Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Pakistani Technologist Umar Saif Visits Silicon Valley

Umar Saif was invited by Organization of Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs (OPEN) to an event yesterday at the Palo Alto offices of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pitman Law Firm  in Silicon Valley to talk about the state of technology in Pakistan. The event was appropriately titled: "Presenting Umar-The Force Behind Plan 09- Pakistan's Leading Incubator For Startups"

Umar Saif is just 35 years old and his name is already synonymous with technology in Pakistan. He was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2010, selected as one of top 35 young innovators in the world by MIT Technology Review in 2011 and received a Google faculty research award in 2011.

Saif got his PhD in computer science from England's University of Cambridge at 22. Then he joined Massachusetts Institute of Technology to do post-doctoral research. He worked at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory where he was part of the core team that developed system technologies for the $50 million Project Oxygen.

Saif now wears multiple hats in Pakistan; he is an associate professor at Lahore University of Management Science (LUMS); he works for the Punjab government as the head of Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB); he is vice chancellor of Information Technology University and he is the founder of Plan 9, a government-financed tech startup incubator in Lahore. He says there is a possibility that he might soon move to Islamabad to work for the federal government as its Chief Technology Officer.

PITB's work in Pakistani Punjab under Saif has been described in recent World Bank report as "unprecedented in the public sector in developing countries". The objective of these efforts is to reduce corruption, increase productivity and improve service delivery in both private and public sectors. Saif said other provincial governments, particularly KPK's PTI-led govt, are now asking for his advice and help for similar projects in their provinces. 

After a brief introduction by OPEN's Riaz Karamali, Saif started his presentation by talking about his work on SMSall messaging platform and how it has been used by relief workers, protest movements, political campaigns and social activists in the country. In particular, he mentioned Imran Khan's PTI's extensive use of his platform as a tool to organize the party's election campaign last year.

The featured speaker then briefly described a couple of companies in Plan 9 incubator: Groopic and Tunacode. Both of these companies are in a Silicon Valley Immersion Program funded by Google. He said Plan 9 offers facilities such as free office space on the 9th floor in Arfa Karim IT Park, a modern building in Lahore. In addition, there are monthly stipends,  free laptops, uninterrupted power supply, internet connectivity, mentoring, training workshops, legal advice, connection with potential investors and customers, etc.

Story of Pakistan's Plan9 Incubator

Saif then sought the help of his Silicon Valley audience in promoting technology. In the ensuing discussion, a number of audience members pointed out some of the work that Saif seemed unaware of.

I mentioned a Forbes story in its current issue that talks about Pakistan as one of a dozen countries where Sequoia Capital funded companies' founders were born. Fireeye and OpenSilicon are two such Sequoia-funded companies with Karachi-born founders. OpenSilicon has a design center in Pakistan. Rehan Jalil, a Pakistani-born Silicon Valley entrepreneur who graduated from NED University of Engineering and Technology, has a development center in Karachi for his latest cloud security startup Elastica. Wichorus, Jalil's earlier startup later acquired by Tellabs for $150 million, also employed engineers in Karachi.  Idris Kothari's Vertical Systems Inc. (VSI), a hospitality IT company, does most of its engineering work in Karachi, Pakistan.

Sajid Sohail of Jadoo TV, who was in the audience, pointed out that his company employs 100 engineers in Pakistan to do the development work for his streaming TV box and network that delivers Urdu channels. Muhammad Irfan, CEO of Whizz Systems, said he too has engineering offices in Pakistan.

As the meeting came to a close, there was broad agreement that Silicon Valley Pakistani-Americans can and should do more to help promote technology in Pakistan. Muhammad Irfan of Whizz Systems suggested setting up a basic legal framework and a transparent process to fund young companies in Pakistan through a Pakistani-Americans' angel network. In my view, the first steps toward this goal should be as follows:          

1. Analyze risks, allow the usual risks associated with tech startups and offer legal and financial protection against unacceptable risks from terrorism, violence, corruption and malfeasance.

2. Look at a Silicon Valley style term sheet for high-tech venture capital investors and build a legal and policy framework to ensure enforceability of its terms.

