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|March 23, 2000|
Microsoft veteran expands mentorship role
R S Shankar
Naveen Jain, the man behind InfoSpace.com and described by one influential high-tech magazine as smarter than Bill Gates, calls it his home. And so does Raghav Kher of Imandi.com, yet another successful startup. And not to forget Venki Harinarayan, one of the founders of Junglee.com, who is now a general manager at Amazon.com.
Seattle is also the home for Vijay Vashee.
While Kher and Jain are alumni of Microsoft, Vashee, who joined Microsoft 18 year ago, continues to be one of its top leaders. He was one of the very first batch of Indians to join the company. In fact, many believe he was among the first three Indians to sign at Microsoft.
He, like many of his peers, makes time to back up start-ups, a large number of them by Indian Americans.
Indians in Seattle's Puget Sound have been drawing the attention of the media for over a year, with articles prominently played up in such publications as Red Herring, Forbes and The New York Times.
Given such a pool of mega talent -- and the fact that many high-tech professionals at Microsoft are dreaming of starting their own ventures -- it should not surprise anyone that The Indus Entrepreneurs, the Silicon Valley-based high-tech fraternity has started a chapter in Seattle, thanks mainly to Vashee's initiative.
The Seattle chapter adds yet another footnote in the history of TiE which has chapters in Dallas, Southern California, Boston, and New York.
It's a high-tech masala, curry-dot-com in Silicon Forest, wrote the Seattle Times recently of the Indian businesses in Seattle, where a generation of Indian immigrants enriched by Microsoft stock options are creating new companies with names like InfoSpace.com, Imandi.com, AskMe.com and vJungle.com.
The Seattle high-tech masala guys are keenly aware that just the way Indian start-ups are springing up in Silicon Alley (New York) and Prairie Alley (Midwest), the Puget Sound could also be a hub for Indian American entrepreneurs in the Northeast.
By their success, they have proved that they could break through the old boys network as their peers have done in Silicon Valley.
There is a perception that there was an old boys network here (in Silicon Valley) and it was hard for immigrants to pierce that, Annalee Saxenian, a professor of regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, has noted.
She has published extensively about the new ventures in Silicon Valley.
There have been several high-profile successes that have made it easier for Indians and Chinese to achieve success. And the Puget Sound Indian savants want to imitate the success story in Silicon Valley.
There could not be a better mentor than Vashee, many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and scores of professionals at Microsoft say.
Vashee is the elder statesman of Indian software professionals at Microsoft, says Harinarayan, adding that he has influenced hundreds of young entrepreneurs.
In Microsoft, they make that joke about the IM network, the Indian Mafia network, said Raghav Kher recently in an interview.
It has no negative connotation. It is just about the bond and how the news travels faster through the unofficial channel than through the official channel.
Vashee, a general manager for product-group technology at Microsoft, has joined the half-a-dozen TiE leaders who have pledged money for IIT. His commitment is for $ 1 million.
A product of IIT-Mumbai, he has a master's degree at Cornell University and an MBA at the University of Chicago.
An 18-year-old veteran at Microsoft, he wants to spend more time in channeling the creative energy of South Asians in Washington and the neighboring states.
He says he was drawn to TiE because it was the only organization in his experience that eschewed regionalism. The key criterion to be a member was that you came from a South Asian country.
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