Fifth Metro: Just one flight awayhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/fifth-metro-just-one-flight-away/

Fifth Metro: Just one flight away

A nonstop flight between Bangalore and Silicon Valley is a great idea

Narendra Modi, New Delhi San Francisco, Narendra Modi Silicon Valley, Modi visits Silicon Valley, ArgByte, iecolumnist, Saritha Rai
Indians are the third-largest Asian group in California, after the Chinese and Filipinos.

A new nonstop flight that is to connect New Delhi and San Francisco will negotiate several time zones and whittle down flying time between India and the US west coast to 18 hours, slashing a good three to four hours from the currently available one-stop flights. The new direct flights are to run three times a week starting this year-end, and were announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself during his recent trip to Silicon Valley.

But what if the nonstop flight had been between Bangalore and San Francisco, the two cities that have the most commonalities and are officially sister cities, asked Manjula Sridhar, founder of online security startup ArgByte. A majority of startups, investors and tech multinationals’ India bases are in Bangalore, so the traffic between the two cities is the busiest, noted Sridhar.

“Bangalore is more relevant to the San Francisco populace than Delhi,” said Vishal Sikka, CEO of India’s second-largest IT services firm, Infosys. The Palo Alto-based Sikka, formerly an executive board member of German technology firm SAP, now trudges the Bangalore-San Francisco route once or twice a month. It is a unique arrangement as Sikka continues to live in the Bay Area while he runs the Bangalore-headquartered Infosys. A nonstop SFO-BLR flight would be a godsend for him personally, he said. For the ecosystem, “a SFO-BLR flight would be a gamechanger, bringing these two tech communities closer together.”

Indians are the third-largest Asian group in California, after the Chinese and Filipinos. Indians are the most highly educated, hyper-achieving, richest demographic segment, whose exploits in the Silicon Valley-centred technology and startup industry have lately come into renewed focus. The linkages between the Indian diaspora in the Bay Area and the tech community in Bangalore are bolstering India’s own startup ecosystem, just as it revs up.

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Silicon Valley and Bangalore have a natural connection as both are critical technology nerve centres, said Punit Soni, who left Google’s Bay Area headquarters to join the Bangalore-based Flipkart as its chief product officer in March this year. Many in Bangalore make multiple trips to the Valley each year for knowledge-sharing, recruiting and networking. “Given the traffic between the two cities, Bangalore should have been a priority for a non-stop flight to San Francisco before other cities,” said Soni. A New Delhi flight would boost Silicon Valley company visits to India but the government should focus more on homegrown companies, Soni said. “They are the ones changing the country in more fundamental ways than Bay Area companies.”

Venture capitalist Sanjay Swamy, who moved to Bangalore from the Bay Area in 2003, says the significant connections between India’s technology hub and the Valley date back to more than a decade ago, when the first surge of Silicon Valley-based technology firms like Google and Cisco started setting up R&D bases in India. The next wave of hybrid Valley-based startups set up development centres in Bangalore to build for Western markets. In the latest wave, Indian startups are acquiring talent in the Valley. “The Indian ecosystem is getting as vibrant as the Valley’s,” said Swamy.

The many flights that connect San Francisco from Bangalore are always full. For instance, a middle-of-the-night Lufthansa flight takes 22 hours to cover the distance, including a stopover in Frankfurt. The brimming flight has been dubbed the Bangalore Express for the networking and schmoozing that goes on in its business-class cabins, which are crammed with consultants, venture capital investors, industry executives, startup founders and assorted technology folk. Other airlines serve the technology industry just as well and operate on this ultra-profitable route.

A nonstop BLR-SFO flight would be beyond symbolic, said Swamy, the investor. “The thought that Bangalore is ‘just one flight away’ could open a lot of thought processes amongst investors in the Valley and could lead to significant and exciting outcomes,” he said. It would bring down barriers and increase the ability for companies in the two cities to collaborate with each other. “A nonstop flight from Bangalore to the Bay Area is long overdue and the ramifications will go far beyond reducing the distance by three to four hours.”

saritha.rai@expressindia.com