Reflections on a technologist-in-residence stint at a startup incubator in Calcutta, India.
I served as the technologist-in-residence for Technopreneurs’ Surrogate Ventures, Eastern India’s largest startup incubation and coworking project, in late ‘16 - early ‘17. Initially recruited by a consulting client to provide strategic consulting and management assistance for their web development vendors, I stayed on in a consulting CTO role for the first batch of resident startups.
My main goal was identifying approaches to develop and strengthen Calcutta’s slumbering startup ecosystem. Unlike the other “major metro” cities in India, Calcutta has remained a difficult city for startups in terms of both human and financial capital.
One of the manifestations of this is the lack of a local technology community, a problem I’ve noticed every time I’ve traveled here. Unlike London or Chicago (or, for that matter, Bangalore), a digital nomad arriving in Calcutta finds only a couple of coffee shops suitable for coworking, a couple of coworking spaces, and no regular weekly tech meetups or workshops where a visiting techie can drop in and talk about a recent project or ask questions about a new programming language. For comparison, the population of Calcutta and the surrounding suburban area is 14.3 million (the population of New York was 8.5 million in ‘14.)
This lack of cultural infrastructure is particularly troubling for me, since I got my start in nonprofit tech as an Americorps VISTA fellow for the Chicago Chapter of the Community Technology Centers’ Network, strengthening these types of communities around Illinois.
The Technopreneurs space has hosted several workshops, meetups, and startup training / mentorship opportunities in the past several months, including events from the Kolkata chapter of the Founder Institute, workshops on ethical hacking and DIY robotics, one-on-one web development mentoring and project management sessions which I led personally, and a Mozilla hackathon for engineering students.
During my time there, I also proposed and developed a Drupal-based intranet portal with a student resume directory and job-matching database for Geoscholars.com, one of the first startups accepted to the incubator and resident at the co-working space. A detailed write-up on that project is available here.