Two Pakistani Technology Start-ups Head For Silicon Valley

Lahore-based Groopic and Islamabad-based Tunacode have been accepted to be part of this summer’s Blackbox Connect program in Silicon Valley.

Founded by Pakistanis, both companies are start-ups with innovative products whose founding teams are looking to live, learn and network for two weeks at an Atherton mansion this summer from July 15 to 26, 2013.  These young entrepreneurs are a reflection of Pakistan's growing human capital.

This year's summer program of Blackbox Connect is supported by Google.

Groopic is an application that helps put the photographer back into photos with his or her buddies. Eyedeus, the company behind Groopic, emerged from the first batch of companies at Plan9, the Punjab government’s incubator which is named after an operating system project at the Bell Labs in the 1980s.

Tunacode specializes in optimizing complex software to graphic processing units (GPUs).


The two Pakistani companies are among eight non-US start-ups selected to participate this summer by Google for Entrepreneurs partner programs around the world. The remaining six companies are Avocarrot (UK), EgzoTech (Poland), Inpris (Israel), Instabug (Egypt), Melusyn (France) and MyDoorHandle (South Africa).  Here's how Blackbox Connect describes the program:

"Founders will come to Silicon Valley and live at the Blackbox Mansion for the two weeks, where they will have the opportunity to live and collaborate with like-minded entrepreneurs from all around the world and take part in an intense agenda of meetings and workshops with entrepreneurs, investors, experts and executives. Accepted startups must have launched a technology based MPV and gathered feedback from early adopter/customers. Ideally - but not required - a startup should have raised some investment capital, have a team between 3 to 20 people and have a product or service that can be launched globally".

Here's the curriculum for this year's program:

1. Interfacing with an Investor

Top Ten Mistakes Made in Business Plans
Short Building Elevator Pitching Preparation and Workshop
Perfecting Your Investor Pitch
How to Hold an Investor Meeting
Recruiting and Leveraging an Advisory Board

2. Basics of Venture Capital Investment Options

Founder Vesting Equity
Stock Options for Startup Founders
Introduction to Equity Term Sheets

3. Born-Global Startups

Building the Core Team, Recruiting and Scaling
UX-based Branding
Raising Money in Silicon Valley
First Hand Founders Success Stories
Leveraging Social Marketing
Setting up official US presence for international startup
Legal & Financial Issues of Born-Global Startups

4. Quality Networking Events

Dinners at Blackbox Mansion with local SV community members
Attend other select happening events in Silicon Valley
Demo/Pitch event to investors followed by dinner event

I believe the exposure to Silicon Valley start-up culture via the Blackbox Connect's immersion program can help founders of participating companies to emulate the success of some of the big-name world-renowned companies that have spawned the technology revolution sweeping the world.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Two Pakistani-American Start-ups Among Top 5 Venture Deals 

Pakistan's Growing Human Capital

Pakistani-American's Game-Changing Vision 

Minorities Are Majority in Silicon Valley 

US Promoting Venture Capital & Private Equity in Pakistan

Pakistani-American Population Growth Second Fastest Among Asian-Americans 

Edible Arrangements: Pakistani-American's Success Story

Pakistani-American Elected Mayor 

Upwardly Mobile Pakistan

US Firms Adding Jobs Overseas 

Pakistan's Demographic Dividend 

Pakistanis Study Abroad

Pakistan's Youth Bulge

Pakistani Diaspora World's 7th Largest

Pakistani-American NFL Team Owner 

Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs Catch the Wave

Pakistani Graduation Rate Higher Than India's

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
Here's a Gigaom report on Plumgrid, a company founded by Pakistani-American and NEDUET alum Owais Naimat:

While many network vendors are busy standardizing code to implement software-defined networking (SDN), PLUMgrid, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., launched itself on to the scene Tuesday, with customers and use cases in tow. The timing could work to the startup’s advantage, and so could its alliances with other network vendors.

PLUMgrid comes to the market with a bunch of partners that can offer virtualized network applications outside of PLUMgrid’s own capabilities. Rather than try to look like the top SDN provider, PLUMgrid is pushing more of an App Store model. The approach is a clear acknowledgment that one company isn’t necessarily the answer to all SDN problems. And the humility could pay off. With a wider feature set, the company could find success.

