Monday, November 17, 2014

Pakistani Village Girl Launches VC-Funded Tech Startup in America

Vida, a  San Francisco technology startup co-founded by Umaimah Mendhro from Akri village in Sindh, Pakistan, has received $1.3 million funding from Google Ventures, Universal Music Group and others, according to Tech Crunch.

The startup bills itself as "socially responsible" with the objective of using technology to provide a way for designers, artists and other creatives  anywhere in the world to make a viable living through their work.

Vida CEO Umaima Mendhro joins a growing list of successful Pakistani-American women that includes Shama Zehra in finance, Shaan Kandawalla in technology, Shazia Sikandar in the Arts and Fatima Ali in fine cuisine.

“I am from a very small town in Pakistan and was home-schooled much of my life because we didn’t have proper schools around. I taught myself how to cut, sketch, sew, stitch, block print, screen print, oil paint, and more,” she told Tech Crunch. “Yet I couldn’t get myself to pursue art as a profession because I feared I wouldn’t be able to make a living with it,” Mendhro said. “With a love for fashion and design, I was also acutely aware of the hundreds of millions of people employed in textile and garment production, who could never get out of a cycle of poverty.”

Vida brings together painters, photographers, graphic designers, sculptors, 3D artists, architects, and textile and print designers from around the world who participate in the platform at no cost, then receive a 10% revenue share on products sold. Additionally, VIDA often works with its textile mills, printers, and cut and sew factories, removing the middleman costs from the equation. Vida uses "Direct to Fabric Digital Printing Technology" for its offerings.

Currently, VIDA designers include: Elle Magazine's 'Up and Coming Fashion Designer from Sweden, Emma Lundgren,' Vogue.com's top 10 fashion graduates to watch, Cigdem Keskin from Turkey, and Tokyo based 'Top Hat Designer of the Year,' Honoyo Imai. Manufacturing partners include: Karachi based fashion label and manufacturing houses, Sania Maskatiya and FNKAsia.

Umaimah has a bachelor's degree from Cornell University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Here's what she says about herself in her intro on HBS website: "I want to live a life that compels people who do not seem to share a common thread to see if, at a raw human level, we really are that different. A life that gives people reason to reason for themselves... to pause and question the comfortable assumptions. To form and inform beliefs. And never give up common sense for common opinion."

Here's a CNN story on Smartphone apps success in Pakistan:

http://dai.ly/x14vmjt


Pakistan Smartphone App Success by dm_51ea373e71f84


Haq's Musings

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Success Stories of Pakistani-American Women

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Microfinancing in Pakistan

Gender Gap Worst in South Asia

Status of Women in India

Female Literacy Lags in South Asia

Land For Landless Women

Are Women Better Off in Pakistan Today?

Growing Insurgency in Swat

Religious Leaders Respond to Domestic Violence

Fighting Agents of Intolerance

A Woman Speaker: Another Token or Real Change

A Tale of Tribal Terror

Mukhtaran Mai-The Movie

World Economic Forum Survey of Gender Gap

16 comments:

Mayraj said...

Was her father a migrant laborer in KSA?
"My home-village, Akri, the place my father was born... is where I slept under mosquito net-covered handwoven beds and rode on ox-carts to nearby barren fields. Most in my village in Sindh, Pakistan are not literate. None know a place called Harvard.

"My life in exile in the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia... is where I first felt alone. And thus appreciated the need to form, rather than absorb, beliefs. It's where I first dreamt of leaving a mark on this world. And living a life that tens of millions know of... that feels relevant, anchored and found."

http://www.hbs.edu/PortraitProject/2009/MendhroUmaimah.html

Riaz Haq said...

Mayraj: "Was her father a migrant laborer in KSA?"


I don't think low wage migrant laborers are allowed by the Saudi govt to bring their families. It's more likely that her father was a professional or a bureaucrat serving in Makkah.

Mayraj said...

Or a feudal?

Riaz Haq said...

Mayraj:"Or a feudal?"

Here's your answer from Umaimah's published 2009 interview:

My parents are both doctors and my father is originally from a village near Badin. He is the only one in his family who self-pursued an education. He always wanted to build a hospital near his village, so when my parents got married (they were class-mates at Medical School), they built a private hospital and a home on top of the hospital. When they had their first child (my older brother, we're two siblings including me), they knew they would have to move to Karachi in order to give their children proper education. So they got my brother admitted at Karachi Grammar School, but when the patients learnt about this, patients who used to travel for a full day just to get to my parents' hospital, they pleaded my mother not to leave. My mother didn't tell me this till a year ago when I was at Harvard Business School… but one after the other patient told my mother they would pray that her children get to the world's, not just Karachi's, best institutions one day, but that she stays because they have no one else to go to. I can imagine how difficult this decision may have been for my parents. They couldn't get themselves to leave… and so they stayed.

http://pakistan-home-education.blogspot.com/2009/07/umaimah-mendhro-on-her-homeschooling.html

Adnan said...

how did a small village girl end up in harvard business school.. tat journey will be more intersting than the actual article

Riaz Haq said...

