Saturday, August 15, 2020

Karachi's NED University Alum Raises $100 Million For Silicon Valley FinTech Startup

Pakistani-American serial entrepreneur and NED alumnus Dr. Safwan Shah has raised $100 million in Series C funding for his financial technology (fintech) startup PayActiv Inc. based in Silicon Valley, California. The round was led by Eldridge Wealth Ltd, a venture capital firm headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut. PayActiv currently has a 200 member development team in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Dr. Safwan Shah, CEO PayActiv Inc.
PayActiv allows employees to draw accumulated pay or wages in real-time before the end of the pay period. Funds are moved to the employees bank account or card instantly. Unbanked employee can even get cash through a Walmart partnership. Employees can pay bills, call Uber, start savings, get financial coaching and much more. This fintech startup offers a low-cost alternative to Pay Day lenders and other financial institutions that charge employees exorbitant fees and high interest rates for loans against future paychecks. Safwan Shah's startup is solving a real economic problem faced by millions of poor Americans. PayActiv is serving more over 4 million employees at more than 1,000 businesses across retail, food services, business processing services, and over 400 senior living and healthcare businesses. Its clients include Walmart, Wayfair, Ibex Global and many others. Here's how Dr. Safwan Shah, CEO and Co-Founder of PayActiv, describes his business:

“American families are facing more financial stress than they have in generations. The timing gap between work and wages is the main reason workers get hit with punitive late fees, overdraft fees and other penalties. Cumulatively, these fees reduce wages by seven percent every month. The PayActiv platform is the only system where everyone wins: employers lift worker morale with little to no cost and huge dividends; employees get wages when they actually need them most; and cash re-enters the economy faster, making communities financially healthier.”

Dr. Safwan Shah graduated with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from NED University of Engineering in Karachi, Pakistan in 1985. After coming to the United States in 1989, Safwan received his Masters and Ph.D. degrees from University of Colorado at Boulder in 1990 and 1994 respectively.

Safwan started Infonox, a payment platform company, in 2005 and sold it to TSYS in 2008 for an undisclosed amount. He then started PayActiv in 2012.

NED University alumni Idris Kothari and Saeed Kazmi are among the early pioneering duo in the world of technology startups in Silicon Valley. Since 1980s, they have started, built and sold several technology companies, including VPNet, Silicon Design and VIA Technology. They are currently running Vertical Systems Inc. which has a development center in Pakistan.

Safwan Shah is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of Pakistani origin in Silicon Valley. Safwan Shah's startup is solving a real economic problem faced by millions of poor Americans.  Like another successful NED alum Ashraf Habibullah of Computers and Structures Inc. (CSI), Safwan is also very generous with his time and money for NED University Alumni Association activities in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in the United States and the world. Safwan and Ashraf are among a handful of NED alumni in San Francisco Bay Area who have done very well and made fellow NED alumni take pride in their alma mater. Other successful NED alumni in Silicon Valley include Raghib Husain (Cavium/Marvel)Naveed Sherwani (SiFive), Rehan Jalil ( and Khalid Raza (Viptela). They all serve to inspire NEDians everywhere.

Here's a video of Safwan Shah speaking at a Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit:

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Pakistani-American VC Asad Jamal Invested Early in Baidu

Pakistani Students Win First Place in Stanford Design Contest

Pakistanis Win AI Family Challenge in Silicon Valley

Pakistani Gamer Wins ESPN E-sports Player of the Year Award

Pakistan's Expected Demographic Dividend

Pakistan's Research Output Growing Fastest in the World

AI Research at NED University Funded By Silicon Valley NEDians

Pakistan Hi-Tech Exports Exceed A Billion US Dollars in 2018 

Pakistan Becomes CERN Member

Pakistani Tech Unicorns

Rising College Enrollment in Pakistan

Pakistani Universities Listed Among Asia's Top 500 Jump From 16 to 23 in One Year

Pakistani Students Win Genetic Engineering Competition

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Pakistan Joins 3D Print Revolution

Pakistan Human Development in Musharraf Years


Umar A. said...

You forgot to mention Saeed Kazmi and Idris Kothari who are also serial entrepreneur --- Silicon Design, Via Tech, VSI etc. There may be other NED Alumni who might feel slighted.