Along with some other network vendors, including Juniper, PLUMgrid prefers not to support OpenFlow, at least for the time being. One advantage of that stance is customers won’t have to rip out old switches replace them with those with support for the protocol. Instead, PLUMgrid runs everything based on custom technology called IO Visor overlaid on physical infrastructure.

From there, customers can fire up domains through which a bunch of network functions can be implemented. Some features, such as load balancing and routing, are from PLUMgrid itself, while others can be implemented through services other companies can provide. Outside applications come from such partners as Check Point, Citrix, F5 and Palo Alto Networks.


http://gigaom.com/2013/06/25/as-sdn-providers-jockey-for-position-plumgrid-hopes-partnerships-will-make-it-stand-apart/
Riaz Haq said…
Here's a Texas TV reporters' story on visit with some high-tech Pak graduates of UT Austin in Lahore:

LAHORE, Pakistan (KXAN) - It was a beautiful late winter day in Pakistan. The Zacky Farms outside of Lahore was busy with visitors taking advantage of the national holiday to visit the countryside.

Kids squealed with delight as they clambered onto the back of a hay truck offering free rides in front of the farm. Just inside the white washed front gates framed by butter-cream yellow walls accented with ceramic mosaics in shades of blue, tables were set for an outdoor feast.

Our delegation of was visiting Zacky Farms to learn about the sustainable agriculture trends becoming popular in Pakistan. Zacky was a model for turning biogas into power the growing operation that produces organic dairy products, vegetables, and wheat along with free range chickens.

Here, cutting-edge science and technology were being used to rethink how farms are run. I guess it should have come as no surprise I’d run into University of Texas Longhorns using their knowledge and expertise to plant the seeds for a stronger workforce to power Pakistan’s emerging tech industry.

Longhorns in Lahore

“We have really high-powered engineering teams here in Lahore,” said Abbas Yousafzai, CEO of Conrad Labs. a Lahore company specializing in engineering and development support for high tech start-up companies.

Conrad launched in 2009 as the research and development arm for Conformity -- now known as Iron Stratus -- an identity management and internet based single-sign-on startup in Austin.

Yousafzai, a University of Texas at Austin graduate with more than a decade of experience launching successful startups in Austin and California’s Silicon Valley says returning to his native Pakistan was a strategic that allows his company access to a vast network of untapped talent.

“The dedication the intelligence, the amount of talent here, commitment experience, it’s fantastic. You can’t find that anywhere else,” Yousafzai said.

Babar Ahmed, a fellow Longhorn, and CEO of Mindstorm Studios agreed.

“There are a lot of these pockets of brilliance that really come to life in Pakistan that just do these amazing things,” Ahmed said pointing to his company’s success creating games like Mafia Farm, Whacksy Taxi and Cricket Revolution for mobile devices and PCs as proof.

“Our games have hit No. 1 n the United States sitting in Lahore.” said Ahmed. "We did it all out of a room on our own.”

Mindstorm developers also created Cricket Power, The Official Game of the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup. A high-profile coup that validated what some saw as Ahmed’s risky decision to leave a successful career in the United States to launch a business in Pakistan in 2006.

“If you were to say: ‘Hey, how is it coming back to Pakistan is it all a bed of roses?’ Of course it’s not,” admitted Ahmed, who believes the challenges are worth the reward not only for his company but the growing software, gaming, and animation community in Pakistan.

“Giving people that opportunity, to provide them that chance to try and compete and succeed globally that’s really fulfilling,” he added with a wide smile....


http://www.kxan.com/dpp/news/austin-to-pakistan-the-tech-connection
Riaz Haq said…
Here's a National Geographic story on sustainable farming in Pakistan:

Zacky Farms, just outside Lahore, is the brainchild of Zafar Khan, a Caltech-educated software engineer who runs one of the most successful information technology companies in Pakistan named Sofizar. What started off as a recreational venture is now a side-business supplying sustainably produced organic milk, vegetables and meat to nearby Lahore suburbs. The farm is modeled on a cyclical model of minimal wastes and multiple product usage. The cows are fed pesticide-free oats, clover and grass and their manure is used to fuela biogas plant which runs the dairy facility. In an era of electricity load-shedding, such an alternative source of energy at a local industrial scale is immensely valuable to replicate as a development path. The residue of the biogas is used to fertigate the fodder fields and vegetable tunnels, which along with green manuring obviates the use of fertilizers. Free-range chickens grace the fields and there is even a fish farm on site. Zafar and his Ukrainian-born wife are committed to sharing their experiences with other farming entrepreneurs in the country.

