Thursday, December 11, 2014

Pakistani Investors: Invest in Local Technology Startups NOW!

Guest Post by Khurram Zafar

I believe that the technology entrepreneurship ecosystem in Pakistan is at a tipping point! There are a number of factors at play that make Pakistan so ripe for both local and international investors looking to invest in the tech space:
  • Quickly growing internet adoption currently estimated to be 25 million internet users and 15 million mobile internet users;
  • Cheap smart phone devices costing under $50;
  • 3G and 4G rollouts;
  • Massive amounts of marketing and media spend by companies like Rocket Internet, Schibsted, and Naspers that’s targeted to make Pakistani consumers comfortable transacting online;
  • Development of platforms like The Foundation at LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship and Plan9 that are supporting passionate entrepreneurs during their formative years;
  • Slow but steady investments flowing into startups at seed (e.g. Kima Ventures investment into Eyedeus Labs) and early stage (Frontier Digital Venture’s US$3.5 Million investment into from local and foreign angels as well as early-stage funds;
  • Tens of millions of dollars being poured into developing pervasive electronic and online payment infrastructure in Pakistan (you have to take my word for it, but telcos and major banks will soon start announcing these plays);
  • Successful entrepreneurs returning from abroad and providing mentoring to startups and building bridges for them outside of Pakistan;
  • Gradual realization by seasoned businessmen and young aspiring entrepreneurs alike that internet has a massive equalizing power and they can tap into a global market of billions through online channels;
  • Low cost of starting a technology business due to easy access to cloud computing platforms; massive distribution channels like the PlayStoreAppStore and Facebook; ability to create very targeted online marketing campaigns; inexpensive outsourcing of development tasks to freelancers; and quick feedback from customers to iterate and improve the products and services;
  • Ease of doing a tech business in Pakistan compared to the red tape and bureaucracy that has to be dealt with while setting up an industry (in fact, software exports still enjoy a complete tax holiday in Pakistan);
  • Excellent leverage on HR that tech (product) businesses provide compared to any other business and we all know that good HR is a constraint anywhere in the world;
  • And lastly, because tech businesses are not as widely impacted by security, electric power shortfalls, gas load-shedding and others infrastructure issues plaguing the rest of the industries in Pakistan.
You inject a bit of capital to catalyze all this further in the 6th most populous (196 Million) country in the world, and we can have a perfect storm that can turn the Pakistani technology startups of today into the giant global businesses of tomorrow!
How long will you keep pumping money in sugar and textile mills? Let me share something that might shed some light on the opportunity that I am ranting about. The following chart compares the annual profit before taxes of a single games company based in Finland, a country with half the population of Lahore, employing only 120 people (which recently took over Nokia’s old R&D facility) with multiple publicly listed companies in Pakistan belonging to various industrial segments. Here are some eye opening inferences in case they are not readily evident:
  • One mobile gaming company in a country with half the population of Lahore makes more profit before taxes than ten of the largest cement companies in Pakistan
  • One mobile gaming company in a country with half the population of Lahore makes more profit before taxes than two companies that distribute natural gas to the entire Pakistan
  • One mobile gaming company in a country with half the population of Lahore makes more profit before taxes than five power generation companies and two oil refineries combined
  • One mobile gaming company in a country with half the population of Lahore makes more profit before taxes than nine of the top textile mills, five automobile companies and 5 sugar mills combined
Mobile Gaming vs Multiple Industries
Comparison of profit before taxes (FY2013) of a single mobile gaming company with various industries in Pakistan
Here is another chart to drive home the point.
  • One mobile gaming company in a country with half the population of Lahore makes more profit before taxes than any one of the largest banks in Pakistan
  • One mobile gaming company in a country with half the population of Lahore makes 6 times more profit before taxes than National Bank of Pakistan
One Mobile Gaming vs Multiple Banks
Comparison of profit before taxes (FY2013) of a single mobile gaming company with various banks in Pakistan
Alright, so I have used one of the most successful games development companies for comparison, but that is besides the point. The point is, the next big games development company could be Mindstorm Studios based right here, in Lahore. The fact that it’s based in Pakistan does not minimize its chances of success. It’s as good an investment opportunity as Supercell of Finland!
One of the incubated companies at the LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship, interaCta, has developed tech to make all TV and radio broadcast interactive without the need of additional hardware, just requiring smart phones. Imagine the implications! It can disrupt the TV, Radio, Advertisement, Ratings industries just to name a few. A potential acquirer wouldn’t care whether the tech was developed at Xerox or LUMS. Eyedeus Labs, another team of LUMS students, recently raised money from Kima Ventures. They are looking to disrupt online video advertisement market by introducing non-intrusive advertisement methods in the videos that do not distract the viewer. Then there is SavareeBizCloutBurq SolutionsJewelryDesignProP for Plan and the list goes on. All of these are great investment opportunities seeking capital. And these are just a few of the seed stage investment opportunities.
I repeat. This is a great time to enter Pakistan. Equity in technology companies is relatively cheap, assets are portable (predominantly intellectual property) in case one gives too much weight to country risk, operations are already on cloud platforms outside of Pakistan for many, and exit opportunities exist globally. The fundamentals of the on-ground businesses are already very strong. The Karachi Stock Market index has been growing north of 40% for the past few years (30%+ in $ terms) and broke the highest ever 32,000 KSE 100 index points barrier a few days ago. Most of that is driven by foreign investment into rock solid businesses by investors who can see past the FOX news propaganda and realize that the nation, that is often deemed to be on the brink of extinction since its founding in 1947, is as resilient as it is resourceful!
It is time local investors join the party as well. Pakistan is a gold mine of opportunities for the truly visionary, local investors with large balls and an appetite for risk looking for big rewards – people who can consider and invest in the opportunities lurking underneath the veil of ‘mostly perception based’ geo-political and security issues. If you are it, sign up as an investor at for starters.
Disclaimer: The author advises, mentors or has some sort of a non-compensatory advisory relationship with almost all the local startups listed in this article. This post reflects the author's assessment of the tech startup scene and the investment opportunities he sees in Pakistan. The owner of this blog does not necessarily agree with the contents of this guest post. 

The author is Executive Director, LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship.
This post was first published on

Related Links:

Haq's Musing

Pakistani Brothers Spawned Multi-billion dollar security software industry

Pakistani Technologist Umar Saif in Silicon Valley

Two Pakistani Tech Start-ups in Silicon Valley Immersion Program


Anonymous said...

Riaz, what do you suggest for a small investor in $1-2 million range? How does one go about investing in these opportunities? KSE?

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "Riaz, what do you suggest for a small investor in $1-2 million range? How does one go about investing in these opportunities? KSE? "

I an not an investment advisor and do not offer any investment advice. But if I were investing $1-2 million in Pakistan, I would diversify with small amounts in risky but potentially rewarding tech startups with strong founding teams and the rest in more established consumer products companies which have a track record of high profits, share price growth and dividends.

Anonymous said...

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: " "

I disagree with the premise of the HBR piece. What Indians and Chinese are working with is western technology, not homegrown tech or innovation.

However, imitation, absorption and diffusion of western technology should set the stage for homegrown innovation in Asian nations including India, China and Pakistan. It's the path well worn by the Japanese who started with immitation but are now doing serious innovation.

Riaz Haq said...

