I have fond memories of some of my childhood years growing up in Chennai—a leafy city that moved at a sedentary rhythm and pace unlike any other. (Or should i call it Madras, the previous name with which I know it best, enshrined as such by our former colonial masters, the British and changed a few decades ago.)
It is a city that takes its Indian classical music (Carnatic) and dance (Bharatanatyam) very seriously, prizes its reputation for topnotch vegetarian fare (Idilis and Dosas) and scrumptious Chettinad cuisine (rabbit, anyone?) and is watched over by massive hoardings of Tamil movie stars whose fans are some of the most die-hard in the world.
Chennai’s matinee idols are of course legendary, starting with former chief minister MG Ramachandran (known as MGR), whose screen partner Jayalalitha is not just the iron lady chief minister of the state today, but may well have a deciding say in who rules the country come the end of elections in mid-May.
Of course, Chennai also houses the famed Indian Institute of Technology (Madras) which has fueled some of the world's top companies with engineering and management talent as well as other well-known engineering schools such as Anna (Guindy). In fact, the entire state of Tamil Nadu has been a spigot for engineering talent all over the world.
Yet, it seems as if almost every IT Services or technology venture that has achieved any kind of fame has come out of Bangalore, or at best Hyderabad, while Chennai has been more heralded for its automobile manufacturing and components industry in addition to certain iconic industrial houses.
Almost overnight, however, a host of young startups have emerged from Chennai and attracted genuine acclaim both domestically and abroad, according to this article, finally giving Chennai the props that it has long-deserved.
Here are three that the article mentions:
Flintobox which mails activity boxes for toddlers and children that promote conceptual and creative thinking to your doorstep, a service that parents can subscribe to on a monthly basis.
Cloud technology provider Indix whose product intelligence platform delivers real-time insights on products, prices, promotions, availability, channels and competition across millions of products and categories.
Frilp, an online network that connects users to trusted local service providers based on recommendations of their friends and colleagues
There is real money backing ventures in Chennai. According to the article, 11 deals commanded US$40 million (Rs 240 crore) in 2011, but two years later, the city witnessed 20 deals worth US$103 million (over Rs 620 crore). Not surprisingly, Chennai ranked third behind Bangalore and Mumbai in terms of deal valuations.
None of these startups would be anywhere without mentors, as the article points out, and in Chennai these are already larger-than-life statesman in the tech world, not just in India but overseas as well. Sridhar Vembu of Zoho—a leading global player in the cloud space whose Office Suite has been hugely popular and whose CRM cloud-based app will supposedly reach 10 million users as we speak—is one of them.
Girish Mathrubootham of Freshdesk—started by ex-Zoho employees and one of the 'helpdesk' stalwarts in India—is another. The fact that Zoho and Freshdesk are serious global players has probably convinced more than a few money-men and women that perhaps Chennai is where the hidden gems are to be found today.
Also emerging as key lifelines to entrepreneurs apparently are networking outposts such as Chennai Geeks and Filter Coffee where a lot of exchanging of ideas and contacts takes place. Chennai Angels, an investment group, has also been active and incubators like The Startup Centre act as catalysts by structuring events like In50Hrs that dubs itself as India’s Idea-to-prototype platform.
At this rate, it looks like Chennai could trump Hyderabad and vie with Bangalore as a source of quality ideas and people in the startup world in India.