Further south in a more rural and remote part of Punjab, famed writer and erstwhile lawyer, Daniyal Mueenudin, maintains a mid-size farm which is exemplifying other kinds of innovations. The farm does not boast ecological farming practices, apart from tunnel farming that can help with land conservation and humidity control. However, Daniyal has changed the social landscape of his area through implementing a “living wage” for all his employees. Noting the high level of inequality in Pakistan’s hinterland, the Yale-educated former director of the university’s Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic, is practicing what he preached. He also owns a farm in Wisconsin and could have a comfortable life in the States but his social obligations keep him ensconced in Pakistan for most of the year.

Raising the wage several-fold for works and farm manager, and also offering bonus incentives for performance, has led to positive competition that can help to erode the feudal levels of income disparity which exist in this part of Pakistan. At the same time, Daniyal is also committed to providing new livelihood paths for the agrarian workers as automation reduces farm employment in some areas. He has has fully funded a school and provided a merit-based scholarship for advanced degrees to students from the nearby village. One of the children from this school (the first in her family to even go to school) is now making his way through medical school in Lahore!

Zafar and Daniyal’s stories of commitment to constructive farming for social and ecological good may appear to be outliers but they are catching on and provide hope to a country which is all too often shadowed by despair. In the suburbs of Islamabad, tax incentives and planning rules to encourage farming by urbanites are leading to a growing culture of reconnecting with the land in residential farms. In rural areas, the disaster caused by the floods of 2010 brought forth numerous aid agencies with new ideas for sustainable farming. The Pakistani diaspora, often known in the West for professions ranging from taxi-driving to engineering, may well find opportunities for reconnecting to their land in far more literal ways. With growing commitment from land-owners it just might be possible to use the existential shock of recent natural disasters that have befallen the country into a proverbial opportunity for positive change.


http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/02/23/farming-pakistan/
Riaz Haq said…
Here's an ET story of a Pakistani tech entrepreneur recognized at MIT:

Farhan Masood, who has been recognised among the world’s brilliant minds by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum earlier this year for his product – world’s fastest retina and face scanner algorithm called SmartXS.
Masood’s dream – to build a Pakistani product and turn it into a global one – came true this year after he won the MITEFP Business Acceleration Plan contest, a highly competitive annual event that lasts for 4 months to handpick and select one among hundreds and there is one such brilliant mind produced every year by BAP from Pakistan. The objective of BAP is to help Pakistani IT, ITES, telecom and new media companies improve their business.
Of the 165 participants that compete in this contest, some members of top teams also get a chance to attend an entrepreneurship development programme at MIT in Cambridge, USA.

After a winning performance in the contest, Masood joined the list of MIT alumni. He has just returned after attending a course at MIT, one of the world’s best educational institutes. Those who attended this programme previously had benefited a great deal.
According to Pakistan Software Export Board’s website, some of the companies that participated in this programme saw their revenues grow by 5 to 10 times and valuation increase by 15 times. Giving the example of Sofizar, the PSEB’s website stated that the company’s revenue increased from less than $1 million to $30 million in two and a half years.
Masood, too, seem to benefit from the programme as his product has been well received by both MITEFP and the industries worldwide. “MIT Enterprise Forum has done tech evaluation of SmartXS, which is a big achievement,” Masood told The Express Tribune. “When your product is recognised by MIT, there is not much you can ask for.”
Interestingly, the man behind this technology is a college dropout who hated math for he was weak in the subject. “I have got all of this achievement because of my passion,” the 36-year-old Lahorite said.
Masood is the CEO of Solo Smart that’s based in Lahore and has offices in the UK and USA, represented by its subsidiaries namely Solo Tech and Solo Metrics respectively. It also has an office in Australia.
“We are trying to bring all these companies under one name – Solo Metrics. It is a high-tech company that deals in Mechatronics – a combination of software, electrical and mechanical engineering,” he said.
SmartXS is a biometric verification system that uses human face and eye to verify his identity, Masood said, and works mainly in two spaces – workforce management and security access control.
“Our algorithm is very fast,” he said while claiming it is the world’s fastest retina and face scanner algorithm.
The product was first brought to life in 2005 and its hardware was as big as a refrigerator, but now it’s smaller than a PC, Masood said. It has started to get worldwide recognition.
He said his product is currently used by the National Database and Registration Authority, the Pakistan Army and many multinational groups including Pepsico, Nestle and Tetra Pak. These companies are in talks with Masood for the implementation of the technology in their global operations....