Without creating adequate investment environment, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to attract private venture capital in Pakistan.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan Deploys IT Apps in Public Sector

Arfa Karim's Inspirational Legacy

Two Pakistani Tech Start-ups in Silicon Valley Immersion Program

NEDian Rehan Jalil's Startup Elastica Gets $6.3 Million VC Funding

Pakistani-American Stars in HBO Comedy "Silicon Valley"

Pakistani-American's Fireeye Goes Public

Organization of Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs 

US Promoting Venture Capital in Pakistan


Imran Q said...

Shows the disparity between the Pakistani Provincial governments. Punjab government is working tirelessly on performance based governance and politics, investment into technology and infrastructure is taking precedence. Education is also a high priority with Punjab schools and colleges marketing their services on various Pakistani channels. Contrary to the Punjab government, the Sindh government as usual is very dysfunctional with no focus on development. For them, Karachi shows SIndh as the shining star of Pakistan and the provincial government. Its ironic that stepping outside of Karachi (Fastest growing city in the world from a population perspective) shows the true colors of sindh with so much poverty, negligence, very little focus on education etc... that one feels why is the population suffering where as the provincial government does absolutely nothing. In Karachi, MQM started the performance based politics by building flyovers etc but lately all that has changed to extortion,torture, robbing citizens etc... The PPP and MQM alliance has led to a disaster in Karachi...

Irfan said...

I'm worried about growing conflict of interest. He needs to choose fewer hats soon, and focus on making impact with the resources he has. Also, he should have done a far better job of convincing us about his dedication to cleaning up the financial environment for sustainable support of startup financing. His answer was the opposite "investing in Pakistan is a risk". That's the crux of the problem right there, there are unavoidable risks, and there are artificial risks ... the government's job, whether he chooses to accept it or not, is to minimize artificial risks (i.e. corruption).

He also said "there's nothing special about the entrepreneurial environment in silicon valley, we have this intelligence everywhere". I gave up hope of asking any intelligent questions at that point, and focused on his conflict of interest. Like many of us, I've lived in multiple parts of the world, and there's no place like SV... Poor guy is still confused, I hope he gets clarity soon, for the sake of the country. Maybe he should live in the bay area for 6 months ... ?

Imran Q said...

Its more complicated than that, people in the room had businesses in Pakistan and they were not willing to invest in Pakistan. Had they not been approached before, many many times was the answer. Why were they reluctant to invest because there is no basic infrastructure for VC type investment in Pakistan. Its not that money cant be made in Pakistan and people are not making money, its actually the opposite, the stock market is booming, people are making a killing in real estate, organizations like Behbood foundation is giving out 13-14% return so why are Pakistanis let alone the expats are not investing in companies ?

Riaz Haq said...

Imran: "people in the room had businesses in Pakistan and they were not willing to invest in Pakistan"

Several among the audience are already invested in Pakistan through engineering teams they have hired there...Jadoo TV, Whizz System for example. Umar Saif just didn't know nor does he fully comprehend the issues involved in setting up VC investment mechanisms which are lacking in Pakistan. He's essentially been working with taxpayers money given by Punjab government, not private risk capital.

Anonymous said...

LAHORE: The biggest search engine of the world, Google, has selected SMSall network, developed by two Pakistanis, for the entrepreneurs parties programmes, says the network chief operating officer (COO).

According to SMSall COO and Director Idrees Butt, 16 entrepreneurs have been selected from all over the world, including two from Pakistan. He said they were going to the US city California on March 14 to take part in the Silicon Valley session and bring a good name to the country by becoming part of the global network.

He said it was the first social network of Pakistan, launched under the guidance of Prof Dr Umar Saif four year ago, that has connected seven million people so far. According to the data, six billion SMS have so far been sent through this network.

Idrees Butt said Chief Technical Officer Waqas Farooq was working along with him day and night to improve the quality of the service. Only at the rate of as low as two rupees a week, a consumer could send as many messages as he/she wants. Our slogan is “to bring down cost as well as the use of users’ thumbs”.

In reply to a question, he said it is more beneficial than WhatsApp and Twitter. Through it, a large number of messages could be sent with only one click very easily without consulting a phone book. Dr Umar Saif is our torch-bearer in this project, Idrees Butt added.

He said the project was initiated in a small room. In other countries including Korea, Japan and China, people are using their local social networks because of patriotism. He called upon his countrymen that they should also exhibit patriotism and place the name of Pakistan at world’s web radar. He claimed that SMSall was the only application that could be used both on an ordinary telephone set as well as Android. At this platform, public and private discussion has been brought together.