Adnan: "how did a small village girl end up in harvard business school.. tat journey will be more intersting than the actual article"

Let's see if the following words from Umaimah's interview published on "Pakistan Home Education blog" shed some light on it:


"..grade 3-5 in Saudi Arabia and grade 6-8 in Pakistan are the years I attended a school. They had very different impact than home-schooling on my learning for sure. The school years are largely a blur in my mind – I don't get all revved up as I do when I think about the home-schooling years especially grade 8 on. I don't remember feeling truly challenged at school. I felt like being part of a bigger system that I must abide by. I used to come first in class, so a lot of my personal attention went towards grades (my parents never put any pressure whatsoever on grades, rather, used to tell me to chill :)) I think I built a desire for achievement through the school years and of developing a frame of reference for competition. The school years also helped build friendships and a sense for developing an identity for yourself in reference to others – that has helped me with empathy, understanding, and appreciating diverse points of views. I remember moments where I was moved by a classmates' problems at home or turned off by the group dynamics or cliques in a school – those were good learnings and experiences to have had. Having said that, what I am today is a significantly larger function of my home-school experience than it is of my few years in school. If I had never gone to a school, I feel I would've missed out certain learnings and experiences that are valuable to have had in life, however, if I hadn't been homeschooled I feel I wouldn't be me…

I wrote about my homeschooling experience in both my Cornell University and Harvard Business School admissions essays. It's hard to tell if that had any impact or not in my getting admitted to those schools, however, I do think the schools appreciated my unique background and perspectives around that, particularly HBS. I think the passion for reasoning, exploration, and learning built through homeschooling years really helped in the university years as I, more than perhaps many of my peers in both schools, led a much more self-directed focus of study and truly enjoyed the experience of learning for the sake of learning, which made doing well very easy (I graduated top 5% in both schools). I don't see it as having much direct impact on my professional life other than being an interesting conversation point :) And other than the fact that I feel more of an independent- thinker, who doesn't worry about "fitting in," and very comfortable in my skin – characters I do attribute to having lived my critical adolescent years the way I did through homeschooling"

http://pakistan-home-education.blogspot.com/2009/07/umaimah-mendhro-on-her-homeschooling.html

Haidar said...

The fact that she accomplished what other grads could not is a measure of how fair the system is in rewarding hard work regardless of where one comes from. At least give the US system credit.

Riaz Haq said...

Haider: "The fact that she accomplished what other grads could not is a measure of how fair the system is in rewarding hard work regardless of where one comes from. At least give the US system credit."


Highly motivated an determined individuals can and do succeed regardless of location. There are many such examples in Pakistan highlighted by Geo TV in its "Zara Sochieye" spots. Only those who make excuses rather than make the effort guarantee their failure.

http://www.riazhaq.com/2012/08/upwardly-mobile-pakistan-on-66th.html

Riaz Haq said...

Her name is Humaira Bachal. At age 12, she began teaching friends after school in the slums of Karachi. At age 13, she made a formal classroom outside her home by installing a chalkboard to teach other children who could not attend school at the end of her own school day. By age 16, she founded a school with four younger female colleagues (her sister and three friends) in a run-down building with “dirt, water and mud all around [where] all we had was… two rooms with bare walls.” By age 21, in the same slums she now had a school with 1,200 students where her 18 year-old sister Tahira was school principal. Two documentary filmmakers and some reporters found her and documented her story. Then the second documentarist became an Academy and Emmy Award winner. The Academy Award winning filmaker later introduced Ms. Bachal to Madonna. At 25, Ms. Bachal was on stage with Madonna at a concert for women’s rights during which Madonna promoted raising money for Ms. Bachal’s Dream Foundation Trust to build her a better school. In late September this year, at age 27, Humaira Bachal opened the new building of her Dream Model Street School.

To put in context the challenge Ms. Bachal overcame simply to become educated in Pakistan’s slums (never mind becoming a leading education advocate), about 40% of girls and 20% of boys grow up illiterate in Pakistan today according to UNICEF. Consider further that according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Rankings Pakistan ranks 141st out of 142 countries ranked, only finishing ahead of Yemen while behind Nigeria (118th), Saudia Arabia (130th) and Iran (137th).