E-Commerce in Pakistan: The Party Has Started by Monis Rahman

Pakistan is late to the party. E-commerce is booming throughout our immediate region. India's leading e-commerce website, Flipkart, recently raised a record $1 Billion in new investment, handling 5 Million shipments each month. The website sees so much potential in mobile shopping that it has a stated goal of becoming "the mobile e-commerce company of the future".
To our north, China's e-commerce leader, Alibaba, set a global record when it listed its shares on the New York Stock Exchange in September. Alibaba's Initial Public Offering raised a staggering $25 Billion, making its record-breaking IPO the biggest in the world. Today the Chinese e-commerce giant's market capitalization is over $250 Billion exceeding that of Wal-Mart, the world's largest old economy retailer. The market value of e-commerce companies in Pakistan's immediate vicinity including Turkey, the Middle East, India and China exceeds half of a trillion dollars.
But the party has indeed finally started in Pakistan as well. By 2017, the size of our e-commerce market is expected to reach over $600 Million from it's current size of $30 Million spent on online purchases annually. There are several factors driving this growth, which will dramatically change the way we buy things over the next several years.
Growth of Internet Penetration
Pakistan's Internet penetration rate historically exceeded that of India until 2009. In 2009, India launched 3G and its Internet penetration sky-rocketed. The same hockey stick growth took place in Sri Lanka's after its 3G launch in 2006. With Pakistan's long awaited entry into the 3G club a few months ago, there will be a similar burst of Internet accessibility which will further catapult online purchases.
Following the pattern of our neighbors, Pakistan's Internet enabled population will increase from 30 Million users today to 56 Million in 2019. Over the next five years, 28% of the country's citizens will have Internet access. This unprecedented reach will transform not just how consumers purchase goods, but will also significantly impact several other industries. My own online jobs classifieds site, ROZEE.PK, today processes 40,000 job applications a day and has helped over 1 Million people find jobs. Social media sites including Facebook and Twitter are transforming how we consume news and shape opinions.
Ubiquity of Access through Mobile
Along with the rise of Internet accessibility through 3G, Pakistan is simultaneously witnessing a surge in smartphone usage. There are an estimated 9 Million smartphone users in Pakistan, using handsets that are fully equipped with web browsers and online connectivity. Smartphones have become increasingly sophisticated, not only substituting many functions previously only capable through desktop and laptop computers, but also greatly increasing the ease of going online. Not only is the Internet becoming more accessible to consumers, consumers are also becoming more accessible to Internet merchants through the ubiquity of the smartphones in our pockets.
While the growth of smartphones in Pakistan is linked to the rise of Internet penetration, it is more so driven by the declining cost of increasingly sophisticated devices. Chinese companies which have traditionally manufactured devices for the world's leading mobile phone brands including Apple and Samsung, are now OEM'ing their own handsets for a fraction of the cost powered by Google's Android operating system. So significant is this trend that Samsung's third quarter profits fell by 50% as its mobile business continued to lose ground to low-cost Chinese smartphone makers.

Riaz Haq said...

The rise of Pakistan’s startup ecosystem: Shifting traditions and inward inspiration

Just two months ago, e-commerce company Markhor, which works with local artisans to produce high-quality men’s leather shoes, became Pakistan’s most successful Kickstarter campaign, raising seven times more than its intended goal, catching the attention of Seth Godin and GOOD Magazine.

There is no greater evidence of this positive change than in Pakistan’s burgeoning technology ecosystem. In a new report released by my company, Invest2Innovate – which was commissioned by the World Bank’s Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) – we mapped the number of startup competitions, incubators, university programs, coworking spaces and forums, and analyzed the gaps and challenges entrepreneurs continue to face in the country.

Three years ago, the ecosystem was relatively nascent, with just a handful of organizations. Today, the space is unrecognizable and brimming with constant energy and activity.

A closer look at Pakistan’s tech scene

Plan9, the country’s largest technology incubator launched by the Punjab Information Technology Board, recently announced PlanX, its new startup acceleration program. The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), one of Pakistan’s top universities, recently graduated the first class of incubatees from its Foundation program.

The IT trade association, Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES will soon launch Nest i/o, a Karachi-based technology incubator seeded by Google, Samsung and the US Department of State. Coworking spaces like Basecamp in Peshawar, DotZero and HQ in Karachi and TechHub in Lahore are sprouting all over the country – providing space to fledgling and growing companies.

Hackathons and Startup Weekends are producing startups like Savaree (a ride-sharing application similar to Lyft) and Groopic (a photo editing application), and online publications like TechJuice and PakWired also provide constant coverage of rising companies, events and other startup-related news.

While this phenomenon is not unique to Pakistan – we are watching startup communities sprout and thrive all over the world – there are several factors that make us hopeful about the growing ecosystem.

First, Pakistani entrepreneurs have largely led the growth of Pakistan’s ecosystem. In his book, Startup Communities, author and cofounder of TechStars Brad Feld noted that leaders of a growing startup community must be entrepreneurs who have a long-term commitment to growing the ecosystem and “must be inclusive of anyone who wants to engage with the community.”

For example, DotZero, one of Pakistan’s first major coworking spaces, was cofounded by four successful technology entrepreneurs based in Karachi. The Karachi Institute of Technology & Entrepreneurship (KITE), established in by a Pakistani entrepreneur, is providing an alternative and innovative learning environment to students wishing to enter the technology sphere.

Second, though security issues, corruption, and political instability have increased the perceived risk for foreign investors, it has also in turn caused Pakistanis to look inward, build indigenous networks, and replicate models that have worked in other countries for the local market.

As a result, we’ve seen an ecosystem that is being built by Pakistanis for Pakistan. Moreover, given that 2/3 of Pakistan’s 180 million people are under 30 years old, we have a young population who are hungry and determined to change the environment around them. Young Pakistanis are launching local chapters of global brands like TEDx, Startup Weekend and Startup Grind, further fostering idea generation and the dialogue around innovation.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan-born Imran Aftab was traveling in 2004 when an AOL Time Warner colleague posed a rude question.

“Imran, you’re from Pakistan, yet you seem normal,” Aftab recalled. “What is the problem with the rest?”

Aftab, then director of global outsourcing at AOL, spent half an hour explaining that there was more to the millions of Pakistanis than the public perception after the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy.

“People see all bad news. I thought, ‘How can I change things even at a small scale through business?’ ”

After that trip, the chemistry major decided to use his knowledge of outsourcing at AOL to start his own business that could make money while also helping his fellow citizens in Pakistan.

The business he created is called 10Pearls, a profitable custom software company based in Herndon, Va., and Pakistan. The company has more than 150 software experts supervised by Aftab’s brother in a 33,000-square-foot office in Karachi. Only about 15 employees work in Herndon.

Aftab creates customized software for all kinds of interfaces, including mobile platforms, kiosks and Web sites. Clients include NVR, Time Warner Cable, Discovery Education, National Geographic and Zubie, a spinoff of Best Buy.

For Zubie, 10Pearls helped develop an Android and Apple application that allows people to see where their cars are located, diagnose auto repair issues and track historical routes.

Although 10Pearls is relatively small, with revenues of less than $10 million, Aftab said it has been profitable since it began 11 years ago making Web pages for handyman businesses.

The company, which Aftab calls a social experiment, reminds me of the “double bottom line” businesses that Washington sports mogul Ted Leonsis espouses. That refers to business that earns profits while accomplishing some social good.

“I see that business causes positive impact,” said Aftab, who makes three visits a year to his native country. “It can change things even at a small scale. Business is a good way for people to learn about each other.”
“I see that business causes positive impact,” said Aftab, who makes three visits a year to his native country. “It can change things even at a small scale. Business is a good way for people to learn about each other.”

The enterprise isn’t all about altruism.

Pakistan is a good candidate for outsourcing because of its large English-speaking population — 180 million or so — that is tech-savvy, has mathematical skills and whose labor costs are far below that of the United States and other developed countries.

He knew the bigger money was in developing software applications, but he had to build experience first. He quit AOL Time Warner in 2005 and worked as a consultant while he grew 10Pearls.

Bigger contracts started coming in, including one from a big telecommunications firm that needed help. During the Great Recession that started in 2008, business stagnated and 10Pearls pivoted to mobile applications.

“I could see that mobile was going to grow explosively,” he said.

The company’s big break arrived in 2011, when it won a highly competitive contract to build a mobile application for Social Radar, a Washington company started by Blackboard co-founder Michael Chasen. A key part of Social Radar’s business is that the app allows users to interact with people in the immediate vicinity.

The deal with Chasen helped establish 10Pearls’ credibility. That led to more and larger mobile app contracts....

Riaz Haq said...

Farhan Masood, founder of SoloInsight, has been given the prestigious award of Entrepreneur of the year at Open Karachi’s flagship event eCon14. Masood is a name known to everyone in the tech industry for he has been scoring plethora of achievements for the country and himself.

eCon14 happened earlier today at Karachi where entrepreneurs and business leaders participated from all over the country. The event provide networking opportunities to aspiring entrepreneurs in order to build an Entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pakistan.