Idrees Butt said that during the previous general election in Pakistan, most political parties used SMSall social network for fastest delivery of messages. He appealed to the federal government to soften its policies to boost technology use in the country and provide more employment opportunities to the youth.


Mayraj said...

He got his Ph.D from Cambridge at 22! Wow!. Do you know Cambridge BA is = US MA? And MIT knows that as my brother found out.

What he's doing is proof PML-N is more on cue than dim bulbs PPP! Really with a cash cow like Karachi which it mismanages and what can they think of but that cultural festival (that too while famine going on for 3 years which they ignored)!

Riaz Haq said...

Mayraj: "He got his Ph.D from Cambridge at 22! Wow!. "

Yes, Umar Saif is very bright. However, he appears to be more of an academic than an entrepreneurial type.

He seems to lack the real high-tech work and business experience or much interaction with high-tech industry that most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a interesting except from a piece by Kalimah Priforce on lack of Blacks and Latinos in Silicon Valley high-tech jobs:

It’s one of the reasons why Blacks in tech would rather participate in a forum like the one gathered by the College Bound Brotherhood than pay attention to another article about why so very few of us exist in the land of innovation, Silicon Valley. Here are five top reasons why I avoid “lack of minorities in tech” articles:

(1) they’re mostly written by non-people of color who are focused on Silicon Valley but don’t live and work in Silicon Valley*

(2) they are written by non-techies, non-builders of technology products and services

(3) they focus on what is wrong with Black people, as if the problem lies with our culture

(4) they typecast Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis as model minorities who don’t have a problem with the status quo

(5) they lack investigative journalism, research, and actually interviewing those of us in the field

However, Giang’s BI article struck a chord because it targeted affinity groups by suggesting that Blacks in tech self-selected segregation, based on Maya Beasley’s Opting Out: Losing The Potential Of American’s Young Black Elite.

Beasley interviews sixty Black and White students and uses her small sample findings to draw a conclusion. It’s a good thing she isn’t in the startup world, because very few of us would get away with validating a business model based on sixty people, but apparently that’s sufficient for a book.

Here’s what Beasley’s work is missing – stepping off the campus and interacting with actual black entrepreneurs in tech. If she did, she’d have learned that most of us didn’t attend the University of California at Berkeley or Stanford. So part of her research is based on assumptions that have no real basis in the industry. She sticks to Cal and Stanford campuses, assuming that they would provide the primary pipeline for Silicon Valley entrepreneurship, and blames African-American students for not doing so. In her words, “Black students need to learn to interact with white people and have some amount of comfort with them and I don’t think that’s asking a lot.”

What I find most disturbing about her conclusions is that she singles out African-Americans when just about every ethnicity has their share of assimilation that is balanced with affinity grouping. When the state of California eliminated affirmative action programs, the number of Black students attending Cal and Stanford dropped. So there aren’t a lot of Black students to begin with. That must be uncomfortable for the many Black students who are just discovering themselves outside the comfort of their homes and backgrounds. There is a great amount of identity formation happening for minority students, but for the straight, privileged White guy, that process isn’t as crucial. He doesn’t have to worry about the words “monkey” written on his dorm door, or date rape, or someone posting a video on YouTube ridiculing his accent when talking to his parents back home.

So Blacks learning from other Blacks, and socializing with other Blacks is important, and perhaps necessary for a healthy sense of self. But according to Beasley, this places Black students at a disadvantage for getting into tech. Has she questioned why the status quo dictates that the gatekeeper for successful entry into tech is how well minorities and women get along with white males? For organizations like Women 2.0 and Girls in Tech, the approach is simple: women must support each other, and united, can shatter the glass ceiling in the tech world. Beasley doesn’t take this approach with Blacks, but rather, makes the claim that an assimilationist approach will create diversity in tech.


Shehzad - NJ said...

Unfortunately, Mr. Saif appears to be overly infatuated with his own self - which is not going to fly in silicon valley, at least not without something concrete supporting it.
He has been privileged to have the Pakistani taxpayers pay for the tech experiments - but the valley demands and requires results, not just platitudes or superficial acalades. University degrees maybe enough for Pakistan, but they are unambiguously insufficient for the valley. There are a lot of very smart persons in the valley that you can't just bowl over like you can in other places. I would encourage Mr. Saif to be thankful for opportunities like this to speak to highly accomplished personalities in Silicon Valley, who happen to care about the land where they originate from.

