Keith Zendler believes that a well-organized online network promotes unexpected, and often fortuitous encounters. His faith in virtual interactions aside, it was a good old fashioned set of personal acquaintances in India that prompted Zendler to link that country with its worldwide diaspora through his online platform, Cspace
The result was the "mother of all challenges," commercially known as "Connect India Now
." Indians are the largest immigrant group in Southeast Michigan, giving Zendler's venture added meaning in this market. Tel Ganesan, CEO of Kyyba, Inc
., a metro Detroit-based staffing firm and president of TiE Detroit
, a global organization of entrepreneurs of Indian origin, serves as chairperson for Connect India Now.
Best of both worlds
The initiative is part altruistic and part commercial. It is rooted in Zendler's belief in the power of online platforms to connect small units of society into a virtual community, which is the "C" behind Cspace.
Formerly known as "Peoplemovers" and based in Detroit, "Cspace is designed to help governments, associations, organizations, and business extend their reach beyond websites to networks," Zendler says. Connect India Now takes this local concept internationally, but focused on the Indian population, from a small undeveloped village to large cities and American cities like Detroit. Zendler offers free access to the technology for schools, nonprofits, and small communities, while businesses pay a fee to use the service. Sponsorship advertising also underwrites the venture.
"We're bringing connectivity to the bottom of the (social) pyramid, parts of Indian society that have been disconnected from resources, jobs, other opportunities," he says. "When you have media and proven interactivity, health improves, economic prosperity improves."
Zendler, who will be making a second extended business development trip to India, says he has the support of Dnyaneshwar Mulay, Consul General of India, New York, former Indian President Pratibha Patil, and several other leading Indian business, governmental and community development leaders. Connect India Now is expected to have a soft launch during the upcoming spring months, becoming fully operational by Aug. 15, Indian Independence Day
India is expected to become the world's third economy, but remains a disconnected country, with lingering caste divisions and 1,600 languages spoken, Zendler says. He believes Cspace, through Connect India Now, can be a unifying vehicle for the country and promote business opportunities with Indians in the United States.
"Cspace was born here, in Detroit, by observing the need of leaders in organizations to collaborate more effectively," Zendler says. "When I started to build relationships in India, I realized that India was really the mother of all challenges, in terms of getting the country to work together."
When the local becomes international
Initially, Zendler, who also owns RecycleMax, Inc
. in Detroit, was asked by some governmental officials in Pune, an auto manufacturing center in India, to share his ideas of about waste management. That led to discussions about how Cspace can promote business not only at the local level but internationally.
"The goal is to create a digital bridge between India and the United States," Zendler says. Pune is one of the cities in which he has developed business relationships. "A lot of Indians in Detroit are from Pune...two strong automotive cities that already have a lot of personal connections -- it makes total sense that these two cities would be the first to really model how to bring two countries together."
Zendler also sees the potential of introducing non-Indian Americans to business opportunities in India. "I don't know that a lot of Indians here realize how much American business people want to get to know (about) it."
The online entrepreneur marvels at the serendipity and real-time human relationships that spawned an international virtual initiative: "I went to India (because of) a personal friendship; next thing you know, I'm meeting with members of parliament and a former president. It happened very quickly. ... There was no specific plan. That's just the way life goes...it's personal relationships that end up opening up doors that you never would have dreamed of -- which is exactly the concept of the (Cspace) network, to build more relationships for ourselves, individually, for our organizations, because you never know where those doors will lead to."
Dennis Archambault is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to metromode and Model D.
All Photos by David Lewinski Photography