This is a classic case of "chain immigration"--the
number of foreign-born Indians in the Dulles Corridor has grown ninefold
since 1980. But it is also a case of chain entrepreneurship: Many of
these immigrants were drawn to Northern Virginia out of a desire to
start companies of their own.
To understand the rise of this
community of Indian entrepreneurs, you have to understand what drew
them. A good place to start is 1983. The company that would become AOL
was born one block south of the newly completed Dulles Toll Road. The
fledgling AOL came to represent the democratization of the Internet and
other technologies made possible--or affordable, at least--by government
investment. The toll road carries traffic between the nation's capital
and the information-technology consultants who can manage data and help
the federal government move from mainframes to personal computers.
the concrete lies another traffic conduit: fiber-optic lines made for
moving information rather than vehicles. Half of all U.S. Internet
traffic flows through the Dulles Corridor. Twenty years ago, this was
exurbs. Today, it's the Silicon Valley of the East, which has become a
magnet for immigrants from India.
If the Dulles Toll Road is the
artery that conveys technology to the government, it is social
networks--trade organizations, mentors, and networking--that help infuse
the entrepreneurial fresh blood.
One such catalyst is Sudhakar
Shenoy. The founder and CEO of a high-tech consulting firm and a past
chairman of the Northern Virginia Tech Council, Shenoy sees his greatest
impact--like many Indian entrepreneurs--as a mentor. He teaches a
course he calls "From Geeks to Gazillionaires" at nearby George Mason
University that helps aspiring M.B.A.s and engineers polish their
business pitches. Students are divided into teams, and the one with the
winning business plan receives the semester salaries of Shenoy and his
co-teachers as a cash prize. He also cofounded the Washington chapter of
the Indus Entrepreneurs, a global network of mostly Indian business
owners, investors, and mentors. "When it comes to helping
entrepreneurs," he said, "Indians are always there." If Indians are
drawn to Northern Virginia for the high-tech opportunities and stay for
the excellent public schools, Shenoy explained, they succeed because of
the network of support from other Indians.
Perhaps no one embodies
this culture of giving back more than Dolly Oberoi, the president-elect
of the Indus Entrepreneurs. Her story parallels Shenoy's. Oberoi
immigrated to the United States "with 200 bucks and a backpack" to
obtain a master's degree, and then landed a job with a Virginia
consultancy. She, too, started her own technology firm, C2 Technologies;
its annual revenue has grown to $50 million. And nowadays, she embraces
mentorship as a second career.