Masood was given the award of Entrepreneur of the year in recognition to his contribution, commitment, and performance. He is the role model for all the up and coming aspiring entrepreneurs of Pakistan. Earlier this year, during an interview on Voice of America, he discussed his entrepreneurial journey, his struggles of starting from scratch and rising from ashes to secure 3 million dollars of investment and then finally moving the business to America with fancy clientele all over the world.

SoloInsight Inc. is an innovative electronics engineering and IT company working in the fields of research and development of diverse intelligent pattern recognition technologies and products. As a technology provider with core expertise in computer vision, Solometrics provides the development of technologies and solutions related to the human recognition that targets the security market. Leveraging the most advanced multi model biometric platform for face & retina recognition, our solutions provide a circle of trust around all aspects of the identity and the credentials assigned to it. This includes enrollment, registration, usage, access and reporting.

SoloInsight has specialized in Face, Eyes and Fingerprint recognition based Access Control hardware, software and integrated solutions. We have successfully catered our solutions to environments where other biometric devices did not work efficiently. Face and Retina Recognition is getting more popular because its performance has improved radically over the years. SoloInsight is amongst the pioneers in biometrics industry. Having reached accuracy rates of around 99%.

Riaz Haq said...

36 startups in Asia that caught our eye (21 December 2014 #Pakistan's #Savaree ranked #1 in Asia via @Techinasia

Riaz Haq said...

Plan X is arguably the largest startup accelerator in Pakistan. It was born out of Plan 9, which is the top startup incubator in the country. Plan X launched in September 2014. It has taken in a number of startups, most of which graduated from Plan 9 and have already gained momentum and attracted funding.

Hafsa Shorish is the Plan X program manager. She is not new to the startup world, having previously headed Plan 9’s marketing and PR. “For me it’s the natural step forward. I loved every bit of my stay at Plan 9 and even now I sometimes get that nostalgic feeling every time a new batch of startups comes in. The role here at Plan X is different and challenging in a different way,” Shorish tells Tech in Asia.

But how are the two entities different for the startups in Pakistan’s fledgling startup ecosystem? “The fundamental difference between Plan 9 and Plan X is that the first one is an incubation program where we take idea-level startups and help them build a viable product and business out of it,” Shorish explains. She adds:

Plan X is an accelerator, and startups here already have a product and some customers too. We help them accelerate on that to gain more customers. The push at Plan X is expansion and funding, if it is required, rather than building a solid product. If you don’t have a product and some customers already, Plan X won’t do any good to you. […] Apart from that there is no other criteria. If you can prove those two things we are most likely to let you in.
Plan X – backed by the Punjab IT Board, and headed by Dr. Umar Saif – is different from many other accelerators in that it doesn’t take any equity. During the program, each individual startup is allocated one dedicated startup industry mentor and one business analyst to help them do ground work and give practical advice.

Recently, the Plan X team started collaborating with big companies like Nestle in order to find areas where startups can work with such massive corporations in terms of doing business, offering perks, offering mentorship, or even investing.

These are the startups in the current Plan X batch: is well known to Tech in Asia readers as the startup that’s looking to be Pakistan’s go-to site for booking cinema, travel and event tickets. Currently it’s operational in three major cities: Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

The idea behind X-Gear is that drivers want to know their vehicles better. X-Gear is a little gizmo and an app that, once installed, will give a car’s river useful information about the vehicle to make informed decisions about its maintenance and the way it’s being driven.

The startup is also targeting the fleet industry, which can use the product to better manage their vehicles.

X-Gear was recently selected to participate at TNW’s startup boost event in Europe. While the team didn’t win, it was a chance to gain some traction and attract influencers in the industry.

Riaz Haq said...

Startups in Asia – or any other developed country, for that matter – often complain of a lack of talent in their respective countries. Yet Pakistan boasts of a massive freelancing population. In 2013, there were reportedly 2 million Pakistani freelancers on oDesk, making it the fifth largest contributor globally. oDesk vice president Matt Cooper told The Express Tribune that the “quality of projects delivered by Pakistani freelancers is at par with our top freelancer countries from around the globe.”

Pakistan is slowly but surely joining the high-speed internet world as well. It was late to the game with 3G and 4G mobile services. The latter arrived only in April last year, but ended 2014 with close to 8 million subscribers – slightly more than Singapore, who first got 4G in early-2013. Meanwhile, another 15 million people access the internet from their mobile phones – that’s half of the total number of internet users in the country. It is expected that the number of broadband subscribers will rise to 45 million by 2020.

There are a number of local startups who have made a name for themselves on the world stage, too. Enterprise social network Convo, who raised US$5 million from a US-based VC firm Morgenthaler Ventures in 2013, is widely hailed as an example of Pakistani ingenuity. Morgenthaler Ventures has invested in big names such as Apple and Evernote.

Fashion-with-a-mission startup Popinjay has produced a series of high-end handbags that have received rave reviews from several national and international media platforms, and even in fashion shows. Online car portal PakWheels also recently grabbed US$3.5 million from Malaysia-based VC Frontier Digital Ventures.

See: Popinjay dreams of making poverty a thing of the past for Pakistani women
More importantly, the high-flying founders of these startups constantly mentor and give advice to the next generation in local startup programs and competitions, of which there are many.

The pieces are in place
Tech in Asia held its first meetup event in Lahore at Arfa Software Technology Park, a grey mass of buildings that we would end up spending most of our time in. Security here is tight – my colleagues and I passed through a grand total of four checks before getting the all-clear, and were asked where we were from multiple times.

Jazib Zahir, founder of games studio Tintash, tells us that it is generally the case for establishments that the government considers to be of national importance. Despite being a regular in the premises, Zahir himself had to show his identification card along for verification purposes, as did other locals.

Much like Singapore’s Block 71, these buildings are home to many local startups, many of which are housed in the resident accelerators and incubators. These organizations account for many of the current batch of budding Pakistani startups, and hence quite literally hold up the local startup ecosystem.

The Punjab Information Technology Board – a governmental body – is responsible for the development of two key programs located here: PlanX and Plan9. As the names suggest, the two are close relatives – PlanX is an accelerator born out of Plan9’s incubation program. While the latter focuses on idea-stage startups, only those who have a product and are looking to expand further can join the former.

A round of introductions at PlanX’s quaint working space reveals startups with raw but fascinating products. Several of them have in fact gone on show and won accolades at international startup events, such as Startup Turkey and Startup Asia – these trips are fully sponsored by the government. PlanX’s BookMe, for example, was one of the finalists at Tech in Asia’s Arena competition in Jakarta last year.

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.”

ahmed ali khan said...

Has the plan X, planned investment in food sector?

Riaz Haq said...

Khan: " Has the plan X, planned investment in food sector?"

You can ask Umar Saif direcly via his twitter account: @umarsaif

Riaz Haq said...

Mariam Adil, a young entrepreneur, is making waves in the Pakistani gaming industry.

According to recent data, Pakistan's software industry employs more than 24,000 people, including many startups like Mindstorm Studios by Ahmed, We R Play by Mohsin Ali Afzal and Waqar Azim, and the now famous Caramel Tech Studios in Lahore. Pakistan's developers have achieved new renown thanks to games like “Whacksy Taxi”, which has become one of the most downloaded App Store games in 25 different countries, and other projects like “Stick Cricket”. Firms hold regular “game jams” in Lahore to attract innovators with competitions between young would-be game developers. Jobs at these companies are highly coveted by young people: the workday ends around 4pm, and employees often hang out together afterwards, literally playing games!

Mariam Adil is one of the dynamic women leading this new era of entrepreneurialism in Pakistan, perhaps the country's best-kept secret. While most of the world probably thinks of all Pakistani women as oppressed and chained down by society, there are dozens of bright women entrepreneurs managing incubators and programs in Pakistan today.

Adil is the founder of the Gaming Revolution for International Development (“GRID”), a game development startup that designs low-cost video games to simulate common issues in development fieldwork and teach development skills. Its game “Randomania” serves up scenarios that any development-sector professional can relate to and encourages policy decisions, showing the results of those decisions. Stereowiped, on the other hand, is a boundary-breaker when it comes to race and barriers of prejudice and is a great example of what social impact games can achieve.

