It’s just as well that the Europeans came to Kerala early; had they come now, they would have found geeks instead of fenugreek.

Quietly and without fuss, at least until now, Kerala has become a haven for IT companies. It is leasing out around 5 million square feet to IT companies at highly subsidised rates.

“We charge Rs 45 per square foot,” says Regi K. Thomas of Infopark, which is fully owned by the Kerala Government.

IT parks

After the success of the first one (1995) in Thiruvananthapuram, IT parks are coming up in most of the tier-II and tier-III cities.

Most of the big names like Wipro, TCS and others have leased space. The leases run for 99 years, but the lease rent is renegotiable after a specified period.

IT, you wonder? In Kerala, you marvel.

Growth strategy

But then you realise the landlord model of development is entirely consistent with the state’s growth strategy of greenness, labour-intensive production, virtually no manufacturing, and side-stepping the unions.

The other prong of this strategy of unlocking the value in land — and water — is tourism. The tourism bit Kerala has tom-tommed, but of the IT bit, it’s been very shy.

Startup Village

This comes home very starkly at the Startup Village. Sijo Kuruvilla George, its CEO, is all of 29 years old, founded a company, exited it, made his fortune, and is now helping kids with seemingly goofy ideas to start their own little ventures. One of their benefactors is Kris Gopalakrishnan of Infosys.

Often there are three or four kids sitting around a table with laptops. George says these little groups are actually companies.

Our vision, he adds, is to enable a thousand companies to take off in the next ten years.

Angel investors

Angel investors are what the Village is looking for but the Finance Ministry is unwilling to give tax breaks on such investments. With tax breaks, says George, we can really take off.

For the moment, though, the Village has a more pressing problem: it has no loo of its own. Hopefully, we will have one soon, says George Paul, a director and fellow enthusiast.

Read also: Of dreams and reality in emerging Kerala

(This article was published on September 5, 2012)
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