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Transforming lives: Technopark celebrates its silver jubilee
Image removed. Twenty five years ago this July, Thiruvananthapuram made a clean break with the past. The coming of Technopark, India’s first IT hub, triggered the city’s metamorphosis from a quiet town peopled by government employees to a vibrant place where no aim is too high and no dream too big. The microcosm that is Technopark broadened our vision of what we wanted our lives to be and changed the way we live, eat and even think. So much so, that today, it’s virtually impossible to picture the city and life in the city without it. Image removed. “Twenty-five years ago the ultimate aim of every professional in Kerala was a government job. Technopark threw out the nine-to-five office hour system and brought in a work culture oriented towards efficiency. We proved that Kerala is an investment friendly destination and for the first time brought in foreign and domestic investors and entrepreneurs by the dozen,” says G. Vijayaraghavan, technocrat and founder-CEO of Technopark, presently, member, Planning Board. Technopark also gave wings to women employees. “High salaries, leadership roles and entrepreneurship became the norm. It also turned the social system on its head and convinced people that limitations were all of their own making,” adds Vijayaragahavan, with pride. Not only that, much of what’s new, tangible and intangible, in the city have something or the other to do with Technopark. And that’s everything from the ever-increasing skyline, improved flight connectivity and business hotels to well-dressed youngsters with deep pockets, late night buses and taxi services, and those ubiquitous North Indian eateries. “Technopark gave Thiruvananthapuram a new identity; one that makes the city renowned the world over for its professionalism, work force and its way of life,” says M. Vasudevan, former senior manager (business development), Technopark. He was one of the original five team members – let’s call them pioneers – along with Vijayaraghavan, K.G. Satheesh Kumar, K.C. Chandrashekaran Nair and K. Ramachandran. And to think the initial plan was only to create jobs for only 5,000 people (and another 25,000 jobs indirectly). It must have been a huge challenge…? “Every step of the way!” chortles Vasudevan. “We were literally treading an unknown path, being the first of its kind park in the country. Right from setting up a satellite earth station, a 1000-line phone exchange, a 110 KV electricity sub-station and a dedicated water supply for the campus… to canvassing companies and professionals and creating a database of IT professionals, we had to do everything from scratch. Thankfully, every successive government till date has facilitated the Park’s growth and we were given a free hand with management,” he explains. Initially, they had to sell the concept through the city’s quality of life, highlighting its beauty and climate, and the like. “I remember how we used to make presentations to investors, foreign and Indian, showing them the city’s temperature charts and photos of the city’s coconut tree cover and them being bowled over by all of it!” says Satheesh Kumar. Mumbai-based serial entrepreneur and angel investor Sunil Gupta was one of the first to jump on the bandwagon. He set up IT firm Collabera in 1995 with 20 employees. “I fell for Technopark because it offered world class facilities at low cost. Also, the quality of life in the city was brilliant and there was talent available aplenty. I was worried about labour issues and frequent hartals. But whatever issue came up we worked it out with the authorities, the locals and the people of the city to find a solution, such as plying a convoy to and from Technopark during hartals. So much has changed since those initial days, when I found it hard to find even a decent chappati in the city,” he muses. Today, Technopark has two food courts and the vicinity is peppered with cafes and eateries. “There are many opportunities for budding entrepreneurs and the Smart Business Center in Technopark serves as a springboard for them to commence their operations. Technopark’s Technology Business Incubator has also supported and enabled start-ups and potential entrepreneurs to convert their innovative ideas into viable businesses,” says Rina Vivekanandan, CEO, Sinura Solutions, who has been based in Technopark since 2000, adding that the changes that Technopark has brought about for women professionals are especially noteworthy. “Security initiatives that benefit women were put in place such as a police aid post and a 24x7 pre-paid auto service. But one of the best things that happened in recent times is the initiative taken by eWIT (Empowering Women in IT) to start a crèche. Supported by all the major companies, this was a much-awaited, much-needed requirement for women professionals. It is empowerment of women at multiple levels.” Currently, the campus is in expansion mode with Phase four, ‘Technocity,’ in the works at Pallipuram. No doubt in the next 25 years, Technopark will foster the growth of the city into a megapolis. THE GENESIS Technopark owes its existence, in part, at least, to a 42-year-old Mexican woman, a factory worker at Apple in California. Technocrat G. Vijayaraghavan explains: “In 1990, Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar, Industries Minister K.R. Gowri Amma, and a team of officials, went to Silicon Valley and Standford University to study the possibility of setting up high-technology industries in the state, following a feasibility report commissioned by the government and envisioned by the late industrialist K.P.P. Nambiar. There we saw hundreds of women at work building computers with robots whizzing amidst them. Nayanar was mighty impressed when he learnt that the woman earned US $12 an hour. The CM, who until then thought that computers and computerisation would put an automatic end to jobs, immediately gave the green signal for the project. That trip to the United States was the turning point. While the credit for initiating the project goes to the Nayanar government, that for implementing the project goes to bureaucrat K.M. Chandrasekharan, and the K. Karunakaran-A.K. Antony government. That’s why I always say that Technopark is a prime example of how Kerala can progress beyond the political divide.” GIANT LEAP From just five companies in the beginning, today the campus is home to over 330 companies that employ over 47,000 people and provide indirect employment to some 2.5 lakh others. From a patch of land acquired in Attipra panchayat, the campus has now spread over nearly 300 acres with four million sq. ft. of built-up space in three campuses, which makes it the largest IT park in India in terms of built-up area. FACT FILE At the entrance of Park Centre are two commemorative plaques. The one on the left, quite fittingly, marks the laying of its foundation stone on March 31, 1991 by E.K. Nayanar of the CPI(M) and on the right, is one that marks its inauguration on November 18, 1995 by Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao of the Congress! The first ‘office’ of Technopark was a sofa opposite K.P.P. Nambiar’s table inside the secretariat. The hill on which Park Centre stands was known as Vaidyan Kunnu. The first buildings to come up on campus were Park Centre, Pampa and Periyar, followed by Nila. One of the first five IT companies to set up shop was Brahma Softech, a data entry firm. It was acquired by Data Entry International, which in turn was taken over by Office Tiger, which eventually was acquired by RR Donnelly. “The first company thus still remains on campus, in spirit, at least,” says Satheesh Kumar. The first hardware firm, meanwhile, was MegaLux.