In multiple documentaries, Ms. Bachal’s mother Zainab has discussed how Ms. Bachal’s father physically beat her because she allowed young Humaira to continue going to school in 9th grade and hid the fact from him (the beating came when he found out). On film in her earlier days, one of Ms. Bachal’s own brothers has said that after seeing what was going on at Ms. Bachal’s school, he would not allow any of his own daughters to attend his sister’s or any non-religious school; he would only allow his daughters religious education, “I will never get my daughters into school except for some basic Islamic teaching. For my son’s education, I am willing to even beg in the streets.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonspringer/2014/11/25/pakistans-educator-madonna-wants-you-to-know/

Agni V said...

Meanwhile in India, an Indian dude is turning smart kids straight out of schools into great programmers and in process creates cheapest cloud based solutions and a company envied and feared by giants like Salesforce.com... As a bonus point, the company didnt ever took any loan or venture capital funding. How is that against all your American Pakistanis?

http://www.forbes.com/2008/02/22/mitra-zoho-india-tech-inter-cx_sm_0222mitra.html

Riaz Haq said...

JAKARTA: The Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES (P@SHA) announced on Sunday that Team Pakistan won 2 Gold Awards and 3 Silver Awards at the Asia Pacific ICT Awards (APICTA) 2014 ceremony held in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The teams won Gold Awards in the Media & Entertainment Technologies and Tertiary Student Categories and Silver Awards in the Startup, Tourism & Hospitality and Tertiary Student Categories.

Leading the way with the Gold were the teams from Eyedeus Labs for their new product “Ingrain” and Syed Osama Maruf of NUST for his product “Smart Steth”.

The Silver Awards were taken by RemoteInterview.io in the Startup Category, EatOye in the Tourism & Hospitality Category and Fawad Ejaz Bhatti of NUST for TRex Tremor Reader in the Tertiary Student Category.

The Awards ceremony was attended by Indonesia's Communications and Information Technology Minister, Rudiantara.

This year’s P@SHA delegation comprised of 30 members with19 technology products competing for the prestigious Awards.

National teams from each economy are selected after a rigorous ICT Awards competition in 17 economies.

The best of the best then compete against each other at a three-day regional event judged by industry professionals, technology veterans and thought leaders from the Asia-Pacific region.

The Pakistani delegation was finalised after the announcement of winners at the P@SHA ICT Awards earlier in November.

International APICTA Judges from 17 economies who evaluated the categories, in which Pakistan participated, spoke about the consistently high standard of technology products presented by Pakistan year after year.

This year Team Pakistan benchmarked its products against 183 products from the region.


http://www.dawn.com/news/1147925/pakistan-picks-up-2-golds-and-3-silvers-in-technology-awards

Riaz Haq said...

Popinjay dreams of making poverty a thing of the past for Pakistani women

As a student fortunate enough to be studying in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – and so geographically separated from these realities – the story deeply impacted her. Even though she managed to land a six-figure engineering job after graduation, Saba couldn’t get the story out of her mind.

“In addition, I had always carried within me a deep love for the beautiful craft techniques I saw in Pakistan, where I grew up, as well as in my travels around the world – India, Bhutan, Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka,” she recounts. “I felt that this talent was stunted due to a lack of opportunities and connections to larger markets.”

So in 2011 – when America was still recovering from the effects of a terrible recession – Saba decided to return to her homeland and try to make a difference. She unwittingly stumbled upon her life’s mission in the process.

“I started a pilot in Pakistan to provide young women access to basic education and livelihoods. As it started gaining traction in the local community, I realized that it lit my fire like nothing had before,” she says. “Quitting my job after that was a no-brainer.”

The pilot program – which evolved into a full-fledged non-profit organization called BLISS – involved after-school classes in which girls learnt embroidery and needlework. Their embroidered fabric would then be sent to local producers to be finished into high-quality handbags, which were sold in boutiques. The proceeds would be used to fund the girls’ education, as well as recruit other students.

Their handiwork soon became extremely popular with customers not just locally, but from all over the world. In an article on Medium, Saba recalls an encouraging note from a customer from Canada:

I’ve never loved a thing as much as I love my BLISS bag. You make bags that change the world! People ask about it because it is so unusual, so lovely; it is embroidered art. When I tell them the story of families lifted economically, the bag becomes so much more beautiful.
In addition, the handbags were featured in several national and international media platforms, and even in fashion shows. On the surface, it seemed like a success, but there was a deeper issue that had Saba worrying behind closed doors – how the team was going to go about “scaling up our model after the initial proof of concept.” At that time, the BLISS team had a grand total of two people, with just 40 artisan women under its wings.
-------------

A massive overhaul of both business model and mindsets was what came next as BLISS was re-branded into the for-profit Popinjay, and came online in late 2013. The name is a Middle English word that means parrot.

