The big picture
Over the last twenty years, Bengaluru (also known as Bangalore) has become the beating heart of India’s nearly $200 billion tech industry. But where it was once known as an outsourcing hub and the unseen backroom of Western companies, Bengaluru today is trying to move up the value chain to become a bona fide startup hub.
The tide had already started to shift by the middle of the last decade. India had long stood out for its young, capable, English-speaking software engineers and programmers, but that talent pool had its eyes on careers overseas. “I just felt like I wouldn’t get that opportunity in India,” said Hemant Mohapatra, who left home to work for Google and Andreessen Horowitz in the U.S. But as time passed, Mohapatra and others like him began to sense that real opportunities lay back home and returned to invest their money and experience in India.
The shift was marked by the rise of homegrown unicorns like Flipkart and ride-hailing service Ola, success stories at a scale not seen before. Bengaluru is now one of the startup capitals of the world, with 14 unicorns based in the city.
Big Stat: 64
Alongside Bengaluru’s 14 unicorns, the city also has 64 “soonicorns”: startups worth over $100 million that are candidates to become unicorns.
View from the ground
Bengaluru’s thriving culture of tech entrepreneurship is a world away from what Mohapatra experienced as a student in India. Now a partner at leading venture capital firm Lightspeed, Mohapatra recalls that being an entrepreneur was synonymous with being unemployed — which carries its own social stigma. “You couldn’t get married,” he said, “nobody would want to date you!”
By 2010, Bengaluru’s cafés and pubs were becoming venues for tech meetups. “My colleague was very far away from the city,” said Vivek K., “but I’d still travel 30 to 40 kilometers to attend the monthly Android meetups.” Those meetings were the spark that made the biomedical engineering student turn his talents toward being a tech entrepreneur.
Rishab Ramanathan grew up in Bengaluru before taking the well-trodden path to Silicon Valley. The 24-year-old previously worked at Apple, but he hopes to return home one day. “Silicon Valley is razor sharp, focusing on tech and addressing everything related to tech,” he said. “But, I think, Bengaluru is just so much more: more chaos, more color, more shit going on.”
Neighborhood spotlight: Electronic City
The heart of Bengaluru’s tech industry is the aptly named Electronic City, sprawling over 325 hectares in the south. It was founded in the 1970s by Ram Krishna Baliga, the first chairman of the Karnataka State Electronics Development Corporation, deliberately applying a name that left no doubts as to the area’s focus. Today, over 200 tech companies, including Infosys and Wipro, have their headquarters in the area.
Electronic City is also closely linked to the residential neighborhood of Koramangala, just 15 minutes’ drive away. With palm trees lining the streets and plenty of bars, it’s flooded with engineers and aspiring entrepreneurs shaping the city’s tech culture.
The big name: Byju’s
India’s most valuable startup, Byju’s, found that business soared as the pandemic cancelled in-person classes and forced students to learn remotely. The edtech company has raised more than $1 billion over the past two years and said it was hiring up to 7,000 people over the next year. The company is named for its cofounder, Byju Raveendran, notable for being part of a new wave of Indian tech entrepreneurs who chose to build a career in his home country, rather than heading to the U.S.