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Saturday November 3, 2001 9:11 AM

Indian Americans IT honchos rejoice when east meets west in South

By Ela Dutt, Indo-Asian News Service

New York, Nov 3 (IANS) InfoTech 2001, held in the southern state of North Carolina, is being seen by Indian American entrepreneurs living and working in the region as a victory in breaking into an veritable old boys' network.

The meeting titled "East meets West in South," which attracted the cream of the southern business and political world, showcased the growing clout of South Asian American entrepreneurs that have slowly emerged on the scene as successful managers and profit-making leaders aside from being technological wonders.

The Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) and The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE) jointly hosted the meet.

CED executive director Monica Doss told IANS: "I always knew the history of Indian engineers. But we have so much more to learn from TiE in terms of why we do what we do."

Giving deference to a group outside the old-boys-network would have been unheard of just a few years ago when Indian American entrepreneurs were shunned by venture capitalists and banks doubted their ability to head businesses.

CED boasts a 5,000-strong individual membership base and 1,500 companies, and last year alone 10,000 entrepreneurs went through its various education programs and conferences, said Doss, who has been with the organisation almost since its inception in 1984.

"We find the complement with TiE great. We're training on the ground level and they are running a lot of the leadership."

This win-win situation is the result of tireless efforts of TiE's North Carolina leaders like Vivek Wadhwa, CEO of Relativity Technologies, and Swadesh Chatterjee, president of ThermoBrand Instruments.

Wadhwa still remembers how many times he was refused loans because "your kind of people don't make good managers," bankers said.

Chatterjee set the tone for the meetings when he introduced keynote speaker Rajat Gupta.

"Most of us came to this country around the 1960s," Chatterjee noted. "The first 10 years we spent mostly establishing ourselves. In the second decade, we wanted to be managers, professors or deans. In the third decade, we really became entrepreneurs and once we were established, in the last five years, we decided the country has been good to us -- we needed to give something back to the community and the nation. That's where TiE came in."

This kind of history is what makes the jointly hosted Research Triangle InfoTech 2001 conference an especially triumphant landmark event for Indian Americans.

The meeting featured a veritable Who's Who of Indian Americans from keynote speaker Rajat Gupta, managing director of McKinsey & Company, to Sandeep Chennakeshu, CTO at Ericsson, as well as Sreenath Srinivasan, journalism professor at Columbia University.

CED president-elect Steve Nelson is reported to have earlier conceded that his organization has to date been the first and only substantial entrepreneurial organization in the south.

When such a "tight-knit organization" is so "very quick" to reach out to TiE, also in the south across the continent on the west coast, for co-sponsoring such a flagship event as InfoTech, it is a testament of the leadership.

InfoTech, like many other conferences, promises to "provide IT entrepreneurs, industry experts, technology executives, and investors opportunities to network and to explore critical issues affecting the IT industry through lively panel discussions."

Chennakeshu said: "It was very good exposure to a large number of entrepreneurs eager to know about wireless, and a large number of young people. Some have very cool stuff. And one of my jobs is to identify state-of-the-art technology and funnel it to our companies."

Last year more than 900 companies attended CED's InfoTech 2000. The number of attendees was almost the same this year, said Doss.

She said: "The Research Triangle Park area is the next great place. It is very different from Silicon Valley but it also responds to the interests of the people. For TiE and CED this was a maiden voyage. We have very strong roots in this community and TiE has a really really wonderful network."

While Silicon Valley had been a leader as far as Indian American entrepreneurship is concerned, says Wadhwa, "It's a first in the south. For us to make such headway here is amazing. To be held as role models on mentoring and giving back to the country is great."

Nelson, who moved to North Carolina, on the east coast, from Silicon Valley, believes this region has the potential to become the next great entrepreneurial hub. Available capital has increased fivefold in the last five years and is complemented by excellent higher education institutions like RTP and Duke, experienced entrepreneurs, and high quality standards of living.

Reaching out to "the new kid on the block" and making a win-win partnership is what both organizations aspire to.

TiE's mentoring capabilities are something few in CED have seen. Doss and Nelson both lauded this achievement of an organization that is less than 10 years old but has a global reach with 6,000 members from 25 chapters in five countries.

"We have invested significant effort in getting the local community to come to our events, and gave them a lot of prominence to make them feel comfortable with us. The last thing we wanted to do was to create an 'Indus boys club,'" Wadhwa said.

"Southern, North Carolina culture combining with this international culture is going to expose us to a lot more than before," Doss admitted, "We will continue this partnership."

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