One of the more positive signs that the investment climate in Silicon Valley might be looking up was the presence of a group of dapper young men at the recent annual convention of The IndUS Entrepreneurs in Santa Clara.
And they were not techies -- although their organisation does play a role in churning them out. -- but instead represented what is likely to be the next frontier of India's now famed talent: the knowledge industry.
"At FIIT-JEE, we run the most successful coaching program for the IIT entrance examinations," says Saras Sethi, vice-president, FIIT-JEE. So successful, in fact, that FIIT-JEE conducts an entrance test for students to get into the coaching programme.
"We recently launched Edutech, under whose aegis we are planning two state-of-the-art boarding schools in India and we are in Silicon Valley to look for venture funding," Sethi told rediff.com
Estimated to cost Rs 150 crore (about $33.4 million) each, the two schools -- one in Delhi, the other in Ranchi -- is aimed to attract the best talent.
"We will also target NRIs as well as foreigners who want their children to get value-based education," says Sethi.
"The focus will be on value-based education, the best there is," adds Sethi. "It will be an integrated approach that will take the student from education to career, with a strong emphasis on the development of IQ, EQ and SQ (spiritual quotient)."
Edutech and FIIT-JEE have a 250-strong faculty, including IIT alumni and PhDs among others.
"We produce and distribute our own content and we are in a position to do it for any country in the world, depending on their school model, including the US," Sethi says.
The reason, he argues, is that the IIT-JEE is one of the most competitive entrance examinations in the world. "Science and math are the same anywhere in the world, and if we can train students to pass the IIT entrance, we can do it for anyone," Sethi says. "We can do science content and content delivery is our core competence; in fact, all our training material is prepared inhouse."
His confidence stems in large part from the fact that over 1,700 of FIIT-JEE's students (out of a total of about 20,000) cleared the IIT entrance examination, which have an intake of only about 4,500. The top five in 2003 were FIIT-JEE students.
At TieCON 2004, Sethi and his team's focus was on the boarding school. "We are looking for some funding, though we will go ahead even if we can't get any VC funding from here," Sethi said.
No VC, according to him, would turn down an opportunity where the product is already a "success which (he) will get on a platter."
"Our faculty has its own brand equity, and the schools will have faculty from all over the world," he says.
It is only now, with the new projects, that the company has accepted the notion of venture capital. "Now we feel we can add value to the investor and the VC and the fund," Sethi says. "More than the funds, it is also the value and strategic knowledge that a VC brings that helps us leverage our brand."
FIIT-JEE, founded by IIT alumnus D K Goel, is a debt-free company worth $6 million. "We hope to reach $50 million by 2009, whether or not we get funding but if we do, the figures will be much much higher, totally different," Sethi says. "At some point, we will also float an IPO."