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6 August 2015, Gateway House

An agenda for Modi in Silicon Valley

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's outreach to the influential Indian diaspora in Silicon Valley in September should be centered on creating an Indian ecosystem for tech start-ups

Director, Gateway House

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In September, Narendra Modi will visit America’s renowned Silicon Valley in California. Inexplicably, no Indian prime minister other than Jawaharlal Nehru in 1949 and Morarji Desai in 1978 has visited San Fransisco. 

This is despite the fact that in the last 20 years, trade between India and the U.S. has crossed $100 billion[i]—and the technology sector, clustered around San Francisco, has been the fasted-growing segment of this trade.

California’s tech industry contributes 10% or around 230$ billion to the state’s GDP. [ii] And if California were a country, it would be the eighth largest economy in the world at $2.3 trillion; India’s is at just under $2 trillion.[iii]

Indian Americans constitute barely half a million of California’s population of 39 million, but they are a significant part of the state’s tech sector. Reports of the, School of Information at the University of Berkeley in California suggest that Indian-Americans have contributed to 15% of tech start-ups on the West Coast,[iv] and are associated with 8% of all tech and engineering start-ups across the U.S.[v]

While the tech-profile of California is well-known, other lesser-known threads also bind India to the state—for example, Indian immigrants to California in the early 20th century formed the Ghadar Party there to fight British colonialism back home. California also gave the U.S. Congress its first Indian-origin member, Dalip Singh Saund; he was elected from the state’s 29th district in 1957.

But it was the connection with Silicon Valley that gave India an image in the U.S. and globally of a growing technology power.

When Modi visits California in September, he will  pursue two important agendas, just as he has in all the countries he has travelled to so far. The first is an embrace of the Indian diaspora—and the highly-accomplished Silicon-Valley Indians certainly deserves to be wooed.

Modi’s second priority will be establishing a rapport with politicians of Indian descent; Ami Bera, for example, a Democrat of Indian origin is currently the U.S. representative for California’s 7th Congressional district.

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs must now forge a new equation with their counterparts in India to nurture and build the vibrant tech-start up scene, which has already produced companies like Flipkart.  Indian investors like Ratan Tata and former chief financial officer of Infosys, Mohandas Pai, as well as global Institutions such as Softbank and Sequoia Capital, are investing in multilple Indian tech-startups. It should be a signal for Silicon Valley to also come in with money and ideas.

The Modi government’s ambitious vision to modernise India is expressed in its ‘Make in India’ policies, and in plans for smart cities, a digital India,  and an energy efficient and clean India, among others. To realise this vision, India will have to invest in innovation and new technologies, and in upgrading the entrepreneurial skills of the 10 million who enter the country’s work force every year.[vi]

A new Gateway House paper by Nish Acharya, Visiting Fellow, India-U.S. Studies,  and former technology advisor to the Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration, outlines  how India-U.S. trade can be taken to $1 trillion by 2030 by focusing on technology. Acharya recommends that to create an “innovation-driven high-growth partnership,” capacity must expand in sectors such as telecommunications. Doing that will require “moving India’s IT workforce upscale and into areas like defence and big data. It means innovating in certain sectors. It also means investing in new technologies like 3D printing, synthetic biology, and next-generation farming.”[vii]

If Modi follows this agenda and articulates his vision effectively, his Silicon Valley audience will grasp that the moment for a new productive synergy has arrived.  It is time for the tech communities, both in India and the U.S., to move forward together.

Neelam Deo is Co-founder and Director, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations; She has been the Indian Ambassador to Denmark and Ivory Coast; and former Consul General in New York.

A version of this was originally published on Silicon India, here

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[i] Ministry of External Affairs,  Government of India, Indo-U.S Relations,  Briefs on Foreign Relations, <>

[ii] CompTIA, Cyberstates 2015, January 2015, < file:///C:/Users/srinsh-cont/Downloads/cyberstates-2015-vfinal.pdf>

[iii] Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S Department of Commerce,  Regional Data, 10 June, 2015, <,2013,2012,2011&7093=levels>

[iv] Vadhwa, Vivek, America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs, UC Berkeley School of Information, 4 January 2007, <> ,

[v] Bapat, Neesha, ‘How Indians Defied Gravity and Achieved Success in Silicon Valley’,  Forbes, 15 October 2012, <>

[vi] Saxena, Aurobindo and Riddhi Ahuja, ‘Skilling the Indian Workforce’, Technopak,  December 2014, <>

[vii] Acharya, Nish, India-US Partnership $1 trilion by 2030, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, 2015