Riaz Haq said...

TechInAsia on Plan9 tech startuo incubator in Lahore:

Last week, Plan9 began its selection process for its biannual incubation cycle. The fourth batch saw 1,800 teams apply out of whom 20 teams will be invited to join the incubator. In addition to holding selection events in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, Plan9 also partnered with Acumen Fund to hold a joint selection program for two startups that focuses solely on social entrepreneurship. Plan9 is the brainchild of Umar Saif, an entrepreneur, technologist and innovator, whose work on grassroots technologies earned him the Young Global Leader title by the World Economic Forum and one of the top 35 young innovators in the world according to MIT Technology Review in 2011. Now, at age 35, his dream is for Pakistan’s first global startup to come through Plan9’s rapidly expanding doors. Under the watchful eye of its Program Manager, Nabeel Qadeer, Plan9 which originally started as an incubator, now also features a co-working space for freelancers called TechHub. It will soon launch an accelerator called PlanX. As Pakistan continues to find ways to grow its economy and reduce its public debt, seeking great investment opportunities that are not big infrastructure projects is a challenge. To promote local entrepreneurs, Plan9 is creating the country’s first Angel Investors Club to help support locals startups in raising much needed early stage funding.

Read more: The Plan9 effect: how one startup incubator is shaping Pakistan http://www.techinasia.com/plan9-startup-incubator-shaping-pakistan/

Riaz Haq said...

With the global mobile applications (apps) market expected to be worth $25 billion by 2015 — according to a report published by MarketsandMarkets, a global market research and consulting company — everyone, from independent developers and software houses to telecommunication (telecoms) giants, is hard at work to secure their share of the fully-baked pie.
Amid growing demand and increasing competition, many are chasing high-margin outsourcing contracts in developing countries such Pakistan. With an abundance of skilled but cheap labour to offer, the country is rapidly emerging as one of the leading IT outsourcing destinations of the world.
Although mobile apps have been around since the late 90s, the increasing penetration of smartphones in the country — nearly seven to eight million smartphones according to a recent research conducted by a local telecom for its marketing strategy — has made their presence felt more deeply. “The number of smartphones has exceeded the number of computers in the country and this change has come about in the past five years,” says Asad Memon, director operations at Creative Chaos, a high-end custom software development company in Karachi with over 14 years of experience.
It is also the burgeoning utility of smartphones — surpassing that of laptops — which has accounted for the explosive growth of mobile apps. For example, the smartphone’s additional features, such as the orientation sensor (built-in compass) and cell phone triangulation (which collects data to trace the approximate location of a cell phone), assist most apps, including Google maps, to do ingenious things. “The utility of these apps has started making a lot of sense to people,” he highlights, adding that even niche brands have capitalised on the feature to directly reach out to target audiences by advertising through mobile apps. As a result, it has attracted more developers into the technology ecosystem to meet the growing demand.

Asad Memon, director operations at Creative Chaos, traces the trajectory of the mobile apps industry. PHOTO: ARIF SOOMRO
A popular outsourcing destination
When it comes to the global market, Pakistan plays its part as a mobile app developer. “Gora sochta hai, desi karta hai,” says Memon, summarising how foreign clients conceptualise the app and leave Pakistani developers to simply follow directions. Since the average rate charged by an iPhone app developer in the US ranges between $50 and $60 per hour, or more, depending on the brand and the complexity of the app, a cheaper solution is to outsource it to countries that quote the lowest price. Despite India being a much cheaper alternative, their issues with quality-control make Pakistan the next best alternative. “What sets Pakistan apart is the costing and the relationship of trust that has been established by delivering quality apps on time, depending on the company [developing the app],” says Memon. A basic app developed by a local software house can cost anywhere between Rs400,000 to Rs10 million, while the more sophisticated ones can go up to Rs20 million, depending on the company’s profile. Time difference is an additional advantage for Pakistan. “By the time we wake up, we are ready to incorporate changes based on the feedback we get,” he says. In certain cases, a team of 140 developers is dedicated to look after a single foreign client.


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...

#Urdu and #English language versions of MIT #Technology review launched online in #Pakistan http://disq.us/8rqepu

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...

