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Achal Ghai was born in India and feels an emotional bond to the country and its culture.

But it wasn't sentiment that prompted him to launch a chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs, or TiE, in Vancouver.

It was a conviction that India was entering a business revolution, and that Vancouver, with its sizable Indian population and growing technology sector, was in a good position to be part of it.

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"I am a fan of business economics," says Mr. Ghai, an investment banking director with Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Vancouver and president of TiE Vancouver, founded last year. "I don't look at India from emotional perspective -- I look at it as a great market."

Mr. Ghai's pragmatic outlook fits with the history of TiE. It began informally in 1992, when a group of businessmen waiting at a California airport for an Indian diplomat found they had something in common -- they were Indian, they were working in the technology industry and more often than not, they weren't being promoted.

That meeting led to a formal association in 1994. TiE now has nine chapters in the United States, five in India and one in Canada. A second Canadian chapter is set to launch in Toronto next month. TiE in Britain kicked off in October, and a new chapter is planned in Singapore.

From a small group formed to overcome discrimination and promote mutual support, TiE has evolved into a global networking machine. Its 2,000-plus members are now using their clout to promote economic development -- and social change -- in India, and have visions of doing the same in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

TiE encourages members to launch companies together, share contacts and invest in each other's ideas. In its early days, the Internet economy was taking off, and Indian engineers who had flocked to California in the seventies for jobs or graduate degrees began to roll out their own ventures.

Indian-run startups were typically quick out of the gate. Founders had a pipeline to sought-after Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) graduates and, increasingly, to millions of dollars of venture capital from fellow Indian entrepreneurs.

TiE founder Kanwal Rekhi, for example, has a reported personal worth of more than $500-million (U.S.), thanks largely to startups he has invested in since leaving his job as chief technology officer of Utah-based Novell Inc. in 1995.

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These days, Mr. Rekhi spends his time mentoring startups and spreading the entrepreneurial gospel through activities such as donating millions to schools including IIT Bombay and launching TiE chapters in India.

Mr. Rekhi is keen on seeing India's technology sector, which is now largely driven by contract work for multinational clients, evolve to a more self-supporting industry.

Speaking to Vancouver TiE members last month, Mr. Rekhi said U.S. companies use Indian programmers and technicians as "techno-coolies." That's not necessarily bad, he added, as such work can provide valuable experience and contacts.

"You'll see enough Indians travelling on [information technology]service contracts, who are exposed to entrepreneurship enough, and in due time, they will come down with this [startup]fever."

He expects the United States will continue to be a magnet for many of the 73,000 graduates that come out of India's engineering institutes every year.

But India, he said, has the potential to become an information technology powerhouse in its own right.

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"You have smart people, good climate, cheap housing -- those are all big pluses."

Meanwhile, the magnitude and variety of foreign investment in India continues to grow.

Microsoft Corp., for example, is pouring about $50-million into a new development centre in the Indian city of Hyderabad. Vancouver-based chip maker PMC-Sierra recently paid $450-million in shares for a California startup that has development teams in Milpitas, Calif., and in Pune, about 170 kilometres south of Bombay.

Even smaller companies are looking to India as a low-cost production centre.

For the past five years, Gurmit Dhaliwal has been running Geotech Systems Inc., a software development business, from offices in Vancouver and in Bellevue, Wash.

Sometime in the next few months, he plans to open another branch -- in Bangalore, India's answer to Silicon Valley, a move he says will help him recruit employees and keep costs under control.

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Mr. Dhaliwal is 35 years old and a TiE member. He came to Canada from India with his parents when he was 11, and sees his planned expansion as a way to give back to the country where he was born.

He believes it will get tougher in the next few years to recruit Indian workers to North America, as increased investment, backed by government support, creates more opportunities for Indians to work in the technology sector without leaving their families and culture behind.

"I'm convinced that the way business works today will change dramatically," says Mr. Dhaliwal, whose company now employs about 60 people in Canada and the United States.

"You're really going to see a global software development methodology."

In India and abroad, there is concern that the country's rush to become an information technology superpower is leaving out the poor and uneducated, many who remain a seemingly hopeless distance from India's emerging middle class.

TiE does not have a specific charitable agenda, but Mr. Rekhi believes fostering strong companies and technology in India stands to improve the country's economy, and the quality of life for many of its citizens.

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Mr. Ghai agrees and says India's technology boom has the potential to create new wealth and narrow the gap between rich and poor.

"There are millions of people who can be employed there. And the price may be cheap from an international perspective, but from the Indian perspective, it's going to bring so much prosperity."

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