Faisal Kapadia recently spoke to Adil about her work and much more.

Faisal Kapadia (FK): Why did you think of forming a company like the grid to solve issues when there is plenty of opportunity available for game developers commercially?

Mariam Adil (MA): Born out of pure inspiration, GRID hits at a niche market and gives me the flexibility to think creatively about pushing the boundaries of technology innovations for creating development solutions. It was less driven by a need to earn money and more by my passion for the idea.
FK: While developing Randomania did you do a lot of research on different situations faced by professionals in the development sector?

MA: My day job at the World Bank allows me to have my hand on the pulse. Having designed and implemented several Impact Evaluations, I am familiar with the challenges that practitioners face while designing randomized control trials. This perspective, put together with feedback from some very supportive colleagues at the World Bank allowed us to make sure Randomania could do justice to the challenges of rigorously evaluating development projects.
FK: What kind of impact do you think a game like Randomania can have? Does it lead to as a test case more cohesive thought or efficiency?

MA: In my opinion, there is a gap between the science of International Development taught to students and development practitioners, and the art of development practiced by professionals in the field. Until now, there have been few tools to bridge that gap – to provide the experiential learning required to practice complex decision-making, at a scale well beyond one to one interaction.

Games like Randomania offer a safe environment to simulate the effects of policies and understand the trade-offs involved in the decision-making process. With a push towards innovative use of technology in international development, and the effectiveness of games as learning tools, the stage is set for development games to be introduced as learning tools for development practitioners and students.

Riaz Haq said...

If you have ever doubted that the mother of invention is necessity, then look no further than Pakistan.
Pakistan has struggled to provide opportunities to its people for decades. But the country is turning the tide.
People in Pakistan are determined to define their destiny. They are using all of the resources at their disposal to tackle their challenges..
When Madeeha Hassan, a young entrepreneur from a small town found herself in Lahore, one of the largest Pakistani cities, she was a bit scared. She thought everyone was smarter than her. At times, she wanted to run back to her home town.
After completing her studies, she started to work as a user interface designer. Her office was far from where she lived. It was hard to find a reliable mode of transportation. So she and few of her friends, created Savaree, Pakistan's first ridesharing app. The app resolved her carpooling problems and those of many others too.
It's just not young people who are innovating. Public administrators are doing it too.
In 2011, dengue fever engulfed Pakistan and killing hundreds of people. By 2012, Pakistanis had created an app to ensure people were treated rapidly and resources to combat dengue were mobilized efficiently. In 2012, there were 80 times fewer cases of dengue fever in Lahore than in 2011.
In Pakistan, there has been remarkable progress in rebuilding trust between citizens and public administrators. Pakistan's Punjab Citizen Feedback Model is leveraging the power of mobile phones, SMS and personal phone calls.
Let's say, for example, you went to a government office in Punjab to register your property. An official "records your mobile number, along with other details of the transaction." This information is sent to "local call officers" and to a call center.
Later, a local officer will call you asking about your experience registering your property. And there are call centers that call thousands of people who use public services. As of April 2014, "more than 4 million citizens of Pakistan had been contacted" and asked about their experiences with "the departments of revenue, health, and education."
These responses are entered into the system to make public services better.
This progress comes in contrast with how Pakistan is viewed as a place of conflict. But as evidence shows, we are witnessing how public administrators and youth are taking steps towards realizing Pakistan 2.0: where people can fulfil their dreams and have the opportunity to reach their potential.
Technology is not only serving as a tool for the government to leapfrog the way it conducts its business, but, as you might have guessed, it's also helping youth become job creators and problem solvers.
In 2013, more than 70% of the population had mobile phones, most of them costing under $60.
Today more than 60% of Pakistanis are under the age of 30. Unemployment, especially, among youth remains high. With no jobs, and lack of opportunities youth are taking it upon themselves to create opportunities, as Hassan did.
As administrators, and public, especially youth, commit to innovating and improving Pakistan, we are bound to see Pakistan 2.0 in the near future.
The digital youth summit happening in May in Peshawar, a diverse and dynamic city of Pakistan, is just one more step towards the quest to make Pakistan more prosperous and stable. At the summit, participants will focus on technology entrepreneurship, on-line work and 'tech for social' innovation.

Riaz Haq said...

Why #technology entrepreneurs are setting up shop in #Karachi #Pakistan #SiliconValley via @NewsHour

The country (Pakistan) is also home to one of the world’s largest populations of young people.

Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro met with some innovators in the capital, Karachi, who are hoping that generation will fuel Pakistan’s rise to becoming a high-tech powerhouse.

The story is part of our Agents for Change series.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s one of Asia’s fastest growing tech start-up companies. This team of Web site developers is on a project for Coca-Cola.

UMAIR AZIZ, Tech Entrepreneur: So, this is going to go up in 27, 28 different markets.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Umair Aziz, the founder, can name-drop other blue-chip American clients.

UMAIR AZIZ: Sears. We have worked with Amazon in the past. We have worked with Microsoft. We worked with Intel.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One secret to his success — actually, it’s pretty much a secret, period — is where this company, called Creative Chaos, is located, Karachi, the teeming and indeed chaotic commercial capital of Pakistan, a country beset by terrorist violence and political instability, a city that ranks as one of the world’s most violent.

UMAIR AZIZ: We don’t want to be out of the race by advertising that we’re based in Pakistan. There’s a very negative stigma associated with the country.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So, prospective customers see nothing on Creative Chaos’ Web site about its location. Technically, it’s headquartered in San Francisco. They soon learn that almost all workers are in Pakistan. Once hired, Aziz says, his company has never been removed from a job.

UMAIR AZIZ: People in the U.S. really don’t know that there’s a world outside of Talibans, and there’s a world outside of, you know, everything that they hear on CNN and BBC all the time.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It’s in that world that Aziz carved out a profitable niche. Back in 2000, he was fresh out of college in Ohio and working for a Boston tech firm when he decided to return to his native Karachi.

UMAIR AZIZ: I knew there were hundreds and thousands of people like me who could join, you know, my organization. It was a risk, but I was betting on the talent. I was betting on people just like me.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: His is one of a handful of thriving Pakistani start-ups, designing Web sites, databases and applications for global clients. The tech sector is seeing a healthy 35 percent annual growth and Aziz expects his firm to grow fivefold by 2020.

In raw numbers, though, that talent pool could be a lot larger, says Jehan Ara, herself a tech entrepreneur.

JEHAN ARA, President, The Nest: The country is about 200 million people, and 70 percent of them below the age of 30. So it’s a very young population. So, the potential is amazing. How to channel that potential is something that we are all sort of thinking about.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ara is leading an effort to scout that talent, trying to create what the technology business calls an ecosystem to foster creativity and new business.

This is The Nest. It’s one of a handful of so-called incubators that have been built in Pakistan. Here, 13 teams of techies chosen from more than a hundred applicants are working on what a panel of judges decided were promising business ideas.

JEHAN ARA: We are looking for young people who’ve developed a minimum viable product themselves while at home or at university and we know that they are committed to doing this. And then, once they get here, then we can help them further.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For Pakistan, this is a rare work environment, and not just because it’s offered for free to these would-be tech titans. They have reliable power, broadband and hardware many could not afford on their own, plus a connection to global resources from donors to the facility, including Google and Samsung

Riaz Haq said..., a young Pakistani startup, has raised the first round of investment at a valuation of 4 million dollars. Bookme is the fastest and most convenient way, available in Pakistan, to book cinema or bus tickets online from a website or a mobile application. The startup has gained several accolades and has been in the news for all the great reasons. Just last year, it managed to secure seed funding at Startup Turkey event.

Now Bookme has raised the investment from Element Ventures as well. Faizan, Founder & CEO of Bookme, didn’t disclose the amount but has given a hint that the investment is in 6 digits.