“We chose a parrot because it is an animal that is associated with a voice,” Saba explains. “Our parrot stands for the voice of good fashion, the voice of the artisan women whose skills and stories we spread, and the voice of the consumer who wants to create positive impact with their purchase.” https://www.techinasia.com/popinjay-make-poverty-history-pakistani-women/

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistani-American Iba Masood's Gradberry is launching today out of Y Combinator to connect US companies with vetted technical talent. Candidates quickly build a talent profile, connecting their GitHub, online portfolios and projects, and LinkedIn account. The talent profile is then vetted by the Gradberry team and approved candidates are passed along to specific employers.

The Gradberry of today is a result of three years of work, across several continents, multiple product iterations, two failed applications to Y Combinator and one very passionate founding team.
(Karachi-born) Iba Masood, co-founder and CEO says Gradberry works with graduates and employers. The site has jobs listings and courses, so students can take courses to fill in the gaps in order to land a position, or they can be hired and their employer will sponsor them to take a course to learn a required skill for the job. Masood says the majority of its revenue today comes from the latter. The way it works is that a company hires a recent graduate who looks promising, but lacks a requisite skill. For example, a marketing graduate could lack training in social media marketing. They take the online course, get a certificate and they should be better prepared for the job at hand.

Masood says she and co-founder, CTO Syed Ahmed started the company in 2012. Their original idea was a LinkedIn for students where recent graduates could have a place to apply for jobs, but by earlier this year they realized providing job listings wasn’t enough and they had to address this skills gap, and shifted their focus.

She reports they currently have approximately 38,000 registered users (representing 650+ universities globally), with 1,500 employers using the Beta. Among the first to sign on was IBM, which used the platform in developing economies in the Middle East and Asia.

The company uses a freemium model for employer job ads offering the first three ads free, after which they start paying for ads and training for employees as needed.

They have approximately 30 courses today ranging from languages like Arabic to social media marketing to learning HTML5 and they hope to crank that up to 120 courses by October. Masood says they began by producing the courses themselves, but they don’t want to be in the content creation business long-term. “What we’ve realized with content creation, it’s a capital-intensive, heavy model. It’s also intensive on the side of creation. To have high quality courses in terms of production value we would need a studio, the right lighting and video,” she explained. Moving forward they will oversee content creation, but won’t be creating it themselves.

Instead they are working on partnerships with companies like Microsoft and Adobe to produce the content for them. The software companies gain access to a highly valuable 18-24 market who will be trained in their product sets and there is value in that for these companies, which Gradberry hopes to take advantage of.

Gradberry has 6 employees and up until now they have been bootstrapped through revenue generated from the site and small prizes totaling $40,000 they have won in startup competitions. Currently they are part of MassChallenge, a Boston-based startup incubator, which Masood says has offered invaluable assistance in the development of her company.

“MassChallenge has connected us to stellar mentors and innovators in the Boston community, who have helped us refine our operational strategy, to scale on both sides of the equation –that is, course content and career opportunities,” she said. She added that they also have great connections to multinational organizations, who will be partnering with them to provide employer-led courses and job opportunities for fresh talent.


http://techcrunch.com/2014/08/11/gradberry-aims-to-fill-college-grad-skills-gap/

Riaz Haq said...

On December 10, eleven faculty members from the Pakistan Institute of Fashion and Design (PIFD) who participated in a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) capacity development training program in 2014 met at the Serena Hotel to discuss follow-up actions from their visits to the United States, United kingdom and France.

USAID Mission Director, Gregory Gottlieb and Engineer Khurram Dastgir Khan, Federal Minister for Commerce, Government of Pakistan attended the debriefing event. Mr. Gottlieb, while speaking to the trainees said, "I am confident that these trained teachers will go back to their classrooms and continue being even better teachers. Fashion design training is important, because it adds value to the textile and gems and jewelry sector in Pakistan. This is what essentially makes local products export worthy and will go a long way in making Pakistani fashion and auxiliary industries thrive."

The trained faculty members discussed how they would apply the knowledge of many cutting-edge trends and techniques in footwear, jewelry design and clothing and textiles. The trained teachers also shared with the audience their plans to transfer their new knowledge and skills to their students at PIFD. The students through this knowledge of international standards and best practices will augment their chances of finding competitive positions in the industry and sharpen their entrepreneurial skills.

