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A Tie That Binds

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    A Tie That Binds

    South Asian Entrepreneurs and Mentors Form a Tie That Binds
    Start-ups: High-tech business leaders from India region have united to help ambitious immigrants succeed in the U.S.

    By DAVID KESMODEL, Times Staff Writer

    When Sandeep Walia and his partners presented their sweeping plan for an Internet start-up to investor Navneet Chugh last year, Chugh was underwhelmed, to put it kindly.
    "Navneet said, 'Shut up, guys. You can't do all that,' " said the 26-year-old Walia, an electronics engineer whose idea for a worldwide e-tailer of ethnic handicrafts occurred to him at a party.
    A swift wake-up call was not all that the fledgling company, BuyBuzz Inc., received from Chugh, a member of a closely knit group of established businesspeople from India and neighboring countries called the IndUS Entrepreneurs, or TiE. Seeing potential in the team, the Cerritos attorney and CPA helped streamline its concept to match its strengths. He also injected seed capital in the business, provided free legal and accounting services, and enticed Walia to locate in Cerritos--instead of Silicon Valley--with free space in his law offices. What's more, he has handed off BuyBuzz's business plan to other investors.
    After revamping his original idea, India-born Walia instead developed a software application that will enable e-tailers and auction sites to syndicate their offerings. BuyBuzz is now poised to launch its product in August.
    Chugh's blend of critical advice and robust support is emblematic of the mentoring acts of TiE, a group whose influence on the high-tech sector has extended from Mountain View to Mumbai, India, leaving its largest imprint on Silicon Valley.
    The buzz surrounding TiE's 440-member Southern California chapter, of which Chugh is a founding member, has grown rapidly since launching in 1997--organizers had to turn away 100 people from its annual conference in October. Yet investments haven't followed at the same torrid pace, keeping the chapter in the shadows of its Northern California cousins, who spawned the likes of Exodus Communications Inc., Hotmail Corp. and Junglee Corp.
    But there are signs the tide is turning. The number of new companies that TiE Southern California members have cultivated has risen in the last year. Today, about two dozen start-ups here are led or backed by TiE members.
    "What we need in Southern California is one or two success stories," said Chugh, who stresses that the chapter is still in its gestation period. "Once that happens, it will be a great morale booster."
    Safi Qureshey, the president of TiE Southern California and its most noteworthy ambassador, is the principal figure behind the recent surge in investments. A Pakistani, Qureshey achieved prominence in the 1980s as co-founder and chief executive of Irvine-based personal computer maker AST Research Inc.
    Qureshey has invested about $7 million in a dozen Southern California start-ups. He recently launched a $50-million business incubator, IrvineVentures, which works closely with UC Irvine and other local research institutions to hatch new companies.
    He also helps entrepreneurs in another way by bringing prominent speakers to TiE Southern California's monthly meetings through his many connections in the high-tech community. More than 200,000 people from the Indian subcontinent are estimated to live in Southern California.
    About 200 people typically attend the events, held at the Sheraton Cerritos. Over dinner and cocktails, they listen to experts such as Mohan Sawhney, a top e-commerce authority who teaches at Northwestern's Kellogg Graduate School of Management.
    Yet speeches are only part of the draw. Before and after, members engage in a flurry of networking. Budding entrepreneurs can rub elbows with angel investors and get advice from seasoned executives. Members of the group liken the personal exchanges to the Indian tradition of passing wisdom from a guru, or teacher, to the chela, or student.
    "One of the key things we've learned in entrepreneurship is that there's nothing that encourages individuals more than getting to meet someone who has [become successful], and say, 'If he did it, I can do it,' " Qureshey said.
    Added Chugh: "What makes me come back year after year is pure business learning--the stuff they don't teach you at Harvard Business School."
