­ment above all else.

In­dia now has some 4,750 tech start-ups – the high­est num­ber in the world after the US and Bri­tain, which it is quickly catch­ing up. Suc­cess sto­ries in­clude Flip­kart, Ama­zon’s ri­val in In­dia, and on­line su­per­mar­ket Big Bas­ket. From ro­bots and mo­bile apps to smart

kitchens and a cock­tail­mak­ing ma­chine, the cav­ernous Ban­ga­lore of­fice, which houses one of In­dia’s big­gest start-up in­cu­ba­tors, is a ver­i­ta­ble ideas fac­tory.

Every meet­ing room bears a photo of a suc­cess­ful tech­nol­ogy en­trepreneur.

Vikram Ras­togi is a ro­bot­ics ex­pert who set up a small in­cu­ba­tor named Hack­lab after vis­it­ing the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in 2014.

“I saw the kind of hard­ware work they were do­ing. We could also do the same kind of hard­ware work in In­dia, it’s just that peo­ple do not pur­sue it much fur­ther,” he ex­plained.

“So I thought let me start with some­thing in In­dia and try to make global prod­uct out of it,” Ras­togi noted.

The en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ate is cur­rently work­ing on ways to en­able drones to op­er­ate as part of a fleet in or­der to har­ness more in­for­ma­tion, an ap­pli­ca­tion that could be used to gather data over large ar­eas such as the vast farms of Aus­tralia or Brazil.

But the path to build­ing the next Google or Ap­ple is not al­ways smooth.

“When I started this we had a lot of peo­ple who came to us with start-up ideas,” Ras­togi said, but ad­mit­ting that some give up over time of­ten due to fam­ily pres­sure to get a salaried job.

New gen­er­a­tion

Sylvia Veer­aragha­van, one of the mil­lions who have mi­grated to Ban­ga­lore for work since the 1990s, is watch­ing this new gen­er­a­tion of self-starters with in­ter­est.

When she moved there, the city was be­com­ing an out­sourc­ing hub for West-

ern tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies seek­ing a cheap and well-ed­u­cated work­force through com­pa­nies such as In­fosys, Tata Con­sul­tancy Ser­vices and Wipro.

“For me, for the peo­ple of my time, get­ting a job was a very big deal. The kind of values that we used to have are very dif­fer­ent from the values that peo­ple have to­day,” said Veer­aragha­van, who now works for a char­ity after a 25-year ca­reer in IT.

She be­lieves the ris­ing pros­per­ity of In­dia’s mid­dle class has given young peo­ple the free­dom to ex­per­i­ment.

“They are not con­stricted, or re­stricted, hav­ing to take up a job, or find­ing their next meal,” she said. “They can be in­no­va­tive, they can be imag­i­na­tive.”

It is a trend that looks set to con­tinue, ac­cord­ing to fore­casts. Be­tween 200,000 and 250,000 peo­ple will be work­ing in tech start-ups by 2020, nearly dou­ble the cur­rent num­ber, ac­cord­ing to soft­ware in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tion Nass­com.

Tra­di­tion­ally, there has been a well­trod­den path from In­dian IT in­sti­tutes to a master’s de­gree in Amer­ica and then on to a plum job in Sil­i­con Val­ley.

But US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s crack­down on im­mi­gra­tion – in­clud­ing a pro­posed re­struc­ture of the H-1B work­ing visas of­ten used by tech firms to re­cruit for­eign skilled work­ers – may mean even more of In­dia’s tech stars opt to carve a new route to suc­cess at home.

It re­mains too early to say what im­pact Trump’s planned im­mi­gra­tion re­form could have on In­dia, but for Durg, the In­dian-ori­gin stu­dent, the an­swer is sim­ple.

He is al­ready con­fi­dent that when he fin­ishes his stud­ies in Chicago, he will be head­ing back to In­dia, not Cal­i­for­nia.

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