12 #startups from #Pakistan that raised funding in 2015. #technology https://www.techinasia.com/12-startups-pakistan-raised-funding-2015/#.VnLYJej4wBk.twitter …

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 http://bit.ly/1YApswO

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.

http://www.eurasiareview.com/28012016-2015-was-a-game-changer-for-pakistani-tech-industry-oped/#.Vq17F8RKVSc.twitter …

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 Rozee.com, Pakwheels.com and Zameen.com 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, Blackbox.vc 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...

t’s No #SiliconValley, but #Pakistan is Building Its Own Startup Scene. #Technology http://www.newsweek.com/pakistan-building-silicon-valley-scene-426408 …

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.

“Zameen.com 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...

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 Daraz.pk, the real estate’s online listing portal Zameen.com, job portal Rozee.com, 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 Daraz.pk. In some cases, money flowed in from regional VC like $33m partial funding for Daraz.pk from the Asia-Pacific Internet Group.

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

AutoGenie managed to raise $100,000 from PakWheels.com 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 EveryCatalog.com.

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.

Riaz Haq said...

3 #Pakistan accelerators named among top 20 accelerators of #Asia & #Oceania. #startup #technology http://bit.ly/2ehPtjm via @techjuicepk

Gust and Fundacity recently released their Annual Asian and Oceanian Accelerator Report 2015. Three accelerators from Pakistan were featured in the top 20 active accelerators in the region – who accelerated the most startups in the past year. LUMS Centre for Entrepreneurship, PlanX and Invest2Innovate made it to the list.

This year’s report is a follow-up to the report released in 2014 and its main objective is to understand how the accelerator industry has developed in the region, how accelerators are funded and monetized, while providing insights on the direction of the industry in the near future. The report includes some very thoroughly researched statistics for which over 125 organizations were surveyed in the Asia/Oceania region, out of which 54 qualified as accelerators.

According to the report, the region saw a total investment of US $16,842,427. Australia took the lead with US $5,620,000 in investment. Not far behind was India at US $3,981,000, followed by South Korea at US $1,960,460, and China at US $1,920,000. India, however, took the lead by accelerating 568 startups in the year 2015 alone.

Going by the number of accelerated startups, this news does sound good for Pakistan. However, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. It all boils down to the issue of quality versus quantity. Right now, we have a lot of emerging startups but very few of them are targeting hot markets.

According to the survey, because of the global prominence of Fintech, Internet of Things, Health, and Education, these were the hottest markets Asian accelerators were most interested in. Apart from Health, the rest of the markets remain largely untapped by Pakistani startups. In order to understand this, compare the amount of investment raised by Pakistan’s 54 startups and that raised by China’s mere 13 startups. The need of the hours is to bring a focus towards emerging segments in order to attract international venture capitalists.

The report also featured some insights about how accelerators in the Asia and Oceania Region fund themselves in order to remain functional. 30% of accelerators reported that they either received a mix of private and public funding or were 100% publicly funded. When it comes to generating revenues, most of them, it appeared, invest a small amount in their incoming startups in exchange for some equity. 43% of Asian and Oceanian accelerators earn revenue from startup exits within the short-term (within 12 months), while 62% of them plan to earn revenue from startup exits over the long-term (12 months or longer).

Riaz Haq said...

Ijarah Capital to launch $100 million #VentureCapital Fund in #Pakistan this year. #Tech #startup http://bit.ly/2dUWSDS via @techjuicepk

Ijara Capital Partners Limited has been granted a license to a private venture capital fund and equity under the newly promoted Private Funds Regulations 2015 by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), reports Dawn Media.

Ijara Capital Partners Limited is the second firm to receive this license. Lakson Investments Ltd. was also granted a similar license a few days ago. The license issued will be valid for a period of three years and the firm will be required to launch the fund within six months of license approval.

CEO of Ijara group Farurukh Ansari told Dawn that the fund will be worth $100 million dollars and is expected to launch in December. The fund will focus on verticals including energy, healthcare, education, infrastructure, fashion and lifestyle.

The fund will be raised by encouraging local and international VCs to invest by sharing insights and information about the business industry and opportunities in Pakistan.

Venture Capital fund shops have started to crop up in the country and deal flow has started too. Just yesterday, while presiding a meeting of information technology leaders in Lahore, Chairman PITB Dr. Umar Saif mentioned that the government is inching close to launching a government-backed venture capital fund in the country. The fund is also expected to be north of $3 million dollars and will be dubbed as ‘Innovation Fund’ because government doesn’t want equity in startups but it wants to accelerate entrepreneurship and encourage local and international investors to put their money in the business industry of Pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

Higher Education Commission of #Pakistan to establish #Technology and #Innovation Support Centre http://bit.ly/2jGtAsd via @techjuicepk

The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC) is going to establish a state-of-the-art Technology and Innovation Support Centre (TISC) Network in Pakistan, in collaboration with Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO) Pakistan.