    The organization was founded at a 1992 luncheon in Silicon Valley by South Asian high-tech executives who had bumped up against various barriers during their rise to the top. With TiE, their goal is to help smooth the process for the new waves of ambitious immigrants. While the majority of TiE's members are from the Indus region (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka), there are non-Asian members. Chapters exist in 10 U.S. cities and five in India.
    It's no secret that South Asians were a significant force in the U.S. technology sector long before the Internet boom and the emergence of TiE. For example, in the 1970s,Indian engineers became fixtures in the offices of IBM and Xerox. But they usually hit a ceiling blocking ascent into management.
    Successful entrepreneurs such as Vinod Khosla, who co-founded Sun Microsystems Inc. in 1982, helped blaze a new trail. And the Internet boom, which offered a more level playing field for South Asians to strike out on their own, became a fast ticket to wealth.
    "The dramatic shift we've seen is not so much a shift in cultural attitude but because the environment exists where a phenomenal idea can get funded," said Ahmed Ghouri, a 33-year-old anesthesiologist who co-founded San Diego-based, a so-called reverse auction Web site chaired by Qureshey.
    Another of Qureshey's South Asian-founded start-ups, Irvine-based ConnectCom Microsystems, expects to close a round of venture capital funding of $15 million by September. ConnectCom is a semiconductor design firm that is developing high-speed silicon germanium optical transceivers for transmitting Internet data.
    Gardena-based EntComm Inc., meanwhile, is believed to be the first organic TiE enterprise--all three founders met at a group function. Launched in September by Sundaresh Ramayya, Brij Mathur and Gopalakrishnan Satish, the business-to-business exchange integrates the supply chains of companies with their trading partners'. Clients include ConAgra and Universal Studios.
    TiE also helps start-ups find technically skilled workers, a perpetual headache for technology firms, says 1StopMD Inc.'s founder, Venkat Yepuri. His Arcadia company, which enables physicians to buy medical and office products from a single source on the Web, has hired key technical consultants thanks to TiE connections.
    The labor factor is one reason TiE's Raghu Mendu is raising $125 million for a venture capital firm, Ventureast Capital, that will be based in both Los Angeles and Chennai, formerly known as Madras. The firm wants to help U.S. companies leverage the pool of highly skilled labor in India and help India-based companies take advantage of technology being developed in the U.S.
    TiE's local chapter is expanding its reach in other ways: It recently started holding angel forums in which start-ups can pitch their ideas to potential seed investors, and it is launching a chapter affiliate in San Diego.
    Still, the process of brewing more South Asian-run technology companies in Southern California--and guiding them toward initial public stock offerings--will take more time to gather momentum, said Ravin Agrawal, a partner at EastWest Venture Group, a Los Angeles venture capital firm.
    To help stoke the fire for more start-ups, Agrawal recently began holding gatherings of about 40 people every six weeks at the Westwood Brewing Co. The group, informally called the South Asian Venture Alliance, meets for networking purposes and to discuss ideas for new ventures. It works independently of TiE.
    But whether young South Asian entrepreneurs turn to established networking groups to jump-start their ventures, the interaction with older, successful business owners is what matters most.
    "These people give you the sense that anything is possible," said Vikas Bhushan, 33, founder of Santa Monica-based "If you achieve one-tenth of where they set their sights, then you could be very successful and proud."
    Without the guidance of TiE mentors, who have helped steer his company through several metamorphoses, BuyBuzz's Walia said he doesn't know where his company would be.
    "A large portion of this is not making the bread but deciding what kind of bread you're going to make," he said.

    Moving it market places forum, because thats a better place for this topic.


      InDus has done a great job in southern california and now is growing eastwards to include other major hubs.

      Having had the chance to meet Mr qureshi a few years ago, I am in awe of his commitment to these efforts. Also having the fortune to be taught by Mohan Sawhney, I am impressed that they included such well regarded thought leaders both in academia as well as business world in this conference.

      Anyone know the midwest chapter details?
      The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And like that... he is gone.