Ahmed said...


Thank you for sharing such useful and informative information about these great and successfull Pakistanis of America .

But my question is that as a collective nation what progress did we make in the field of IT ?

Till now in Pakistan ,we have not been able to setup any IT Hub in any city, on the other hand their are few cities in India egMumbai,Bangalore and Hyderabad where they have IT Hubs.

PayPal ,Microsoft and other big giant IT companies are investing I think billions of US $ in these IT Hubs of India but why these big IT companies don't invest in IT sector of Pakistan ? Is their any political reason for this ?

Pls kindly throw some light on this .


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately IT companies will never make it big in Pakistan, at least for now - not because of political reasons, but business reasons.
It takes a lot of money and effort to setup a Geo site, and unless there is a lot of future potential, it will not get considered. It is the same reason why we don't see IT companies in other countries, say Sri Lanka.
Apart from a few institutions like NED, others simply fall way behind.
The only way forward is for the education institutions to up the ante, and not look for immediate ROI.

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "It takes a lot of money and effort to setup a Geo site, and unless there is a lot of future potential, it will not get considered. It is the same reason why we don't see IT companies in other countries, say Sri Lanka."

I strongly disagree. Pakistan has the world's 5th largest population and its youngsters are increasingly better educated and skilled.

Pakistan has a thriving community of freelancers. Its digital gig economy growth is the fastest in Asia and fourth fastest in the world, according to digital payments platform Payoneer.

Pakistan's computer services exports are increasing rapidly. The IT exports grew 23.7% in last fiscal year 2019-20

United States leads gig economy growth of 78% followed by the United Kingdom 59%, Brazil 48%, Pakistan 47% and Ukraine 36%. Asia growth was led by Pakistan followed by Philippines (35%) , India (29%) and Bangladesh (27%).

The rapid gig economy expansion of 47% in Pakistan was fueled by several factors including the country's very young population 70% of which is under 30 years of age coupled with improvements in science and technical education and expansion of high-speed broadband access. Pakistani freelancers under the age of 35 generated 77% of the revenue in second quarter of 2019.

Riaz Haq said...

SiFive has raised a total of $190.5M in funding over 5 rounds. Their latest funding was raised on Aug 11, 2020 from a Series E round.

SiFive is funded by 13 investors. Western Digital Capital and Qualcomm Ventures are the most recent investors.

SiFive has a post-money valuation in the range of $100M to $500M as of Jun 7, 2019, according to PrivCo.

Aug 11, 2020
Series E - SiFive Logo
Series E - SiFive
8 $61M SK Hynix
Jun 6, 2019
Series D - SiFive Logo
Series D - SiFive
6 $65.4M Qualcomm Ventures
Apr 2, 2018
Series C - SiFive Logo
Series C - SiFive
10 $50.6M OUP (Osage University Partners), Spark Capital, Sutter Hill Ventures
May 8, 2017
Series B - SiFive Logo
Series B - SiFive
3 $8.5M Spark Capital
Sep 1, 2015
Series A - SiFive Logo
Series A - SiFive
1 $5M Sutter Hill Ventures

Riaz Haq said...

Two Fintech Deals Add to Startup Funding Rush in Pakistan

by Faseeh Mangi

A flood of overseas capital into Pakistan’s fintech startups that began during the coronavirus pandemic is continuing unabated, with two new fundraising deals announced on Monday.

Khadim Ali Shah Bukhari Securities Pvt.’s fintech trading app KTrade as well as former Morgan Stanley fund manager Omair Ansari’s early wage access platform have raised a total of $6.6 million, adding to the $19.3 million funding for the country’s startups in the first quarter of 2021.

Of that, nearly $15 million came from foreign investors, which poured a record $48 million into the sector last year, according to an April tweet by Invest2Innovate that support startups. The decrease in global air travel during Covid-19 has been an unexpected boon for startups in the South Asian nation, which has had travel advisories issued against it by many nations.

“Covid has helped us because previously an investors’ due diligence process would usually involve them coming to the country. It was not that easy for them to visit Pakistan,” Ali Farid Khwaja, chairman at Karachi-based KASB Securities, said in an interview. “Now they can’t go to any country, they became open to speaking with founders over Zoom and other digital means.”

