These are exciting times to be launching startups in Pakistan. Incubation centers like Plan9, i2i have paved the way for startups in the country, however, with the launch of operations like National Incubation Centers, firstly in Islamabad followed by Lahore, Peshawar and finally Karachi and Quetta with industry partners like Jazz, LUMS, PTCL, LKMT and BUITEMS. Under the stewardship of Mr Yusuf Hussain, CEO – Ignite and his star-studded team of seasoned movers and shakers of the business ecosystem. A host of universities have already set up or are currently developing incubation centers internally, too. Suffice to say, it is very much worth launching a startup in Pakistan.
The Success Stories Are Piling Up
One of the most successful kickstarter campaigns from Pakistan, named Markhor. They managed to raise over 715% of their target funding on the first day of their campaign. Then let’s talk about presence of smaller scale, but equally important operations like Founders institute and Telenor Innovation that help bring a globalized discipline to the local ecosystem. NIC alone since its establishment in 2016 has so far helped over 121 incubatees logging nearly 2000 hrs of mentoring while having raised over PKR. 370M in investment and upwards of PKR. 407M generated in revenues!
We recognize the struggles
All of the above bodes well for the budding entrepreneurial minds. An increasing number of professionals are taking a very keen interest in pitching and struggling for their business ideas. Of course, this does not ensure that all get equal access to the upper echelons of the entrepreneurial ecosystem knowledge about startups and business is readily available to everyone. There is a startup culture brewing slowly and Universities have been as close to the eye of the storm then any other platform. In Pakistan, a sizeable number of startups are set up by university students and fresh graduates with little to no experience of actually running a business. This adds to the challenge of establishing a new company as a lack of experience comes into play.
Despite being in the best and most innovative positions, most students are unable to turn ideas into opportunities. Universities are helping nurture it but startups are not and have never been limited to university graduates. Whether a team or an individual, there is no limit to age or restriction to a certain age group. Presently, there exists a large population that is interested in startups, however are unaware in ways of communicating their thoughts based on the appropriate platforms.
However, we are far from ignorant. We recognize the problem and the community is working towards building solutions.
Support from the Government is at an all-time high
The success of any idea or business, among other factors, also includes the support and business-friendliness of the environment they are working in. This requires for a broader base to be involved a more inclusive set up where anyone can pitch in their ideas and have the support available for them. To their credit, successive governments have created and assisted in carrying forward a positive policy. Allowing for research and development for a solution developed by industry leaders and world beaters.
That’s where Ignite’s platform of Digiskills comes into play. Digiskills is essentially an e-training facility launched by the Government of Pakistan. At the heart of it the idea is to empower the youth of Pakistan and broaden the skill set of existing workforce in order to help them achieve financial independence by working on the global freelance circuit. The platform is initiated by ministry of IT and Telecom, Pakistan, through Ignite with the LMS (Learning Management System) devised by Virtual University as the executing partner. The service is initially offering 10 courses that are most in-demand on the freelance circuit. A trainee can enroll on 2 courses at one time, in a batch, and work through the text and audio content along with the exercises at their own pace. All the courses are free of charge and successful candidates are awarded an e-certificate accredited by the Virtual University.
Incubators Are Growing Steadily
An incubator is an entity, business or otherwise, that is set up to offer support services to entrepreneurs and startups to help them improve their business idea. The range of services includes an office space – generally on below market rates, mentoring and coaching services to help with understanding of business requirements and management practices. Incubation centres can be a great help in assisting with marketing and product research due to the in-house as well as partner marketing outreach services – this also helps with design thinking and adapting to market modalities.
One of the most important aspect of the incubation set up is the access to the business and investor networks which not only helps startups gain valuable insight into the workings of the industry and opportunity to learn from industry bigwigs but also pitch their ideas to potential investors. If you want more information on the specifics of incubators, check out entrepreneur encyclopedia.
Incubators come in all shape and forms but the most common ones are:
- Virtual incubators – The virtual incubation model allows a startup to receive the advice of an incubator without actually being located at the incubator’s premises.
- Dedicated – The dedicated incubators are set up by corporate businesses that mentor and support startups in their premises. Incubatees are allotted dedicated office/working space – generally for a period of 2 years.
- Academic incubators – These are dedicated incubation centres created within universities and academic institutions to house the startups from their own student pool allowing them to nurture in their own Eco-system with support from external partners.
You can learn about other types of business incubators here.
We Are Preparing Entrepreneurs Early
A growing number of universities have set up their own, in-house, business incubation centres. There is a great shift of focus towards STEM education. Business schools like LUMS, IBA. NUST are leading the way and have dedicated a lot of resources to the development of curriculum and activities around this. A host of training and workshops around entrepreneurship and design thinking are now being introduced within the regular curriculum cycle of business programs to inspire an appreciation for the shifting trends in business and increasing entrepreneurial opportunities for individuals.
