KTR lauds Silicon Valley entrepreneur Raju Reddy’s social project in rural Telangana

Ritu Jha-

Several big U.S.-based corporations as well as mid-and small-sized companies have offshore offices in Telangana, India, but a few are also trying to support people in rural parts of the state through philanthropic work.

Raju Reddy, Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur, community leader, venture capitalist, and founder and former CEO of Sierra Atlantic, a global business and information technology services solutions provider which was acquired by Hitachi Consulting in 2011, is one such.

KT Rama Rao, Telangana’s IT & industries minister and son of Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, made it a point to laud Raju Reddy’s work at a meet-and-greet event at the India Community Center, Milpitas where more than 700 people turned up to hear him speak.

The minister, popularly known by his initials as KTR, lauded those who have been supporting Telangana over the years. Reddy had started his Kakatiya Sandbox project in villages near Nizamabad in 2013, a year before the state was carved out from the united Andhra Pradesh after a long campaign.

Reddy also had a meeting with KTR on how to take the Kakatiya Sandbox project to tier 2 and tier 3 cities in the state. He told indica on the sidelines of the meet-and-greet event that he set up the project for two reasons.

“Personally, my interest is because I am a native of Telangana and have been devoting time to the initiative in rural Telangana and North Nizamabad,” Reddy said. “Second, through the Kakatiya Sandbox, I want to improve economic opportunities in rural India.”

The venture capitalist said his team is focused on skilling for placement. “Graduates go through a four-month program and 90 percent of them get placed,” he said. Since many educated people do not have jobs in India, he said the focus is not just on skilling but on placement.

“I think it is an important distinction because our focus is primarily on employment,” he said. “And now these people are getting into companies like Genentech”, regarded as the world’s first biotechnology company and now a subsidiary of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche.

Reddy thanked friend, fellow entrepreneur and philanthropist Gururaj ‘Desh’ Deshpande for inspiring his project — Kakatiya Sandbox is modeled on the Deshpande Foundation’s Hubli Sandbox in Karnataka — and venture capitalist Kanwal Rekhi for supporting his work with generous grants.

Reddy said KTR was supportive of the Kakatiya Sandbox “because we have experimented with different ideas”. He said some ideas tend to do better. “We experimented with hundreds and only five or six are scaling at present.”

The sandbox was started in July 2013 and today works with 100,000 farmers across 1,200 villages of Telangana. Much of its work is around water harvesting, organic farming techniques and cotton farming. The sandbox helps to create an ecosystem that nurtures an entrepreneurial mindset to tackle grassroots problems with innovation, collaboration and sustainability.

Asked what role the state government had been playing in the initiative, Reddy said they work with government schools and even local government offices. “One of the things I have seen is that administration is very efficient in Telangana,” he said. “When the state was formed [in 2014] there were 10 districts. Today there are 33, so they actually broke it into smaller territories and the administration is more approachable now.

He said he does not directly deal with government officials, but they have generally been supportive of entrepreneurs, and Telangana today accounts for 5 percent of India’s GDP.

“Over the years we have seen several ministers from India, both at the central and state level, and I can’t think of anybody else who has made an effort to maintain ties with the business community here in Silicon Valley,” he said, referring to KTR.