labels: catalytic software
Domes for geeks news
Mohini Bhatnagar
08 April 2002

New Delhi: With the global economy still in a slump, a number of global software companies are making India their home for many an obvious reason - the superior quality of Indian software engineers to wit.

What's more, these software workers can be employed at about one-fifth of the salaries payable in the US, and they need not worry about visa procedures and social security considerations. 

So it comes as not wonder that many companies are planning to or have already set up subsidiaries here. Some of the recent entrants include: Hewlett-Packard, Netscape and Dell Computers. Among the companies that have charted out plans for a long-term future presence in India are: Kirkland and the Washington-based Catalytic Software, a spin-off of Chromium Communications Inc.

Catalytic Software's founders, former Microsoft executives Eric Engstrom, Swain Porter and Chris South, have embarked on an ambitious project to build a self-sufficient community of software-makers in India.

Chromium Communications CEO Engstrom is the chairman of Catalytic Software Ltd, while Porter is the CEO of the company. Their grand vision is to create high-quality, just-in-time software at bargain prices by combining the cheaper Indian programming talent with stricter US standards and procedures.

Engstrom says the main aim of Catalytic Software in setting up the project is to use what he considers ''excellent Indian programming talent'' to make the 'Made in India' label a coveted one. He is trying to make India a font of engineering talent. To avoid immigration hassles, Chromium is planning a US $150-million city of 30,000 near Hyderabad as a base for Catalytic Software in India.

The company has received clearance from the Andhra Pradesh state government to set up a Rs 440-crore information technology park; a memorandum of understanding has already been signed to that effect.

The proposed software development centre-cum-township will provide employment to around 4,000 IT professionals. It will have over 4,000 residences for employees, with facilities like potable water, parks, recreation centres, meditation halls and a stable power supply. The township will be located in the vicinity of the proposed international airport near Shamshabad, around 40 km from the city.

Catalytic Software will set up the township in a phased manner over the next three years. In the first phase, the company will acquire 50 acres of land and create a facility for around 100 professionals. For future expansion, an additional area of 200 acres of land will be sold to the company.

The Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation Ltd (APIIC) has been appointed as the nodal agency to facilitate setting up of the project. APIIC will assist Catalytic in obtaining all necessary clearances and approvals for the early completion of the project.

Engstrom says the main reason for setting up the township is to offer Catalytic employees all the required facilities at their workplace. ''We believe that providing a fulfilling job environment is the key to retaining talent.''

The township will provide all their workplace needs, including modern housing for workers and their immediate families. The company will pay one of the best salaries in India and each employee will significantly participate in the company's future success through generous stock options.

Porter says Catalytic aims to provide enough incentives to its employees to keep them in India and even lure some immigrant workers back from abroad. ''We intend to hire over 1,000 software professionals in the first two years of operations and over 4,000 by the third year.''

New Oroville is meant to be a step beyond the technology campuses that clutter the suburbs of cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and New Delhi, whose operations have helped India's software exports grow to $6 billion in the 12 months from April 2000 to March 2001 - an impressive figure from $150 million a year a decade earlier.

Before New Oroville arrived on the scene in India, software technology companies like Infosys and Wipro as well as foreign companies had learnt to pamper their employees by offering generous lifestyle-related facilities like membership to clubs and gyms.

Catalytic hopes to employ the kind of people who will deliver world-class work and will provide them the conveniences that will streamline their lives. Hence the company has spent close to $25,000 on building and furnishing each apartment, architecturally designed as a monolithic dome and an equivalent of a sign-on bonus.

Each apartment-style residential dome can house up to six employees and comes fitted with appliances like a washer, dryer, microwave and dishwasher. There will also be domes designed as twin apartments, for small families, apart from single-family domes. The township will soon begin to serve as a training field and housing centre for thousands of young software engineers.

At present about 12 domes of the eventual 4,000 domes planned for New Oroville are complete. Each dome costs about $4,000, is 32 feet in diameter and stands 26 feet tall. Constructed of concrete and recycled magazines, a dome can be expanded to three floors. Porter hopes 60 domes will be operational by the end of the year.

At present the $150-million project is in its initial stages and Catalytic has received funding from a number of sources for the project, with Engstrom contributing over $1 million in principal funding, while his other US-based software ventures have supplied the new company with its first contracts.

A total of about $2 million has been spent on Catalytic so far, and an additional $2 million in funding is expected. But the future growth will require more than the $2-million spent so far and Catalytic's reserves were recently bolstered with a $2.3-million loan from the Exim Bank and a $2.1-million loan from the State Bank of India.

So, will the Indian programmers hold back their visas and turn down the 'dream jobs' in the US? New Oroville may provide an answer - but, to quote the old cliché, only time will tell.

also see : The reverse flow has begun in IT sector

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