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Pakistani Universities and Entrepreneurship

By Awais Imran

The trend of creating jobs rather than hunting jobs is growing in the country.

Our universities produce thousands of engineers each year. Have you ever thought how many graduates end up creating jobs, rather than hunting for one?

The answer appears to be obvious. An overwhelming majority of the graduates opt for the latter, with goals of joining multinational companies (MNCs) like Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever. One can’t fault them either as working for MNCs has become a status symbol—revered by friends, family and society at large.

However if you look beyond the obvious, you will discover an amazing trend in Pakistan’s most prestigious universities. There’s a small but exceptionally strong movement in top-tier universities like National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), and Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute (GIKI) where current students are launching businesses, or doing so right after graduation.

To back my claim, I would like to share observations from NUST School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (SEEC). I graduated from there with a Bachelors in Engineering (Software Engineering) last year. Of the eighty classmates who graduated successfully, twenty are currently pursuing entrepreneurship. That’s an incredible 25 percent of our batch! It includes a healthy mix of technology startups, digital agencies and general businesses. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Trequant, for example, is developing a wearable for tracking tremors. They’ve been featured in major publications all over the world including Tech in Asia, Express Tribune, and Digital Trends. PriceOye.pk, my own startup which helps Pakistanifind lowest online prices, has received coverage on platforms like e27.co, ProPakistani, and Daily Pakistan. Traverse Pakistan is launching a local travelopedia while operating tours to the north to boost tourism.

One particularly great example is Aloo Clan. I remember we were in our second year when we heard our classmate Usama Tauqeer launched his own business. We were all surprised by this move, especially since we were about to enter the toughest phase of our undergraduate program.

Yet, Usama and his co-founders subsisted, and came out victorious. Starting with just three co-founders, they now have a huge network of 55 commissions-based employees, and 9 part-time ones who are distributed all over Pakistan. To date, they have served 80+ local and international clients.

What’s even more interesting is that they achieved profitability while the founders were in school. After they graduated in mid-2015, revenues have grown a whopping 88 percent!

The advent of 3G/4G spectrum, greater awareness of technology, lowering smartphone prices, better access to knowledge – these are some of the important elements which have come together to create an environment conducive to entrepreneurship. It’s great to see our universities encouraging students, our industry facilitating startups, and society supporting the risk-tolerant individuals.

As someone who has benefited greatly from the Internet, I find Pakistan’s new-found love for it quite delightful. Since its launch in 2014, telcos are adding at least 1 million 3G/4G users each month! This is expected to grow as smartphone imports keep increasing every year. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) reported 50 percent of all imported phones last year were smartphones – an increase of 125 percent over the previous period.

Solving problems, increasing convenience, and providing entertainment to an increasingly digital Pakistan is creating amazing opportunities for entrepreneurial individuals.

I have been closely following major startup ecosystems these past few years. Observing small startups quickly grow to become multi-billion dollar companies in U.S. and India always left me longing for a similar ecosystem in Pakistan.

The efforts of industry leaders like Dr. Umar Saif are to be lauded here, as they’ve kick-started a national entrepreneurship revolution. Just look at the startup examples I shared from NUST-SEECS: Two of them were incubated at Plan9—the government-backed startups incubator.

Thanks to such initiatives, Pakistanis are finally developing products for Pakistan and rest of the world, in Pakistan! We are nowhere near U.S. and India certainly, but I still feel great about this encouraging trend in Pakistan where colossal wealth is created by solving problems at scale with technology. You should, too!

Awais Imran is an Internet Entrepreneur & Public Speaker.

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