http://tribune.com.pk/story/576597/mit-recognises-pakistani-as-one-of-worlds-brilliant-minds/
Riaz Haq said…
Here's TechViewAsia on start-up incubator in Lahore, Pakistan:

With a country that has been plagued by various negative connotations in recent years and has been notoriously labelled for being the most dangerous place on earth, it is certainly a surprising fact that Plan9 has created a niche for itself as the most reliable gateway of Pakistani tech industry at national and international levels.

Pakistan has bagged itself an incubator which is competing against time to be the greatest and largest tech/ business incubator not only in the country but also in the Asian region. Punjab Information Technology Board took the plunge and Dr. Umar Saif pulled the right strings to drive the creative chaos along the right direction.

It has incubated around 30 startups over the past one year, 20 have survived and 10 have failed. Some have reached milestones while a few reached to the conclusion that entrepreneurship might not be their cup of tea.

“Tech entrepreneurship is such a powerful concept that if inculcated meticulously can totally rebrand Pakistan and Plan9 is just one such stepping stone,” says Nabeel A. Qadeer who heads this initiative and has huge yet promising plans for 2014.

Currently, Plan9 is acting as a haven for early stage startups that are in dire need of a push to get into the market. Its vast network of mentors from all over the world who are fully committed towards the cause and vision of the incubation programme have facilitated the process in numerous ways.

Why the Need for Plan9?

Plan9 envisions to lay foundations of, and developing an entrepreneurial eco-system, to support the staggering economy of Pakistan. A multi-dimensional strategy has been adopted to achieve this.

A significant percentage of the literate population leaves the country as a consequence of ‘Brain Drain’; by providing economic opportunities to them along with mentoring of white-collared employees of the tech industry, Plan9 aims to retain outstanding IT talents in the country.

The long-term goal of investment by the provincial government is to invite job creators instead of job seekers with the intention of bringing equilibrium and stability, even sustainability, to the job market.

The working model of this incubation programme is different than that of top rated business incubators globally; neither incubation fee is charged for the services provided; nor is equity sought for investment. All facilities are given free of cost for a period of 6 months in every cycle.

Meet the Startups

The third cohort of Plan9 is bursting with immense energy and amazing ideas. Here is what they are working on and their products cater to the needs of local and international markets simultaneously:

Apppulp: Measure a video game’s quality by using one major factor: its ability to engage users over and again.

Appography: Mobile app ‘Vivid’ enables users to tackle customer service issues—by “ending the endless wait and annoyance of a customer service call”

Tourplanner.pk: Online travel portal caters to the inbound needs of Pakistani travelers.

Bu Bio Tech: Develops prosthetic hands that work on neural networks of the human body.

OneStep Solutions: Reinvents driving around smartphone to unlock real-time vehicle information.

Multiplex Pakistan: Develops online specialty stores focusing primarily on baby products.

404 Solutions: Develops a GPS enabled bus tracking system.

edakhla.com: A communication portal between students and universities.

Nutrionize: Developing an online directory helping people identify, connect and review local doctors in their areas.

Court Piece: Development of online versions of Pakistan’s traditional social games.

Pak CNC: CNC Water Jet cutting-machine for industrial purposes.

FANZ Solution: Online ticketing of bus travel.

ServeMe: An online service to connect blue-collar workers to clients.


http://www.techviewasia.com/plan9-rebranding-pakistan
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.

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