Pune, India: The World's Next Great Tech City?

Thursday, May 30, 2013 |

Meditation is no laughing matter at the Osho International Meditation Resort in the city of Pune, India. When I went to the 26-acre grounds at Koreagon Park for the afternoon tour and jokingly asked if they had Wi-Fi, I was met with blank stares. Perhaps meditation isn’t a joke, but perhaps the history of this place means its gatekeepers have to be more guarded than usual.
In the 1970s the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) opened an ashram here and attracted swathes of Westerners attracted by the alleged permissive nature of its devotees and the personality cult of the Bhagwan.

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In 1981, after long-running tensions with the Indian government, the Bhagwan finally moved out of Pune to Oregon, where he set up a commune called Rajneeshpuram.
The ongoing stories about casual sex and the Bhagwan’s burgeoning fleet of Rolls-Royce cars again attracted controversy, and four years later it was all over. Things fell apart and the Bhagwan was deported from the U.S. and came back to Pune, where he died in 1991.
A lot has changed in two decades, not only the phoenixing of the ashram into a non-permissive meditation resort, but the emergence of Pune as city that has an internationally acclaimed university, a young demographic, a fantastic nightlife and a tech hub that is beginning to challenge the hegemony of Bangalore.

The city is only 75 miles from the financial center of Mumbai, and, unusually for India, it has great transportation and nothing like the traffic problems of other Indian cities. It feels new, fresh and almost Californian in its energy and, unlike 99% of Indian roads, the Mumbai Pune Expressway is a joy to drive down.

Just up from the Osho ashram is the O Hotel, next to what was the German Bakery, a popular spot for tourists and students that was destroyed by a bomb in 2010.

Seventeen people were killed, but rather like the citizens of New York, London and Madrid, this has not deterred the people of Pune who are passionately proud of their city. The O Hotel is abuzz with VCs and startups, all looking forward, not backward — and it also has a fabulous rooftop pool and bar.
India’s startup scene has evolved a great deal over the last two years, following the global trend in cloud, mobile and digital startups. Pune is to Bangalore what Austin, Texas, is to Silicon Valley, California –- a hotbed of innovation with a more affordable standard of living.

“One recent report suggests Pune has surpassed Bangalore as an engineering hub for multinational corporations. A lot of resources are now available for would-be entrepreneurs in India. Additionally, an increasing number of role models (in terms of successful Indian entrepreneurs) are able to impart their experiences,” says Nitin Dahad, CEO and Publisher ofThe Next Silicon Valley.

The city’s entrepreneurial heart is best illustrated by the robotics company Precision Automation that was founded by Ranjit Date and Mangesh Kale, who started their business just before the demise of the Bhagwan in 1990.
The company is expected to turn a profit of $67 million this year, up 20% from last year — and now has offices in eight global cities, including Detroit. Date in particular is one of those role models for local entrepreneurs, and a primordial soup of startups is forming around companies like Precision.
Luke Deering, a UK-based entrepreneur and writer, and his new book Accelerate features 135 startup accelerator programs and interviews with 150 of their graduates. He says Pune "is still developing as a startup with great IT talent and huge potential."
But all hubs and communities need support from trade associations. The MEF is a mobile-focused global community for content and commerce and lobbies hard for Indian and Pune mobile startups to join this community.
"India has an extraordinary history of developing other people's IP, but we are now creating and building our own. This is an exciting change spawning new hotbeds of technical entrepreneurship in cities such as Pune, and we are helping them connect with the global mobile community and monetize their services,” says Jonathan Bill, SVP of Innovation and Business Development for Vodafone India.
“Pune has an active startup ecosystem in Software/IT, manufacturing technology and clean tech. A small city compared to other Indian metro cities, Pune has historically been a center for education and research. Today, it is also one of the top manufacturing hubs in India,“ says Amit Paranjape, co-founder of PuneTech.com, the city’s leading online tech community.

Even more unusually for India where fixed-line internet penetration is puny in relation to its 1.1 billion people, Pune even has a culture of coffee shop Wi-Fi and is known as India’s first "Wi-Fi City" after the Unwiring Pune project was jointly announced by Intel and Pune Municipal Corporation in March 2006.

Just don’t ask for it at the Osho International Meditation Resort.

Courtesy : Mashable