"Dreaming of a Job?"
That's the bold-lettered message next to an American flag and a yellow smiley face appearing on highway billboards near some of India's busiest software-technology office parks. About 50,000 information-technology professionals pass those roadside enticements, which are designed to lure them to American jobs, on their way to work every day. It's a receptive audience: According to the Immigration & Naturalization Service, about 40% of all H1-B visas are issued to Indians, most of them technology professionals.
Even as more Indians migrate to the U.S. in response to labor-market demands, the process remains very tricky. Employers and new hires have to find one another, often being forced to agree on the terms of a job before they have had a chance to meet in person. Next, there is a complicated visa process, usually involving lawyers and legal fees.
Now a team of four entrepreneurs, all originally from India, believe their startup is smoothing out the process. The quartet arrived in 1999 as students at New York's Baruch College and today share a small apartment in Jersey City, N.J. "We saw a gap in the process of companies hiring Indians -- they advertise independently, get resumes independently," says Rajat Beri, the 28-year-old co-founder of 8-month-old Global IT Jobs. Late last year, Beri quit his job as a senior Java developer to focus on Global IT Jobs. Neeraj Tiwari, Kavita Beri, and Rameshwar Mahay, Rajat's partners, were studying for MBA degrees, while Rajat pursued a Master's in Computer Science at Baruch's B-school.
Until June 5, when the team won $55,000 at the first-annual Baruch College Entrepreneurship Competition, the friends had funded the project entirely on their own. But after sinking $100,000 into the venture, they hit a wall. "We had expenses [at] our Indian office and on technology here," Beri explains. While marketing in India has been relatively inexpensive, reaching potential employers at U.S. and European companies required more money than they had. To top it off, the U.S. economy took a nasty turn just when Beri was hoping to woo venture capitalists. Says Beri: "The market was so bad, we stopped that idea [of attracting investors] in April."
Even though they have found a need they can meet, and a service they can provide, Global IT Jobs seems to be moving against the economic tide. The company has bought contact lists with the names of up to 45,000 Indian professionals, is renting those billboards in India, and placing recruitment ads in South Asian newspapers. All this at a time when some Indians working the U.S. have had to return to their homeland after being laid off.
Still, Beri says his company has something unique to offer and, despite the odds, has placed 13 candidates since March. When a company posts a job with Global IT Jobs, the startup produces three screened candidates in about three weeks. Competitors, Beri says, can't promise that the candidate really knows as much as his resume promises. If the company hires the Global IT Jobs candidate, the outfit makes between $1,000 and $1,500.
Global IT Jobs may make the procedure easier for companies, but it remains a lengthy process, and still involves an element of risk. When a company hires Beri and the lawyers he works with, it may still have to wait up to three months before the paperwork is complete and a visa is issued. After the interviewing and hiring process, Global IT Jobs is no longer responsible for its new hire. But Beri says that if his outfit places an Indian professional who is already based in the U.S., and the employer is dissatisfied after three months, Global IT Jobs will refund the fee or replace the candidate for free.
Working in the U.S. bestows advantages other than the prospect of material rewards, new immigrants say. "I can see things happening in IT back in India, but the exposure I have here is far, far superior to what I would have had there," says Rohit Kumar, 30, who moved to Chicago from Delhi in April to work at a consulting firm. Hired through Global IT Jobs, he signed with them because the company made him feel more secure. "Papers are always flooded with jobs [in the U.S.], but 80% to 90% only have an e-mail address," he says.
Larry Zicklin -- a Baruch alum, B-school benefactor, and chairman of the board of Neuberger & Berman -- put up $50,000 of the grand prize with fellow Baruch alum Arthur S. Ainsberg, COO of Bessent Capital LLP, and hails the potential of Beri's business plan. "Hundreds of thousands of Indian software professionals are coming into Europe and the U.S. and in no organized way," he says. Global IT Jobs also had an edge since they already were up and running, with real customers found through direct marketing, cold calls to corporate recruiters, and job leads from friends.
The prize has given Global IT Jobs a second wind. The next step is to raise $500,000 with help from the well-connected Zicklin and Ainsberg. The team is also hoping Baruch will give them office space this summer. The business plan forecasts that they'll place 500 Indians between the summers of 2002 and 2003.
If Global IT Jobs follows its business plan, Beri will have realized his 20-year dream to be a successful entrepreneur. In India, he says, many members of his mother's family are entrepreneurs. Growing up with such role models motivated him to become his own boss: "Working for someone else?" he says, "I can't do it!" If companies take the bait, he won't have to. Then, maybe, he can sit back and enjoy an American dream of his own.
By Mica Schneider in New York