See also: Young Startup, Interacta raises 220K USD as seed funding

Meanwhile, Faisal Sherjan, Director Jang Group (GEO TV) has resigned GEO to join Bookme as Director. Faisal has been associated with media industry for more than 30 years and has also been actively mentoring Bookme and several other startups since the very beginning. Faizan believes that the experience, network and guidance of Faisal will take Bookme a long way. Since the team is planning to launch the services and expand operations in several other cities of Pakistan. Faisal, as the director, will be of great help and support.

Bookme has pursued several big targets in a matter of few months. The startup has made partnerships will all major media groups in Pakistan such as GEO, ARY, Hum TV. All these channels have been airing Bookme application advertisements with every upcoming movie promotion. These media groups are also using Bookme application as back end which is helping the startup generate more sales without spending too much on the marketing end.

See raises $6.5 million in Series C venture funding from Vostok Nafta and Piton Capital

This update is the latest addition to the achievement list of Bookme, the startup also partnered with Microsoft Pakistan recently. According to the contract, all the upcoming Windows Phones by Microsoft will have Bookme application pre-installed thereby, increasing the reach and audience of the application. Moreover, Bookme has also dispersed its widgets in almost all the popular websites, thus, helping people buy tickets without navigating out of the website.

This news comes at a time when we’re seeing several local and intl. investors finally taking interest in the technology and startup industry of Pakistan. Here is a quick timeline of the major achievements of Bookme in the past months.

Riaz Haq said...

Integrated Biometrics Tech To Track Teachers Attendance in #Pakistan. #Education …

Integrated Biometrics technology is helping the Pakistan Education Department to identify teachers in remote villages, the company has announced. Pakistani authorities are using the company’s Columbo fingerprint scanner to match the identities of 150,000 teachers in rural and remote areas against its own database.

The project is funded by the World Bank, with the Integrated Biometrics technology having been selected by contractor Intellitech, which is said to have considered multiple options before settling on the Columbo scanner.

The Columbo fingerprint scanner is FBI-compliant and uses light emitting sensor (LES) technology allowing it to function well in a range of environments. Its technology has proven appealing in a range of applications, with the scanner having been integrated into BETHCOM access control systems and Mobizent’s Intermec CN70e mobile device.

The case of the Pakistan Education Department is a little different, of course. The aim of the project is to develop real-time attendance monitoring in schools in remote villages, which of course could have very positive impacts in the country’s education system. Speaking in a press release, Integrated Biometrics CEO Steve Thies commented, “The fact that our products are being used to improve education for hundreds of thousands of children is incredibly humbling and rewarding.”

Riaz Haq said...

Investors pledge over $4 million in startups at LUMS Investors’ Summit in #Lahore #Pakistan via @techjuicepk

A total of 10 startups presented their businesses to local and international investors in an exclusive event arranged at LUMS

LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship (LCE), the university’s flagship experiential development platform for entrepreneurs held an exclusive investor event to mark the graduation of their third cohort of startups graduating from The Foundation incubator.

It is to be noted here that LCE also arranged an investors summit after the completion of their first cycle. Which was attended by the big names of business industry of Pakistan. Interacta of the same batch has raised 220,000 dollars as investment.

These startups went through an intense, 4-months-long, startup development bootcamp at LUMS and have been mentored by some of the best in the industry. The startups were selected by an elite, independent panel of business leaders 4 months ago after a nation-wide search.

The Foundation Investors Summit, which was held at the Rausing Executive Development Center in LUMS was the annual investor event organized by the LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship. The event included a mix of both local and international investors who came to show support to these businesses including Salman Amin of Jhonson and Sons, Ali Mukhtar of Fatima Group, Aezaz Hussain of Systems Limited, Farooq Nasim of Gree Pak and Syed Babar Ali amongst others.

Startups that pitched their businesses at the summit included

Jewelry Design Pro, a startup that provides a virtual global jewelry marketplace for trading any digitally downloadable design,
Repair Desk, a cloud based ERP for mobile phone repair,
HealthWire, an e-commerce startup that is increasing the accessibility of doctors and patients,
BeautyHooked, an online platform to connect women to beauty services,
Wedding Graphers, a branded, economical wedding graphing facility in Lahore., the first of its kind online furniture and home d├ęcor retail brand in Pakistan,
AliffIqra, Pakistan’s first online Quran assistance program,
King Kashmiri Tea, a revolution in the traditional Kashmiri tea in the form of teabags,, an online portal to provide home tuition services by connecting students and tutors, platform to provide repair and maintenance of electric appliances.
The LUMS Investors Summit opened with an introduction of LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship (LCE) and the impact that it has created in the past one year.

Riaz Haq said...

#MIT #technology review to be published in #Pakistan. via @SciDevNet_SA

The launch of a Pakistani edition of the MIT Technology Review is expected to boost peer-reviewed research on science and technology as well as entrepreneurship in this country.

“Pakistan needs a credible publication for science and technology — one that talks about real technology issues, publishes actual science and informs tech-savvy youth in Pakistan about the latest technology trends and innovations around the world,” says Umar Saif, vice chancellor of the Information Technology University (ITU), Lahore.

Saif, a former alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge USA, was instrumental in winning affiliation for the Pakistan edition that was officially launched on 19 September by ITU, the publisher.

Saif says he expects the publication to help discourage false claims such as the one made by a Pakistani scientist in 2012 that he had invented a car capable of running on water — which had officials lauding it as something that had ‘brought about a revolution in the world of science.’

“I felt it was my responsibility to give Pakistan a credible forum to talk about real science. I immediately took steps to get in conversation with MIT Technology Review – it took a couple of years to get here…”

The launching team hopes the publication will benefit researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs of Pakistan who needed a credible, internationally recognised forum to showcase their work to a broader audience.

“The main areas of focus are energy, ICT4D, and entrepreneurship, however, these are to begin with…we will diversify as we go steadily in print and build our team’s capacity to focus on more areas that concern Pakistan,” explains Saif.

The inaugural edition highlights Pakistan’s energy woes of Pakistan in a cover story by leading journalist Jawwad Rizvi. “We are hoping the project becomes self-sustainable within a couple of years of its operation (via ads and subscription fee) and is no longer dependent on research grants,” Saif says.

Prof. Sarmad Hussain, who heads the Centre of Language Engineering, University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore, says that apart from providing credibility to creative work done in the country and encouraging researchers to showcase their work, the new publication will help the “formation of linkages with international research organisations.”

Riaz Haq said...

I’m waiting for my interview with Dr Umar Saif, chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), outside his offices on the 11th floor of a glistening building in the heart of Lahore.

There is an air of nervous trepidation – it is my first time interviewing someone associated with the government, and the common stereotype suggests it will be difficult to have a relaxed and comfortable talk. While I am aware of Dr Saif’s credentials – he received his doctorate in computer science from Cambridge at the age of 22 and then taught at MIT before moving back to Pakistan – I am unsure of what to expect. I hope for the best.

Read: Success story: Local property venture raises $9m in funding

As I am ushered into the office by his secretary, Dr Saif greets me with a firm handshake and indicates that I should take a seat and wait a few minutes longer. He has a beautiful, sprawling office with a mesmerizing view of the city and I take the opportunity to cater to my amateur photography hobby. Dr Saif remains hunkered down on his desk, typing away furiously on a computer and attending to calls.

After what seems like an eternity, but in reality is only about ten minutes, Dr Saif gets up from his chair and makes his way towards me. I am immediately caught off guard; there’s a smile on his face and he seems warm, welcoming, and jovial.

I try my usual tactic of asking a few ice-breaking questions to lighten the atmosphere and make the interviewee feel at ease. However, he is having none of it. Dr Saif is first interested in finding out more about myself. He wants to know where I went to college, my career trajectory so far, and my passions in life. I am taken aback – it is very rare for people to exhibit genuine interest. Most are obsessed with their own or their company’s publicity and leave no stone unturned to elaborate how they are the next big thing.

MIT and beyond

Frankly speaking, it wouldn’t have been much of an exaggeration if Dr Saif claimed that about himself. He is a perennial overachiever, finishing high school at 16, graduating from college at 19, and eventually completing his doctorate at an age when most are still struggling to understand which line of work to enter. At MIT, where he started his postdoc, he was part of Project Oxygen, a visionary project trying to fundamentally redesign the way mankind interacts with machines. Dr Saif’s work on the project focused on ubiquitous computing, building embedded operating systems for mobile platforms.