A workshop featured on “Access to Technology for Innovation” and on the establishment of the said project was held here in HEC Secretariat Islamabad, yesterday. The workshop was chaired by the Executive Director HEC, Dr. Arshad Ali.

The workshop aimed at providing a hands-on approach and learning on using technical tools and employing the concerning IT-linked strategies on patent databases and intellectual property. The awareness sessions which preceded the said ceremony were attended by about 70 participants who were the respective focal persons from higher education and research institutions from across the country.

The Technology and Innovation Support Centers (TISC) program is a pilot program of the World Intellectual Property Organization and assists in providing innovators from developing countries the access to indigenous technology and IT related services. The program is basically designed so as to create, protect, and manage the intellectual property (IP) rights of the innovators.

Riaz Haq said...

"Idea Croron Ka" to launch as #Pakistan’s first #RealityTV #business show. #SharksTank #startup http://bit.ly/2jEpggK via @techjuicepk

Chaudhry Muhammad Akram Centre for Entrepreneurship Development (CMACED) at Superior University and Neo TV are joining hands to launch Pakistan’s first TV reality business show — Idea Croron Ka. The show is a manifestation of the announcement made during a roundtable event held back in September 2015 by PITB.

Back in 2015, it was announced that ­Nabeel A. Qadeer, Director Entrepreneurship at PITB, will host a technology show which will be telecasted on a leading TV channel.

After nearly a year of planning and development, Neo TV and CMACED at Superior University have come together to launch Idea Croron Ka. This show will strive to improve and promote the entrepreneurial spirit among individuals in Pakistan and thus transform them into job creators rather than job seekers. The idea is more or less a local version of reality show Shark Tank. Shark Tank has been massively popular among the business community worldwide, a lot of founders have achieved success owing to their appearance on the show.

Idea Croron Ka will give budding entrepreneurs a platform to present their ideas to business tycoons and investors, who will analyze their ideas and help them transform into a reality. It will also feature a segment focusing on prominent figures in Pakistan who have undergone hardships to ultimately achieve their goals.

The show will soon air on Neo TV and will feature prominent names from business and technology fields as judges and investors. Below is the official press release from NEO TV end.

Riaz Haq said...

Can Pakistan become Asia’s start-up hub?
Published in Mar-Apr 2017
By Nabeel A. Qadeer
How collaborative efforts by the Government and private sector can help boost Pakistan's entrepreneurial ecosystem.


Dr Umar Saif, who leads the department, has made it his mission to turn Lahore into our own Silicon Valley. As a first step, Plan9, a technology incubator (named after the first free-share operating software by Bell Labs) was launched in 2012. With the completion of its eighth incubation cycle, 130-plus start-ups have come up, some with net valuations ranging between six and $10 million. Collectively, they have made a sizable contribution to the IT job market.

How important has this incubator been in shaping the local scene? More importantly, what role has the State played in this?

To answer this, it is important to first analyse the factors which have hampered entrepreneurial evolution in Pakistan. Firstly, the people of Pakistan are risk-averse. From a young age, children are instructed to opt for mainstream career choices, such as engineering, medicine and teaching; the reason being the social status attached and the income flow these professions promise. Secondly, a typical household has limited capital funds available and these are not enough to allow young people to become involved in activities such as entrepreneurship, which are deemed risky. Therefore, entrepreneurship has not been a career option much experimented with, prior to the setting up of Plan9.

Taking into account these factors, the Government of Punjab decided to provide solutions. At first, through the IT Board and Plan9, the Government introduced the concept of ‘business incubation’. As the initiative was government backed, it was perceived as credible. In contrast, services offered by a new sector or by lesser known agents may be categorised as potential scams. In addition, the Government has a national outreach. As the message was spread, a new narrative was shaped.

Conceptually, entrepreneurship began to be embedded in the minds of young people and incubation became a new buzzword. This was furthered by Plan9’s efforts to encourage universities to replicate the incubation model. As a result, entrepreneurship received attention from academia as well. At present, 20 universities across Pakistan have set up incubators in collaboration with Plan9.


