Desh's Passage to India

Sycamore's founder goes East to invest in the future of optical networking

August 3, 2000

4 Min Read
Desh's Passage to India

When Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande, chairman and founder of Sycamore Networks Inc., left India in 1973, he was looking for a better job. "There was a huge difference then between the opportunities available in India and the U.S.," he says. For a bright young engineer, emigrating west seemed the best option.

Today, Deshpande says, ambitious folk no longer need to leave home to find good jobs -- even in optical networking. All that's needed to close the opportunity gap between India and the West is a bit of a boost in the right place. To prove the point, Deshpande recently returned to his country of origin to help found a startup that will promote optical technology in India.

Last week, the wraps came off Tejas Networks Pvt. Ltd., a company based in Bangalore that will partner with Sycamore to resell and develop optical gear in India. (Tejas plans to put together distribution agreements with other optical vendors worldwide, although Deshpande says the startup won't be selling equipment from vendors that compete with Sycamore.)

Tejas also hopes to build its own products, becoming the first optical networking startup to originate in India. But Deshpande says plans aren't yet finalized as to what direction that development will take or what partnerships might be forged to get it done.

Deshpande is serving as a "non-executive" chairman of the board of the new company, which now has about 20 employees. Besides Deshpande, the management team includes CEO Sanjay Nayak, who formerly led Synopsys India, a subsidiary of Synopsys Inc. (Nasdaq: SNPS), a maker of design tools for integrated circuit developers. Also on the Tejas team is CTO Kumar N. Sivarajan, an optical networking expert with numerous university and research credits, including a stint at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center; and director of engineering Arnob Roy, who helped found Synopsys India.

Deshpande acknowledges he has "some element" of sentimental interest in lending his name, resources, and time to a startup in his native land. But the fact is that Tejas also presents a clear business opportunity for both Sycamore and Deshpande himself.

For one thing, Tejas is likely to participate in a massive rebuilding of India's telecom infrastructure. That's because, in addition to Sycamore, Tejas is sponsored by ASG-Omni LLC, a Greenwich, Conn., investment firm specializing in Indian-U.S. joint ventures. ASG-Omni is also backing a number of firms involved in Sankhya Vahini India Limited (SVIL), a project whose goal is to install a nationwide 10,000-mile network in India over the next three years, one capable of running at 2.5 to 40 Gbit/s. (Today, India's Internet connections creak along at about 34 Mbit/s, about 10 percent of the average international speed.) The relationship with ASG-Omni signals that Sycamore -- via Tejas -- could get in on the project.

Tejas also gives its shareholders a chance to benefit from direct access to a ready pool of technical talent. According to Deshpande, software development by Indian technologists for a range of worldwide firms presently accounts for $5 to $10 billion of India's revenue. And that figure, he says, is set to grow to $50 or even $100 billion within the next eight to ten years.

Many of these people, says Deshpande, would like the opportunity to work for homegrown technology startups. This was evident, he says, when Tejas started hiring. "We were getting 1,000 resumes a day when I left last week," he says. Those resumes should help Tejas in its goal of hiring at least 100 people over the next four to five months.

Until recently, India's government balked at improving the country's lagging Internet and data networking infrastructure, since certain factions believed that doing so would force India to rely too much on American companies. That resistance was overcome earlier this year when the government, faced with the need to support India's booming technology development revenue base, finally voted to proceed with the rebuild project.

According to accounts in the Indian press, there's still some controversy over supporting companies, such as Tejas, with Western connections. Still, some factions find it somewhat reassuring to have Indian-based companies like Tejas in control over network innovation, even if American products are initially used.

When Tejas was announced, the Indian press trumpeted Deshpande as "one of the richest" Indians to set up business back home. But Deshpande downplays his role. Instead, he's intent on showing the world how much India has to offer as a potential technology headquarters in its own right. "My primary motivation is business," he says. "India is full of talented people not utilized to a full extent. Businesses need to go where those people are."

-- Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading

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