Read: Pakistan-based real estate portal raises $9 million in series B financing

After several years teaching and researching at MIT, Dr Saif moved back to Pakistan. He tells me it was not an easy decision at all – up until that time he had been solely focused on an academic career and that requires a “certain type of lifestyle.” Nevertheless, it was a combination of his desire to assist his country of birth and pressing family commitments which resulted in the decision. This was in 2005.

Later that year, Dr Saif accepted a faculty position at his alma mater – the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). He was eager to replicate some of the things he had learned during his time at MIT and started working with some of his brightest students to develop scalable, innovative solutions. One of these was SMSall, a text message-based social network that he claims has sent billions of messages since it was first rolled out. Another was BitMate, a bittorrent client specifically engineered for people in countries with low bandwidth. As a result of his work, in 2011, the MIT Technology Review named him as one of their ‘World’s Top Young Innovators’ – the first Pakistani to be bestowed this honour.

Riaz Haq said...

13 #technology #startup incubators, accelerators and workspaces in #Pakistan via @techinasia

ttitudes towards entrepreneurship have changed drastically in Pakistan in the past few years, partly fueled by the success of startups in the region as well as broadening access to the internet.

Just a couple of years ago, budding entrepreneurs in Pakistan would have found it difficult to gain access to mentors, business training, and investors due to the lack of interest in encouraging disruptive startups. Now, however, the landscape has changed and startup founders have a choice when determining which incubator to reach out to.

In no particular order, here are some incubators and accelerators making an impact in Pakistan.

Plan9, The Nest I/O, LUMS Center For Entrepreneurship, i2i, PlanX, Microsoft Innovation Center, Technology Incubation Center, DotZero, BaseCamp, Founders Institute, NSpire, Tech Incubator and WeCreate Pakistan

Riaz Haq said...

UAE Sheikh Al-Nahyan invests $5.4 million in #Pakistan-based Mobile Payments start-up Inov8 …

A Sheikh from the UAE has invested $5.4 million in Pakistan’s fastest-growing mobile payments company, Inov8 Limited.

His Highness Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, is the sole investor in the company’s Series A round, investing $5.4 million in the company which has achieved a valuation in excess of $100 million.

“I have invested in multiple mobile payments and commerce initiatives, and I find the depth of the management, the product platform, and the vision of the founders to be the best I have come across. I look forward to being an integral part of their success story,” Al Nahayan said.

Inov8 Limited is the region’s fastest growing mobile payments company and a dominant player in Pakistan’s market. With its award winning products and services, the company is set to expand to Africa and the Middle East.

“Sheikh Al Nahayan is an avid investor in the industry and understands it quite well,” CEO and co-Founder of the company, Hasnain A Sheikh said while speaking to The Express Tribune, adding that “we are in a strong partnership with Wateen Telecom (owned by Al Nahayan) which is how the investment came about.”

“This round of funding is testament to the massive upsurge in the demand for Inov8 products and services across the region, which has been phenomenal over the last 18 months,” he said.

Meanwhile, co-founder and president, Bashir Sheikh said,”We will be utilising our funds for our growth across the Middle East and Africa region with an expectation to raise a much larger Series B round in the near future. We will be looking to grow organically and via acquisition, for businesses, products and teams.”

ommenting on the future goals of the company, Hasnain said there is one simple goal, adding that “the company aims to become the number one mobile payments company in the world by 2020.”

“Inov8 has been working to grow the mobile payments industry in Pakistan since 2004. Today we have one of the largest offerings of products and services as well as one of the biggest client portfolios in the region,” he said earlier.

With Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak being the sole investor in the company, Inov8′s headquarters have moved to the UAE, while maintaining some of its presence in the UK.

The region’s leading mobile commerce and payments provider has partnered with a leading aggregator operating in North America and the region, Monami, to offer internet payments in Pakistan. The funding received, along with the post money valuation should pave way for further investment in the country’s burgeoning technology industry.

This is the first time that leading names including Google Play Store, Apple, AppStore, iTunes and Skype, among 50 others, are being made available locally to Pakistani consumers; under this large portfolio of investments.

Riaz Haq said...

#Urdu and #English language versions of MIT #Technology review launched online in #Pakistan

Karachi—MIT Technology has launched technology review in Pakistan to spread science & technology awareness to a wider local audience in the aims to foster entrepreneurship and Innovation in Pakistan. This is the latest initiative in a series to create impact in Pakistan. Mr. Jason Pontin, CEO, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of MIT Tech Review, Ken Morse, Founding MD of MIT Entrepreneurship Center and Farrokh Captain, Chairman, MIT Enterprise Forum of Pakistan and . Umar Saif, chairman PITB, Vice chancellor ITU and Editor of Tech Review Pakistan addressed the press at a local hotel in Karachi recently about MIT’s role as a technology leader and its initiative to impart latest knowledge of technology to accelerate adoption of innovation and development of entrepreneurial culture in Pakistan.

The latest initiative in this is to launch MIT Technology Review (TR) in Urdu and English language with the intent to create a new tech generation in Pakistan fully aware of what is happening around the world in technology and innovation. Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Pontin noted, “Whenever I visited Pakistan, I realized that here was lack of realism, technology based content that could provide guidance to the local technologists, academia, researchers, scientists and journalism analysis.

“In 2013, I had promised that I will bring the world famous MIT Technology Review (TR) to Pakistan, I am extremely happy to note that after almost two years of extremely hard work we have been able to launch the English & Urdu version of MIT Technology Review Pakistan (TR). With the Pakistan edition the educated and tech-savvy youth of this country can know about the latest technology trends and innovations around the world.

Equally, researchers and innovators and entrepreneurs of Pakistan can show case their work to the international community through this world famous technical magazine.” Mr. Morse, founding father of MIT Entrepreneurship Center, indicated that technology entrepreneurship can be a game changer for Pakistan.

Quoting Economist Intelligence Unit he said, “Waves of technically trained young people — steeped in the latest theories and techniques, and honed by some of the smartest minds in science and technology — do more for raising a country’s industrial competitiveness than all the tax breaks, development aid, and government initiatives put together.” Adding to this he said,” we need to be infected with entrepreneurship virus to gain success. If you have a lot up startups, it’s logical to have a lot of failures.”

Riaz Haq said...

Team #Pakistan wins 3 Gold, 1 Silver at #technology awards at #APICTA2015 in #Colombo #SriLanka …

The Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES delegation comprised of 50 members with 22 technology products, competing for the prestigious APICTA Awards against 197 products from 17 countries of the region.

Sri Lankan Minister for Telecom and Digital Infrastructure Harin Fernando was the chief guest at the awards ceremony, which was also graced by the High Commissioner of Pakistan in Sri Lanka Major General (retired) Syed Shakeel Hussain. Leading the way with the Gold were the teams from Eyedeus Labs for their new product “Ingrain”, Evamp & Sanga for their product Mobile Audio Streaming Service and students from the NUST College of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering for their research project Active and Intelligent Powered Ankle Foot Prosthesis for Trans-tibial Amputees.

The Silver Award was taken by a very young team from The Nest Technology Incubator in Karachi for their project Teddict. The winners from the Asia Pacific compete in this three-day regional event were judged by industry professionals, technology veterans and thought leaders from the APAC region.

International APICTA Judges from 17 countries 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 performed superbly, with young people once again taking the lead. With the support of Samsung and Google for Entrepreneurs, P@SHA was able to take to Colombo, a number of young teams of Pakistani IT professionals under the banner of Team Pakistan.

The objective was to bring them face-to-face with the best technology companies, professionals and students in the Asia Pacific, to provide an opportunity to meet and form potential partnerships with each other and to attract business and possible investment.

Dressed in their green Team Pakistan t-shirts, the team from Pakistan created impact by putting up a great show. The international judges commended the members of team Pakistan for displaying high caliber of work which truly represented Pakistan’s booming tech sector. They were absolutely blown away by the younger members that took part in the Tertiary Student Category and the Secondary School Project category.