The Plan9 experience brought to the fore the need for yet another platform aimed at further refining graduate start-ups. The six months incubation programme turns a start-up from a business idea to a scalable model. However, it needs to be polished in order to become a company. As a result, PlanX, a technology accelerator was launched to bridge that gap. To date, PlanX has produced 30 start-ups and raised an investment of three million dollars. In a nutshell, the Government has the scope to practise ‘horizontal integration.’

Expanding the playing field to make these efforts more encompassing, the Punjab Government has launched additional initiatives powered by the IT Board. ‘Herself’ is a capacity building platform for aspiring women entrepreneurs that has trained a 100 women over a period of six months. By introducing alternate home-based economic participation models, Herself aims to increase the female labour force participation rate that stands at a low 25% (source: World Bank, 2014). Techhub Connect is a co-working space for freelancers and bridges the gap between academia and industry. Recently the e-Rozgaar scheme has launched 40 training centres across Punjab aimed at providing a three month training programme to 10,000 individuals in one year.

Rashid A. said...

My six years with the Government.


Dr. Umar Saif, joined PITB (Punjab Information Technology Board) in his sabbatical year from LUMS, and six years later his report reads like fables of battlefield victories.

According to him, Punjab Govt. has been transformed into 21st Century and is now helping Sindh, KPK and Balochistan to move there.

When I read this, it seemed like surreal. One success after another. Statistics were just very impressive.

This has transformed or has the potential to transform the society of Punjab. And they are freely helping Sindh, Balochistan and even KPK.

The DNA lab in Lahore is also similar story. It is established and operated by Dr. Tahir Ashraf who left US (Michigan or Ohio) to help Punjab Gov. He was also sought after by India. I know him and his family. They are related to Dr. Aslam of Davis.

Dr. Saeed Akhtar, Chair of Urology Dept. Texas Tech Medical School is another example. He left his practice and worked for 3 years without pay and with the help of govt. established Pakistan Kidney Liver Institute. He now receives $10k/month salary. They conducted Pakistan’s first liver transplant operation.

I know Dr. Akhtar very well.

Dr. Akhtar was recently criticized by Judge Nisar for exorbitantly high salary.

When good and conscientious people put their mind to something, and are allowed to work, wonders can and do happen.

Riaz Haq said...

My six years with the government
By Dr Umar Saif Published: May 30, 2018


Punjab has totally computerised its land revenue system (aka notorious Patwari system), where land record of over 54 million rural landowners has been digitised. This new computerised system has been used to issue over 8.2 million fards and perform over 4.5 million property transactions.

Likewise, all 713 police stations in Punjab have been totally computerised, including all previous criminal biometric record. Over 2.1 million computerised FIRs have been registered using this system. We have replicated the system in Sindh and last week, the Punjab and Sindh Police started integrating their system to better coordinate their activities across provincial boundaries. Similarly, we also replicated our investigation system for the K-P Police’s counter-terrorism department at their request.

A comprehensive case-flow management system has been installed at the Lahore High Court to ensure that cases can be tracked, scheduled and monitored throughout an automated system. Over 150,000 cases are now being processed using our automated case-flow management system.

A large number of property disputes arise from fake and back-dated stamp papers. Pakistan’s 117-year-old arcane stamp paper system also causes significant pilferage in stamp duty due to undervalued property transactions. To eliminate this, we have replaced all (high denomination non-judicial, and all judicial) stamp papers with e-stamps. Citizens can now buy e-stamps with a uniquely traceable verification number from a private bank, starting with Punjab Bank. Over Rs75 billion e-stamps have been issued throughout the province and a pilferage of over Rs10 billion annually has been eliminated.

Pakistan’s public-sector school education system is plagued by ghost schools, teacher absenteeism, bogus student enrolment and poor quality of education. We developed an extensive school monitoring system in Punjab, where monitoring officers carry out random inspections of each school every month using our application on computer tablets. The uploaded inspection reports are geo-tagged and include pictures of the attendance register and school headmaster. To date, over 2 million inspections have been carried out and ghost schools have been entirely eliminated. All this data is made publicly available in real-time at http://open.punjab.gov.pk. We also digitised all the textbooks in Punjab from grade 6-12. This content is freely available at http://elearn.punjab.gov.pk and is being rolled out in over 1,000 middle schools in Punjab.