Indians explore prospects in Indiana Delegation of 15 execs finds opportunities during tour of Indianapolis, Purdue tech park
J.V.V. Satyanarayana spent the last three years launching his Chennai, India-based software firm. But after only 24 hours in Indianapolis, he was ready to expand his operation.
Satyanarayana was part of a delegation of 15 Indian executives who visited Indiana last week. His business, SVL Infotech, manages the IT end of medical billing. It has 100 employees and handles claims worth $100 million annually for customers in California, Florida, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C.
He said he began negotiations to establish an Indianapolis office almost as soon as he stepped off the plane Feb. 26.
"The more you delay, the more you will be left behind," Satyanarayana said. His plan is to hire a handful of marketing and salespeople locally to prospect for Midwestern clients. The bulk of his operations will remain in Chennai.
The Indiana Economic Develop- ment Corp. arranged the delegation's visit in hopes of attracting such business. After decades of tepid growth, the sprawling nation of 1.1 billion is beginning to embrace entrepreneurship, and its technology sector is booming.
U.S. companies, meanwhile, have begun to tap India's low-costbut-highly educated work force, and to sell goods and services to its hundreds of millions of newly wealthy consumers.
The IEDC lured the group here with the help of its Indian consultant, Indianapolisbased DC Ltd. The delegation originally intended to explore only Washington, Oregon and Idaho. DC Ltd. CEO Ramesh Shah persuaded members to make a stopover here for a day in Indianapolis and a second in West Lafayette.
The visitors agreed Indiana was worth seeing because, for Indians, it's unexplored territory. To them, trips to Silicon Valley, Boston or the Research Triangle in North Carolina are routine.
Bothireddy Prabhakar, president of the Mumbai, India-based Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, said other states, particularly Virginia and California, commonly visit India. Of the Midwestern states, Ohio has an office in New Delhi, he said, and Pennsylvania operates one in Bangalore. Illinois sends a delegation once a year from its Hong Kong bureau.
Indians would gladly do business with Hoosiers, Prabhakar said, if they could learn more about their opportunities.
"A trade office could pass on information," he said. "We as a chamber would be very happy to help put one in place."
Steve Akard, IEDC's director of international development, said Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration is discussing how to expand Indiana's footprint in India.
The visitors from India spent Feb. 27 in Indianapolis attending an IEDC seminar at the Omni Severin Hotel downtown. The event was designed primarily to answer anxious local executives' questions about doing business with Indians.
The itinerary focused on educational partnerships and business practicalities, such as financial barriers between the two markets. Glenda Shireman, Fifth Third Bank's International Division vice president, explained the basics of foreign check-clearing and commercial letters of credit.
Big banks like hers have all kinds of products to mitigate the risk of Indian trade. It wasn't always that way.
"Quite frankly, 15 years ago, there were very few Indian banks that the larger financial institutions were willing to work with," she said.
About 100 people sat in the audience, some clearly skeptics. Barnes & Thornburg LLP partner Donald Knebel put voice to one of the most common fears about India: shaky intellectual property laws.
American firms, especially those in the pharmaceutical industry, worry that some Indian companies regularly ignore patents and produce their own knockoffs, Knebel said.
In the face of a major biological threat like the Asian Bird Flu, for example, the formerly socialist India has threatened to produce generic Tamiflu, Knebel said, despite Switzerland-based Roche Laboratories Inc.'s patent.
Knebel's message was clear: If patents aren't enforced, they're useless. So U.S. companies should be careful in India. To sustain India's high-tech growth, Indian law must inevitably improve. But it will take time.
"Do I think the Indian system will get better?" Knebel asked. "Absolutely, because they have to get better."
The Indians preferred to emphasize emerging potential over lingering problems.
Rajan Pillai, a member of the delegation, was particularly interested to learn about Hoosier technology developments. The second day of the visit began with a speech by Purdue University President Martin Jischke. Its highlight was a tour of Purdue's hightech showcase, the new Discovery Park.
Both India and Indiana ought to concentrate on the upside of globalization, Pillai said. For example, he noted that Boston was once best known as a center for manufacturing shoes and woolen textiles. Protectionist measures in defense of those industries aren't what made Boston into a high-tech hub, Pillai said. Innovation did.
Americans shouldn't focus on the jobs they're losing to India, he said, but instead on the new industries they're creating. He said both nations create more and better opportunities as they climb the ladder of progress.
"Intuitively, you think outsourcing hurts, just like you would assume the sun circles the earth. But it's flat wrong," he said. "The American spirit to embrace what is new drove the last century. The old order changes. Now we all have to embrace what is new."
For example, Pillai said, India has announced plans to spend $160 billion over the next 15 years to bring electricity to its rural areas.
As the project moves forward, it creates sales prospects for heavy-equipment makers, like Columbus-based Cummins Inc.
In turn, as villages modernize, they'll become markets for goods and services. Members of the delegation say India's progress creates plenty of opportunities for American companies, if they choose to capitalize.
Pillai's New York-based business incubator IndUS Integrated Resources Inc. includes companies based on nanotechnology, IT, drug development and energy research.
He was especially excited about Indiana's efforts in alternative biofuels. Growth in global demand for fuel is inevitable, he said, as China and India industrialize. As demand threatens to push the price of oil above $100 per barrel, Pillai said, a center of agriculture and engineering like Indiana will be ideally positioned to create new fuel technology.
"The pinch hurts, and necessity is the mother of invention," he said. "This is a singular and huge opportunity for India and Indiana. We can lead the industry, and the world."
Perhaps the most senior member of the Indian delegation was Ramesh Dalal, chairman of Mumbai, India-based R.L. Dalal & Co., a chemical and pharmaceutical engineering firm with 1,000 employees. The company is Dalal's second. He sold its similar predecessor nearly 30 years ago when it reached 1,500 employees.
To be successful in the years to come, Dalal said, India and the United States must work together. His colleagues agreed.
Their only question was how Indiana fits into the equation.
"You can solve our problems, and we will solve your problems. There are opportunities at both ends," Dalal said. "Our weaknesses you will cover. Your weaknesses we will cover. This is a blessing."