While speaking on the occasion, P@SHA President Jehan Ara said, “The P@SHA ICT Awards – a P@SHA signature event for the past 12 years, has provided a platform to show the world what technology companies and young people in Pakistan are capable of. This year we have once again proven that our products can be benchmarked against the best in the region.”

Riaz Haq said...

12 #startups from #Pakistan that raised funding in 2015. #technology …

1. Zamzama Property Group
Zamzama Property Group, which is the parent company of real estate sites Zameen and Bayut, raised US$9 million in series B financing, marking the largest investment in a Pakistan-based startup this year.

2. Naseeb Networks
Naseeb Networks is the holding company of job portals Rozee and Mihnati, concentrating on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, respectively. The startup raised a US$6.5 million series C round, bringing its total funding to US$8.5 million.

3. Wifigen
Wifigen, a startup that provides wifi solutions for businesses in exchange for social media logins, raised an undisclosed amount of seed investment valuing the company at US$1 million. The angel investor behind this round is John Russell Patrick – a former executive at IBM and an early-stage investor in Uber.

4. Bookme
Bookme, an online platform for booking bus, cinema, and event tickets, secured an undisclosed amount of seed investment from Element Ventures, which valued the company at US$4 million. The startup was previously one of the Startup Arena finalists at Tech in Asia Jakarta 2014.

5. EatOye
EatOye, an online food delivery service, was acquired by Rocket Internet’s Foodpanda as part of a regional acquisition spree to assert its dominance in the sector. The startup was a late entrant to the online delivery space in Pakistan, but had started to seriously threaten Foodpanda’s position at the top of the perch – hence the buyout.

6. Forrun
Delivery and logistics startup Forrun was acquired by technology services company Arpatech. The acquisition was made in line with a concentration on ecommerce, logistics, and technology verticals.

7. Markhor
Markhor, which makes handcrafted artisanal shoes, stole the show this year when it became the first startup from Pakistan to be accepted into Y Combinator, thus receiving US$120,000 in seed capital. Waqas Ali, founder of Markhor, had told Tech in Asia that the acceleration was aimed at strengthening Markhor’s position as a luxury lifestyle brand.

8. Interacta
Interacta, a startup which is trying to redefine conventional broadcasting by making television shows interactive, raised US$220,000 in seed funding from Fatima Ventures. The startup’s app, which is similar to music detection service Shazam, analyzes sound coming from television channels and pushes content accordingly. For example, in cooking shows, users can view the recipe directly on their phones. Broadcasters can also use the app for targeted advertisements.

9. Sportskot
Sportskot is a marketplace for sporting goods manufactured in Pakistan. There’s a large, fragmented industry of sports apparel and equipment, and the startup is trying to bring them all under one umbrella to assist in visibility and appeal to international clientele. Sportskot raised US$140,000 in seed funding to expand its operations.

10. MySmacED
MySmacED, a startup in the edtech space, is a communication platform that enables real-time information sharing between parents, teachers, students, and administrators. It creates a “moderated social network,” while also assisting with feedback on child performance and easier information sharing between teachers and students. The startup raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding valuing the company at US$2 million.

11. AutoGenie
Autogenie is Pakistan’s first on-demand car service and maintenance startup. Other than these basic services, it also offers premium members things like roadside assistance, regulatory and tax compliance, and car analytics. The startup raised US$100,000 in seed investment from PakWheels.

12. Mezaaj
Mezaaj is a platform for fashion designers to showcase their work and get noticed in the digital sphere. .... The startup secured an undisclosed amount of seed investment, valuing the company at US$500,000.

Riaz Haq said...

#Lahore's #Pakistani developer’s Wordpress theme Avada is top seller at $10m in sales. #Pakistan #technology

Avada theme available at Envato marketplace, has become the top selling theme while the developer, Themefusion, has now crossed a milestone of 10 million dollars.

This theme is developed by Haris Zulfiqar and Luke Beck under the company name of “Themefusion”. The two met at Envato, a digital marketplace for creative assets by web designers. In the year 2013, we told our readers that their theme hit a 1 million dollar sale number. Fast forward a couple of years and Avada has continued to show immense growth in terms of new purchases and now, Themefusion has managed to cross the $10 Million milestone on the platform.

Themefusion is also the first ever seller to cross the $10 Million sales mark on Envato Market. When asked if they had any idea they would be so successful by Envato, Luke said that “neither of us had any idea that three years later we’d have achieved this level of success. It’s quite amazing and completely surreal.”

Started as just a two person team, developing themes on the Envato Marketplace, they have now grown to a group of 20+ people.

When asked about a tip Haris would give to other creatives in 2016, he said,

“Always take time to be your best and do what you know is right. Take risks and build up the people around you, listen to your customers and strive to grow in every way possible.”

Freelancing is one of the fastest growing professions around the world and especially in Pakistan, where more and more people are turning to their computers in search of employment. Just a while back, a Pakistani MBBS student made the news for earning half a million dollars through freelancing and now, Haris Zulfiqar along with his other companions, has also proved the potential that lies in freelancing.

Riaz Haq said...

#Technology #Startup funding in #Pakistan up 600% in 2015: A banner year for nation's tech #entrepreneurs. …

Though start-ups in Pakistan have been on and about their tasks for several years now, it was 2015 that really put them on the venture-capital-funding map. In 2014, Pakistani start-ups managed to raise a mere $4 million, but the funding jumped to $23 million in 2015. Despite the fact many firms who secured funding chose not to disclose their numbers, the collective $23 million still represented close to 600% increase in investment.

Analysing the prevalent trends, the buzz and hype around online businesses, one can expect a bright future for Pakistan’s technology industry and international companies and investors have started noticing the advancement.


Though slowly, the idea of taking the business online is becoming an evident realisation and companies are scrambling to develop online platforms that help their businesses grow. Consumers are taking to the idea and ease of shopping online, although there remains a massive room for improvement (and hence window of opportunity) in the quality of services up on offer.

Still the country’s tech scene has its knights. Companies like, and have not only made a name for themselves for being the pioneers in their respective fields, they have also upped the antes time and again by reinvigorating their portals and providing improved facilities to their users over and over again.


Efforts of The Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) have also been quite instrumental in Pakistan’s technology industry’s growth in 2015. Apart from raising awareness regarding the uses of IT among the public and automation of the Boards of Intermediate and Secondary Education and the Citizen Feedback Monitoring Program, PITB also laid strong foundations for tech-entrepreneurship by establishing Plan9, the largest technology incubator in Pakistan distinguished by its zero-equity model.

Since its inception in 2012, Plan9 has graduated 66 start-ups, created roughly 500 jobs and over $2 million in funding. Commenting on Pakistani start-ups, Founder & CEO Fadi Bishara said Pakistani start-ups were more hard-core tech than Silicon Valley start-ups.

Currently, academic institutions are also playing a supportive role in increasing awareness about online entrepreneurship. LUMS Centre of Entrepreneurship, Information Technology University and National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences are now offering courses on entrepreneurship. While these courses are merely theoretical, they provide students with the much needed confidence to pursue unexplored professions.

With Pakistan’s technology sector becoming more vibrant than ever, one can expect the current year to be bring even gladder tidings for the country’s tech-preneurs, as well as the start-ups mushrooming across the country. Here’s to another year of change and progress.

Riaz Haq said...

How to become a #digital innovator in #Pakistan. #technology … via @WorldBank

Pakistan also has some great and active freelancing communities on Facebook. With some of the top rated freelancers in the world, many Pakistani freelancers have put their advice out there for free here and here.

Pakistan is also seeing a number of co-working spaces cropping up in major cities, including Basecamp in Peshawar, IVY in Islamabad, Tech Hub in Lahore and Dotzero in Karachi. Becoming a part of these communities can help freelancers and budding digital entrepreneurs build networks that can be really critical to finding the right support systems.
Tech entrepreneurs who want to move beyond freelancing and want to launch the next big disruptive innovation will also find a growing support system to nurture, refine and propel their ideas to market incubators and accelerator programs. These programs all provide a mix of training, mentorship and support to help get those ideas to a point of being able to launch as businesses. And while financing for these early stage startups is still nascent, there are several initiatives to get angel investment networks formalized, bringing an important element to business development, but also help to strengthen the tech community as a whole, building support systems for future innovators.

