Mumbai: Take a look at the bottom right corner of this page marked RSVP. A little over a year ago, events such as these were virtually unheard of in India. In that short time though, the idea of an informal platform to talk tech has caught the fancy of start-ups, techies and Internet and mobile enthusiasts in general.
In any given month, a number of such ad hoc gatherings are taking place across cities in India. A start-up workshop in Mumbai, BlogCamp in Pune, BarCamp in Bangalore, Proto.in in Chennai...the list goes on. While the Indian start-up environment is yet to see the kind of hectic investor interest after the likes of the US Silicon Valley, the networking has certainly caught up, Valley-style. While the attendees are certainly not restricted to start-ups, several of them do turn up at these events. And it is not uncommon to hear this exchange between people from two different companies: “We are working on something that could be of use to you. Why don’t you email me and we could take it further?”
VCs turn up occasionally, but the bigger takeaway for attendees is the exchange of ideas. A loosely bound unconference gives a techie far more freedom to talk than a formal seminar. At the recentlyheld BarCamp Pune 3, for example, a talk on how PHP (a programming language used to make webpages) can be used for Web 2.0 applications turned into a heated argument on the pros and cons of different programming languages. Such tech-intensive topics, while not of much interest to the average Web user, willusually find an audience at such events. And this is perhaps why they have gained such popularity, at least in limited circles.
The first of the unconferences was flagged off in India in March 2006—BarCamp Delhi. The idea gathered momentum and, by July, there had been six more chapters—Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Pune and two in Hyderabad. Mobile Mondays—a monthly event for mobile enthusiasts first started in Nokia’s hub, Helsinki—also took off at the same time. The first MoMo was held in Bangalore in June 2006 and Mumbai in July 2006.
But after the initial excitement wore off, a lull set in—by October, the BarCamp trail petered off.
Fortunately for the Indian tech entrepreneur scene, unconferences gradually picked up in early 2007, instead of ending up as the latest fad. Adding to the fray were new initiatives like Proto.in and BlogCamps. Un-conference evangelists like Chennai’s Kiruba Shankar (better known for his blog, kiruba.com) and Bangalore’s Thiyagarajan M. (co-founder of mobile start-up Motvik) were involved in planning and organizing several of these camps and MoMos.
Despite the steady increase in unconferences, they have remained low profile (with the exception of BlogCamps, which had big sponsors and were fairly well publicized). Word is spread mostly through mailing lists, Wiki pages and blogs. VC interest is yet to pick up in a big way.
But for start-ups, spontaneous brainstorming and networking are what make it worth the while. Indian entrepreneurs, especially in the tech space, are not born networkers. But that is changing now.