The training supported by USAID, is part of a comprehensive capacity building initiative aimed at enhancing Pakistan's productivity and export competitiveness in economic sectors with high export potential. This classroom training will also help young graduates from PIFD access better incomes and new techniques at par with international standards. Fifty percent of the trained faculty is women.

The USAID training for Pakistan Project is a USD 33.9 million project that provides capacity development and training to Pakistanis in various sectors, including the economic growth and agriculture sector in order to enhance the capacity of future Pakistani leaders and professionals and develop the capacity of local partners. The project also invests in training in other areas, such as education, health, energy and resilience and governance. The project aims to train over 6,000 Pakistanis in these areas by May 2017.

https://www.usaid.gov/pakistan/news-information/press-releases/united-states-trains-faculty-pakistan-institute-fashion-and

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan's fashion industry is trying to shed its image as entertainment for a gilded elite and instead get recognition for its business success.
The country's latest fashion show, held this week in Islamabad, was more about buyers and deals than hemlines and necklines.
Meanwhile, models say they are enjoying more freedom than ever to express themselves as the glamour scene grows.
The booming media industry has also given fashion a much larger audience in conservative Pakistan, where risque outfits and even moderate displays of bare flesh are often frowned upon.
While the world has focused on Pakistan's problems in recent years, many other areas of the country's life have gone unremarked.
Fashion shows have become commonplace in cities like Karachi and have even been held in conservative Peshawar, near areas where the Taliban hold sway.
But Pakistan's sedate and decidedly untrendy capital was holding its second Islamabad Fashion Week.
As techno music blasted through the speakers, slinky models paraded down the ramp in a hall packed full of people.
The designs ranged from Western pret-a-porter styles to elaborate bridal outfits to heavily embroidered formal wear suitable both for soirees in Islamabad and London.
Designers who participated in the show included recognised figures such as Umar Sayeed and Bina Sultan.

The designers, though, had their eyes fixed on foreign buyers, not the usual socialite crowd.
"I wanted to run this fashion show like a trade event," explained stylist and celebrity Tariq Amin. "I want the business aspect to grow."
Another designer Fahad Hussayn agreed.
"For the sake of the economy and the business, fashion shows need to attract more buyers and stop being a joke," he told the BBC.
"This time we had buyers from Australia and Europe, but we need more of that. We are providing employment and we need to make money. Otherwise, we'll get sick of it. We'll get sick of fashion."
Spotting potential
Rizwan Beyg, a Pakistani fashion icon, believes the country's designers should stop fixating on the West and turn their attention towards the Middle East and Southeast Asia where there is more business to offer.
"Just being in the West doesn't make sense. If it doesn't translate into sales, it doesn't make sense economically."
It seems that, against existing odds, fashion and glamour enthusiasts are increasing in Pakistan.
"It's easy to find girls who want to model," said Tariq Amin, gesturing to the throngs of girls backstage.
"They usually need a lot of training, but compared to a few years ago it's not hard to find girl models now."
Fashion design is being taught in almost every large university, and Tariq Amin says the scale is apparent from the fact that every city has its own fashion institute.
"We're headed in the right direction," says Fahad Hussayn.


http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-17715116

Riaz Haq said...

Meet Kulsoom Abdullah,

Pakistani-American, Kulsoom Abdullah, has been Weightlifting – at both the national and international level since 2010 – in addition to Crossfitting.
Born and bred in the US, Abdullah’s parents (born in Pakistan; her father from Tangi and her mother from Charsadda) immigrated to America years ago, before Abdullah’s birth. In 2005, Abdullah’s father passed away in Pakistan, leaving behind his wife and five children – of which Abdullah is the eldest. A Computer Engineer by profession, with a PhD from the Georgia Institute of Technology, I first discovered Abdullah through a picture of hers that an acquaintance had shared over Facebook. In the picture Abdullah is featured Weightlifting – in hijab. Intrigued, I googled Abdullah and contacted her via her website in the hopes that she would agree to being interviewed over email. She agreed.
At the national level, Abdullah attended the ‘US National Competition’ in 2011, and in the same year she represented Pakistan (at the international level) at the ‘2011 World Weightlifting Championships’. For the latter, Abdullah was not only the first female to compete, but she was also the first female to compete in hijab. And this year, Abdullah represented Pakistan in South Korea, at the ‘2012 Asian Weightlifting Championships.’
However, in 2010 after qualifying to compete at the American Open, the USA Weightlifting Committee barred Abdullah from contending in the competition due to her clothing – clothing modifications were simply not allowed. Participants had to adhere to wearing a ‘singlet’ – particular clothing for athletes which sort of looks like a swimsuit with shorts.