All of these pieces make up the innovation ecosystem that has the potential to help drive Pakistan’s growth over the coming decade. And it will be the participation of young people in this digital economy that will lead to socio-economic change in Pakistan, changing the way that traffic tickets are issued, music is curated, houses are purchased, and ridesharing is done.

All of these changes also draw on the creativity, ingenuity, passion, and dedication of Pakistan’s youth to envision their country in a better place.

Riaz Haq said...

t’s No #SiliconValley, but #Pakistan is Building Its Own Startup Scene. #Technology …

In the past five years, Pakistan’s startup ecosystem has grown from a nascent colony to a self-sustaining environment. Zameen, an online real estate startup based in Lahore, has ridden that startup wave in developing a Zillow-like app and website that allows users to search and buy real estate listings in Pakistan’s largest cities.

Like many famous U.S. internet companies, Zameen started with a gamble. In 2006, Zeeshan Ali Khan and his brother left their e-commerce business in the United Kingdom to move to Pakistan and started Zameen in their bedrooms. Back then, online-only services in Pakistan were rare, but Ali Khan followed the money coming into Pakistani real estate from expats living abroad—a million of whom lived in the United Kingdom. Now Zameen employees 500 people and has offices in nearly all major cities in Pakistan.

“ came into being when we realised there was a desperate need for a trustworthy online real estate enterprise in Pakistan, especially given the importance the average Pakistani attaches to property,” Ali Khan tells Newsweek in an email. “Back then the state of internet infrastructure in Pakistan was extremely poor but the offline property market was exploding. Facilitated by large investments from the Pakistani diaspora, people found that investing in real estate would earn them significant returns.”

Pakistan’s fast-growing economy and, perhaps more importantly, large English-speaking population has provided a backbone to encourage startups to form and work with foreign companies.

The country has seen startup hubs form around elite universities in cities like Lahore and Karachi—similar to Boston and San Francisco—in the last few years. The Punjab province, where Lahore is located, has been the major hotspot for startups in Pakistan. Plan9, the Punjab provincial government-run technology incubator, hosts over 80 startups. Ali Khan believes there are 140 startups in Lahore, a city of 5 million people.

But Pakistani startups are still minnows compared to those in Silicon Valley. Cultural and economic norms, like being predominantly reliant on cash for transactions, are big obstacles for startups. Despite leading the South Asian region in consumers using mobile payments, only 9 percent of Pakistani men and 2 percent of women have used mobile phones for money transfers. Around 39 percent of Americans have used mobile banking in 2015, according to a report from the Federal Reserve.

To accommodate its cash-based users, Zameen employs motorcycle riders to collect payments from Zameen agents across 30 Pakistani cities in person. “The situation is improving, and a lot of people are beginning to feel more comfortable with online payments and even mobile transactions,” says Ali Khan.

Earning public trust for a little-known startup—a concept now just becoming understood in Pakistan—was a big challenge as well. When Zameen began, it discovered most of the Pakistani property market undocumented, and reliable data was nearly non-existent.

Pakistani consumers, including Ali Khan’s family, had a hard time becoming comfortable with Zameen and its Silicon Valley-inspired ideas. “My family was a little apprehensive when I told them I wanted to start a business of my own,” Ali Khan says. “Today however, the attitudes have greatly changed, thanks to the startup ecosystem that is supporting the startup culture in Pakistan.”

The two biggest hurdles Zameen and fellow startups face are the low penetration rates of 3G/4G mobile Internet and the lack of support from its government. In 2015, only 22 million out of 182 million Pakistanis had 3G/4G technology, leaving little room for startups to continue growing and scale upwards with their online services.

Infrastructural issues like 3G/4G technology need the government’s help, but such support has been lacking, according to Ali Khan.

Riaz Haq said...

A #crowdfunding platform to solve #Pakistan's #healthcare woes. 200 surgeries funded to date …

Pakistan-based startup Transparent Hands is a crowdfunding platform which looks to address the problem of a lack of access to quality healthcare in the nation. Pakistan has a population of approximately 200 million people, yet its health indicators are abysmal. The government allocates only 0.67% of GDP on the healthcare sector; so the country’s public health infrastructure is almost non-existent.

While patients can receive access to quality healthcare facilities, it is very expensive. With a reported 58.7 million citizens living under the poverty line, this is simply not possible for a vast segment of the populace.

Transparent Hands, which was incubated at Lahore-based Plan9, launched operations in 2014 with the objective of bringing transparency to charitable donations in Pakistan. Founder Rameeza Moin says that the venture is entirely not-for-profit and came about after a thorough analysis of the existing healthcare segment in the country.

“There are many potential donors across the world who want to contribute, but they don’t know where and when to send their money or whether their donations will be utilized in a proper way. This is the main issue we’re trying to overcome,” she adds.
Transparency is at the core of the startup’s processes. Team members visit rural and semi-urban areas to find patients in need of critical medical care. Their cases are verified, both in terms of health and finances. The startup currently only works with patients who require surgery.

Since its launch, Transparent Hands has facilitated over 200 surgeries and has partner hospitals in four cities. Its next step is to expand into other major urban centers, as well as focus on other areas of service delivery – such as education.

Riaz Haq said...

Two dozen #Pakistani #tech startups got foreign and domestic #VC funding in 2015, a new record. #Pakistan

Tech startups are doing reasonably well and look set for growth despite a lack of adequate financing from banks and venture capital outfits.

In 2015, about two dozen tech start-ups, old and new, obtained funds from abroad or from local venture capitals (VC). Some of them are now doing good business.


The list of tech start-ups that raised sufficient funds in 2015 include both old and new firms like app-based travelling services Careem, shopping portal, the real estate’s online listing portal, job portal, entrepreneurship programme Interacta, on-demand car maintenance service AuotGenie and 18 others.

A cursory look at their sources of financing shows that it came from abroad, such as $60m in case of Careem from the UAE-based Abraaj Group, or $22m partial-funding from a UK-based DFI in case of In some cases, money flowed in from regional VC like $33m partial funding for from the Asia-Pacific Internet Group.

But in some cases like $9m foreign funds raised by, specific details of the investors remained unknown.

AutoGenie managed to raise $100,000 from a big local online car-portal that had itself raised $3.5m a year earlier from a Malaysian venture capital firm. Interacta, an entrepreneurship startup of the Lahore University of Management Science secured $220,000 in seed funding from Lahore-based Fatima Ventures.

A sizable fund-raising of tech startups came under spotlight in 2013 when four entities mobilised funds worth less than $10m. In 2014, 10 tech start-ups came up and raised almost the same amount of funds. But in 2015 no less than 24 startups pulled in an estimated $100m from various sources not just in seed capital but, in some cases, for capacity building and outreach.

However, some borrowers do not share details about the amount and sources of their debt. Information trickles in, though, from individual sources and a couple of websites do the much-needed record-keeping for the benefit of their visitors.


Markhor, a shopping portal that sells hand-made leather shoes has already won a unique recognition at Y Combinatory, a three-month incubation programme at Silicon Valley and has also received $120,000 in seed capital.

Plan9, a local venture capital of the Punjab Information Technology Board boasts of having provided incubation training to over 100 startups so far but except for a few, those startups have got additional funds from foreign sources, industry sources say.

Sometimes, financing tech startups seems just like impact financing, a concept now gaining currency along with the concept of social business. And that is why banks and some, less-resourceful, local VCs shy away from it.

But in a majority of cases, tech startups have also proved to be highly profitable businesses with annual growth rates of 100-400pc, industry sources say. The driving factors include tailor-made, time-saving services that these startups provide, growing use of smart phones and the internet, level of innovation offered and expanding e-commerce.

The potential of tech startups to impact the way large businesses are currently being run is immense. Take, for example, the case of

This two-year old startup has undertaken to showcase catalogues of businesses in such broad categories like textiles, apparel, shoes, jewelry and accessories, interior designs/ furnishing and custom design products/handicrafts. Its mobile applications, it claims, are capable of delivering a full e-commerce platform where sellers can exhibit their products for sale.