Editor’s note: Each Tuesday, Local Tech Wire writes about issues facing women and minorities in the high-tech field.How do you explain why 40 percent of The IndUS Entrepreneurs Network in North Carolina is non-Indian?

“Our meetings are color blind” says Ramesh Reddi, TiE Carolinas secretary and marketing chair. “That’s an advantage for our members of Indian background — we are able to bring multiple backgrounds together and there are no limits. We are a melting pot. We like to keep it that way. That’s where we leverage our strengths.”

But the organization really didn’t start that way. Rather, as Reddi points out, TiE was established in part to dispose of some stereotypes.

“There was a known and accurate perception within the business community that Indian people were very good in math and science. But, we were not as well known for being good business managers and entrepreneurs,” Reddi says. “TiE was started in part to adjust that perception.”

Much more than a cultural support group, TiE, or The IndUS Entrepreneurs Network, was founded nationally in Silicon Valley in 1992 by senior professionals with roots or interests in the Indus region. The local chapter, TiE-Carolinas, started in August of 2000 and has been experiencing unprecedented levels of interest and momentum for the organization. Its monthly meetings regularly draw 100 people or more.

“Many people with an Indus background here did not have an organization like this. There were plenty of cultural groups but nothing that focused on their interests career-wise. We were the first in the Carolinas to do that” says Reddi.

Partners in success

An entrepreneur himself, Reddi also is chief executive officer and founder of his own software company, Infopike. And he attributes much of TiE’s success to partner organizations The Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) and The North Carolina Electronics and Information Technologies Association (NCEITA), which are geared in part to help people forming new ventures. He and fellow TiE charter members Vivek Wadhwa and Salim Bhatia were very active in both organizations prior to TiE’s inception.

“Many of us who started TiE Carolinas have been in this community for a long time and have been active in both the CED and the NCEITA” says Wadhwa, president of TiE and CEO and founder of startup Relativity software. “This area has great venture capitalists, management teams and entrepreneurs. What had been lacking was a mechanism for entrepreneurs to support entrepreneurs. I found you could always go to an event and network but there were rarely people to help one-on-one. It was a time issue.

“Our organization is a way for us to give back to the community. TiE is about giving. All our members are very willing to give and that is our primary focus. Our charter members actually pay $1500 a year just to give. It also helps subsidize events. We give money, but what’s more than that, we give time.”

Cultural “TiEs” to giving and mentoring

And to Wadhwa, the time commitment is important.

“There is a concept in our cultural known as the guru — chela relationship,” says Wadhwa. “Most people know what guru means. A chela is a student or disciple. That notion is part of TiE’s philosophy. We are a formalized guru – chela relationship with a business focus. It’s our cultural value of learning from your elders. I personally receive several phone calls and emails each week and I respond to every one”.

Salim Bhatia (former CEO of Mindlever) shares Wadhwa’s perspective on the “guru chela” relationships within TiE.

“For me, as someone who has already done a few successful ventures, this is my opportunity to make a difference and guide the futures of an individual, family or even a generation,” he explains. “For budding entrepreneurs, particularly those who are first or second generation in the US, there is a need for someone who can shed a light on the path for them and spend time, be significantly engaged and share their experiences.

“The wonderful thing about the United States is the opportunities people have to pursue their dreams, regardless of their backgrounds. A high component of merit is involved in their success, but when you are getting started you need someone to help you navigate the system. Although all entrepreneurs need guidance starting out, the kind of help you need as first or second generation is different than the needs of multi generation entrepreneurs.”

TiE goals for the future?
Reddi, Wadhwa and Bhatia, all agree that TiE’s big challenge is to keep up the momentum and shoot for expansion.

“We have a proof of concept,” says Bhatia. “The next stage is establishing our sustainability and widening our reach and infrastructure.”

Adds Wadhwa: “I would like to see more Indian executives become part of TiE and develop the same spirit, but also, I would like to see more non-Indian members and some non-Indian charter members. To me, thus far our greatest accomplishment has been being recognized as a good organization by the community in general, not just the Indian community. Now, our challenge is to keep all these good things in motion.”