Social networks help Indian talents in Valley

VoicenData Bureau
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Dr AnnaLee Saxenian is a professor at the University of California at

Berkeley with a joint appointment in the School of Information Management and

Systems and the Department of City and Regional Planning. Her book Silicon

Valley’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Regional Advantage: Culture and

Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128 is a pioneering work that, for the

first time, explains the reasons behind the success of Indian and Chinese

entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley, from a deep sociological point of view.

While she continues to write on the entrepreneurship and culture of Silicon

Valley, of late, she has written many papers on the return of the Indians to

India. Some of her recent papers on the subject includes Bangalore: The Silicon

Valley of Asia? and The Bangalore Boom: From "Brain Drain" to

"Brain Circulation" .



this e-mail interview with Voice&Data, Dr Saxenian says that the product

design and such high value work will increasingly move to China and India.

What is the percentage of Indian-promoted companies in Silicon Valley in

recent times, that is 1998 onwards? Has
there been any major change since the

time you published your research findings?

The percentage of Indian-run companies in Silicon Valley has continued to rise:
during 1996-98 they accounted for 10.9 percent of total SV technology companies

started since 1980; in 1999-2000 (my latest data) their share rose to 13.9

percent. In 2000 the absolute number of Indian-run companies was 1,283.

Why do so many Indians in Valley turn entrepreneurs?

Silicon Valley has a set of institutions (venture capital, local professional
networks and associations) that support entrepreneurship, and the culture of

Silicon Valley glorifies entrepreneurs, so it turns engineers and scientists

into aspiring entrepreneurs. This has been the case for native as well as

foreign-born professionals. In addition, immigrants tend to be self-selected

risk takers, having taken the original risk of leaving their home countries.


Why do many of them succeed?

They succeed for several reasons: first, Indian immigrants are extremely
talented, having often graduated from India’s elite engineering universities;

second, the Indian community has created social and institutional networks that

increase the likelihood of success (mentoring, information sharing, angel

investing, etc.); and finally, like other first-generation immigrants, Indians

often work very hard.

There is a perception that Indian success stories in the US business are

restricted to Silicon Valley. Do you agree?

Not at all. There are successful Indians in middle and senior management ranks
of many large non-technology US corporations and financial institutions as well

as universities. An Indian is now the managing director of McKinsey & Co. In

fact one of the reasons for the early successes of the Indian software services

industry is the role played by Indians in Fortune 500 companies, encouraging

their senior managers to take advantage of low-cost software development

opportunities in India.

Are Indians still considered good techies, but not so good managers?

This perception has changed significantly over the past decade, largely because
of the high profile successes of Indian technologists who became managers.


Of late, many Indians are looking back to India for funding companies and

starting companies with an India-centric business model. Why?

Indians perceive, rightly, that they have a distinctive opportunity in funding
or starting companies that take advantage of Indian resources, especially

skilled workforce. They understand Indian culture and institutions (government,

financial, as well as business) better than most foreigners do and so are more

likely to succeed in that environment.

You have talked appreciatively of ethnic social networking. Don’t you

think it is against the spirit of globalization?

Ethnic networking becomes a problem only if it becomes exclusionary and closed.
Social networks are ubiquitous and critical to the functioning of the economy,

both local and global. If they remain open they accelerate information flows and

learning within groups, whether based on profession or ethnicity or whatever.

Shyamanuja Das