Bangalore: In his day job, Krishnakumar Natarajan is the president and CEO of the services business at MindTree Consulting, a tech vendor headquartered in Bangalore. For a few hours that he squeezes out every week, KK, as the local tech fraternity knows him, becomes mentor to a handful of start-up firms.
KK’s mentor hat is part of a programme led by the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom), a New Delhi-based tech-lobby group. As the number and significance of tech and back-end office services companies grows—the two industries account for around 5% of the country’s national income—Nasscom is slowly expanding its role beyond being just another trade body that lobbies law makers from New Delhi to Washington DC.
For the nearly two-decade-old organization, the Bangalore Mentoring Project, which it plans to replicate in Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi, marks the start of a new journey towards reinventing itself in the years ahead as tech services, already the country’s biggest export, become a bigger cog in the Indian economy.
Nasscom was created in 1988 to help Indian tech vendors sell their services in overseas markets, primarily in the US. But as leading names such as Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Infosys Technologies Ltd and Wipro Ltd emerge as global brands on their own steam and global giants such as IBM Corporation, Accenture and Electronic Data Systems court the Indian market, Nasscom has begun forging a new identity for itself. From seeking to strengthen the India brand for software exports, Nasscom will now also focus on developing human resources and an entrepreneurial ecosystem that will support local growth.
The mentoring programme apart, Nasscom is also pursuing a handful of projects aimed at furthering its new agenda. Later this year, it will close investments in a Rs100 crore fund—the Nasscom Innovation Fund—aimed at funding early stage start-ups in the technology sector.
“The fund will have seven to eight investors, including lead investment from ICICI, and will fund start-ups in emerging areas such as biotechnology,” says Nasscom president Kiran Karnik. Nasscom, he says, will play the role of a facilitator at the fund, leaving the everyday operations to professionals.
Tech industry veterans advise the fund be run by investors with experience in building companies for it to be effective in helping start-ups. “A fund such as this must be run by entrepreneurs and not financial investors if it is to make a real difference to very early stage start-ups, which need advice more than money,” says Pravin Gandhi, an active tech entrepreneur for more than 25 years and now a partner at two venture funds targeting early investments in start-ups.
Come April, Nasscom, in partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, will launch a pilot programme to impart advanced engineering and soft skills training to graduates. The four-month effort will be open to all graduates and Nasscom is in talks to take the model to four more institutions in smaller cities.
“This service will help create an industry-ready pool of information technology (IT) professionals from Tier-II and Tier-III cities as well,” says Karnik, who was formerly the founder-director of an education and communication unit of India’s space programme.
More than 400,000 students graduate in technology every year in India, but just a quarter of this pool is considered “employable” in tech companies. Of the nearly two million general college graduates, just 15% are seen making the cut. Nasscom wants to improve their employability quotient.
Nasscom, says Karnik, will also facilitate ‘adoption’ of colleges and other educational institutes by top tech companies. These firms will provide inputs to the faculty on curriculum development and will train teachers on industry practices. At the school level, for instance, Nasscom is partnering Delhi’s Mathematical Sciences Foundation to bring in interactive teaching methods for science and mathematics.
However, some industry insiders believe Nasscom has been “a little late” in ringing in these changes. Its overt focus on building the software exports business has led to a neglect of efforts to drive domestic consumption of IT, says Gandhi, formerly a Nasscom council member.
“If the best Indian minds continue to work for overseas clients, then you need to build up other resources to address the domestic market,” he says.