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The second edition’s theme revolves around the global entrepreneurial startups landscape, with particular emphasis on Pakistan. Can there be another Silicon Valley in the world? Can we replicate the success of Silicon Valley in Pakistan?
Israel and China are great examples of state-backed entrepreneurial ecosystems. In Pakistan too, the government has played a significant role in jump-starting this sector. The Punjab government, in just four years, has managed to launch and grow an early-stage technology incubator, called Plan9. With over six incubation cycles under its belt, it has nurtured around 100 startups, providing them with free furnished offices at Arfa Software Technology Park, laptops, stipends, administrative and legal aid, training, funding and access to world-class mentors and investors. After the success of Plan9, the government launched a mid-stage accelerator called PlanX that connects young entrepreneurs with investors and potential customers, both from Pakistan and abroad.
The success of Plan9 and PlanX has encouraged the private sector to set up similar facilities throughout the country. In the last few years, several incubators, co-working spaces, business accelerators and angel investors have emerged in the country. Universities like NUST, LUMS, GIK and Bahria have set up incubators housed in the university environment. Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT and ITES (P@SHA) has set up an incubator, called Nest i/O, with support from Google, in Karachi. Independent investors and entrepreneurs have established co-working places like DotZero and acceleration programs like Invest2Innovate. The US Department of State has sponsored WECREATE centers, specifically focused on empowering female entrepreneurs.
In this issue, Ahmed Khan supports this view. He writes: “The new startup sector in Pakistan is gaining prominence and relevance with each passing day and trends show a positive sign.” Can Pakistan set up super-clusters of entrepreneurs and startups? This question is examined in depth by Hassan Baig in our cover story. Pakistan can become the next Silicon Valley of Asia provided it learns from the best and builds a strong brand Pakistan, he writes: “Pakistan’s R&D expenditure vis-à-vis its gross domestic product (GDP) was 0.33 percent in 2011. In per capita terms, it was $2 per person. In comparison, India spent $9 per person (with a population seven times that of Pakistan’s). China, Israel and United States’ expenditures dwarfed Pakistan’s even more,” he writes.
Pakistan can channel its youth by promoting self-employment as a fulltime career. Opportunities abound for young freelancers of Pakistan. “In 2014, oDesk ranked Pakistan at number four in the list of most earning countries in the world,” writes Hafsa Shorish. The Q&A with Naeem Zamindar examines how social entrepreneurs can make a difference by tackling real problems facing Pakistan.
For me, it’s not a matter of if, but when we report on the first $100 million startup from Pakistan and how that starts an avalanche of a startup success stories from Pakistan.
Dr. Umar Saif
Umar Saif tweets @umarsaif