KTrade, which allows investors to buy and sell equities on the Pakistan Stock Exchange, raised $4.5 million in a funding round led by Hong Kong-based TT Bond Partners and HOF Capital from New York, according to a statement by the company. German investor Christian Angermayer also participated in the round.

Ansari raised $2.1 million in seed funding for Abhi, which like Payactiv Inc. and Wagestream Ltd. allows employees to access already earned wages before they’re paid out. Investors included VEF Ltd. and Village Global, Ansari said in an email.

“There are always stages in an ecosystem,” said Talal Gondal, Chief Executive Officer at TAG Innovation Pvt., which recently raised one of the highest pre-seed fundings in the region. “Pakistan’s fintech wave is just starting.”

Riaz Haq said...

The rocky road ahead for Pakistan’s start-up ecosystem | fDi Intelligence – Your source for foreign direct investment information -

Alex Irwin-Hunt
February 22, 2023

Based out of the NED University of Engineering and Technology, NIC Karachi is funded by Pakistan’s national technology fund, Ignite, and operated by LMKT, a private tech company which runs two other NICs in the cities of Hyderabad and Peshawar.

Atif Khan, the chairman and CEO of LMKT, says the philosophy behind the incubation centres “was not to create unicorns”, but to act as digital skills development centres: “We are training and grooming a lot of talent in the country.”

NIC Karachi has already incubated more than 250 start-ups, such as ride-hailing app Bykea and London-based proptech platform Gridizen. Kamran Mahmood, the CEO of Gridizen, who recently returned to Pakistan to join NIC Karachi, says he has found it even easier to meet decision makers at large companies in Pakistan than the UK.

“[NIC Karachi] is doing an excellent job of internationalising and progressing the start-up scene in the country,” he says. Data Darbar figures show that Karachi-based start-ups attracted $236.7m of funding in 2022, equivalent to two-thirds of Pakistan's total and almost double the previous year. The financial capital is followed by Lahore ($69.2m) and Islamabad ($41.6m).


In July 2022, Pakistan’s fledgling start-up scene was dealt a major blow. Airlift, a fast delivery start-up that had raised $85m barely a year earlier, said it would permanently close operations due to the “devastating impact” of worsening economic conditions.

“This has been an extremely taxing decision that impacts a large set of stakeholders and an emerging technology ecosystem,” Airlift wrote in a statement. Start-up failures are common in more mature markets, and seen as an integral part of the innovation and disruption process. But the collapse of a company hoped to be Pakistan’s first ‘unicorn’, or start-up valued at above $1bn, rattled the country’s nascent tech scene.

Several advisors, investors and entrepreneurs tell fDi that Airlift’s failure has caused Pakistani start-up founders and investors to shift their focus away from pursuing “hyper-growth” to building more “sustainable” business models.

Similar to the caution permeating the global tech and venture capital (VC) industry, start-up funding in Pakistan has dropped considerably. Start-ups in Pakistan raised just over $15m in the final quarter of 2022, the worst volumes since the first quarter of 2020 and 79% lower than the same period a year earlier, according to Data Darbar, which tracks the Pakistani start-up scene.

“Given the global slowdown and Pakistan’s macroeconomic and political challenges, things are tough right now and will likely remain so in 2023,” says Aatif Awan, the founder of early stage venture fund Indus Valley Capital, which is focused on Pakistan and had invested in Airlift.

Several acute challenges currently facing the country — including dwindling foreign exchange reserves, security issues, blackouts and severe flood risks — are causing many young Pakistanis to leave. Despite significant obstacles, those involved in Pakistan’s ecosystem believe that the country’s demographics and rapidly digitalising economy make it an untapped opportunity with potential for long-term growth.

Democratising technology

When Shamim Rajani co-founded her software development business Genetech Solutions in Pakistan’s commercial capital Karachi back in 2004, she remembers a “lot of stubbornness” from the government and local corporates towards the IT sector.

“Pakistan wasn’t [even] ready for women CEOs in the tech sector then,” remarks Ms Rajani, adding that she had to look for global clients in countries like the US. “Saying these words today, I don’t even believe it myself.”