Universities are also partnering with local and international incubation set ups like LUMS’s collaboration with Ignite for NIC Lahore and with BUITEMS for NIC Quetta and NUST’s partnership with Googles’ Startup Grind, forming Startup Grind NUST chapter, have greatly helped students benefit from the exposure to the international business practices. Google summer of code, an annual internship contest cum program, has also seen increasing participation from delegates from Pakistan. The Pak-USA Tech exchange program will also allow, in 2020, for selected delegates to experience the Startup Grind Global Conference 2020 and network with more than 8000 founders and investors from around the world. Another great platform is OPEN formed by Pakistani entrepreneurs and professionals across the globe, from Silicon Valley to Islamabad, allows for budding entrepreneurs to connect, network, collaborate, mentor and support each other.
Startup Contests Are Growing
Startup contests have taken centre stage and are increasing in numbers every calendar month. Corporate, big and small, are also joining the domain and adding further value to the booming startup industry. Startup contests are like the battle of the bands and startups have morphed into rock-star fame hopefuls. A word of caution for the starry eyed hopefuls though – there are all sorts of events being staged with the quality of the content and the promises made during those events ranging from monetary investment to promise of exposure to business network to drive revenues and support ‘in kind’ – these promises at times boil down to plain optics and essentially scams.
Unfortunately, not many organisers accept responsibility for delivering on those promises and simply blame the sponsors for pulling away or make an excuse on technical basis. So make sure you run your numbers, do your research and focus on the platforms, whether big or small, that have yielded results and help their winners nurture and flourish.
A number of some successful events are Kamyabi Summit winner of which was Seekhlo, Uber chimed in with their own Startup contest, namely Uber PITCH in collaboration with NIC to house the winning pitchers at all five centres. The Startup Cup has invested in some great ideas, too. Telenor Innovate program has helped take Pakistani startups springboard onto their international contest and seen some great work done. All these are encouraging signs for better things to come.
Women Entrepreneurs Are On The RiseThere are also exciting and exclusive opportunities for women entrepreneurs – amid many an initiatives to drive the economy autonomy so to empower women and ensuring a more inclusive and gender balanced business environment – a host of encouraging initiatives are being carried out.
SMEDA is leading the way with a holistic, long-term, program for enterprise and leadership development of women in Pakistan in collaboration with Women Entrepreneurs (WEs). Karandaaz, is a UK funded ogranisation that strives to promote access to finance for micro, small and medium sized businesses for a more inclusive Eco-system. As part of their products, Karandaaz have successfully launched two entrepreneurship contests and are accepting applications for their third iteration in the year 2019.
Another trailblazer is WECON inspiring and enabling women to help solve the societal inequalities of Pakistani society through entrepreneurship, their recently concluded Women Entrepreneurship Conference 2019 drew a lot of praise for the variety of topics discussed and the launch of WECON Movement, you can learn more about this amazing initiative here. The WeCreate Pakistan Chapter recently, acting as a venue partner, hosted Femonics, an initiative to bridge the gender gap in Pakistan, where the Pakistan Chapter of Makesense Pakistan hotspot was launched. Makesense is a global network of entrepreneurs and organizations that have gathered and pooled their resources to help solve social and environmental challenges. You can check out a snippet of their activities here.
Hackathons provide with an excellent opportunity to collaborate on a project that that aims to bring about an innovate way to resolve real world problems. Hackathons are a perfect platform to socialize and network with fellow disruptors, to build relationships with the business leaders and renowned global tech companies.
What really is a hackathon? it has nothing to do with the hacking popularised in pop culture – computer hacking. In fact, the purpose of a hackathon is to build a prototype for your idea based on a problem statement in an innovative way within a given set of time. Generally, these contests aren’t longer than 24hrs or, at max, last over a weekend. Since it only lasts a limited amount of time, the participants – programmers, students and sometimes even professors – get together for a short period of time to collaborate on a project. These events are usually hosted by tech companies or organisations. During the event you don’t have to invent something new but rather come up with an alternative approach to solve practical problems keeping in mind the basics requirements of the user who is going to use the eventual solution.
Remote Robot Connection (#RRC) was one of the first major startups that brought us international attention when they made it to the top 15 of the people’s choice award at NASA’ SpaceGlove: Spacecraft Gesture and Voice Commanding Challenge 2015. In March 2018, MIT Enterprise Forum Pakistan and Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) collaborated to organise Pakistan’s first large-scale hackathon, a three day event, centered around the Smart City initiative at Information Technology University (ITU).
Telenor has been quite proactive in this field, too, and have organised Pakistan’s first ever Internet of Things (IoT) based Hackathon followed by an annual event Telenor Hackathon 2018. Following the success of the previous iterations of 2016 and 2017, Code for Pakistan, teamed up with Jazz and organised hackathon based on United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, titled: Jazz SDG Hackathon 2018, a total of 500+ applicants sent in their proposed solutions of which 109 ideas were selected for the event.
This should, help you get a head start if you have a great idea that you think can disrupt the marketplace, dive right in. Water’s just fine. Set yourself up for success and avoid mistakes that others have made. We can’t be reckless with all the blood, sweat and tears, for lack of a better way to express the sentiment, we invest in the process with the hope of success. Let us be wise and smart up for the startup.
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