Pakistan Technologist Seeks Support in 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

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
Here's an Express Tribune report on E-Commerce in Pakistan:

Pakistan is one of the fastest emerging e-commerce markets in the region.
The level of trust global online groups are showing in the talents of the Pakistani youth and the e-commerce industry here suggests that, in the near future, it is likely to hold a significant share in Pakistan’s economy.
Kaymu.pk, a venture of Rocket Internet, a German based internet incubator operating in Pakistan, has built a reputation in the eyes of the decision makers of its parent company within just 15 months since it began operations.
The team, which is successfully operating kaymu.pk, has been given a task to launch the same portal in 26 other countries of Europe and the Asian region.
“The level of trust by the parent company shows huge potential and bright future for the e-commerce industry in Pakistan,” said Managing Director Asian Region Kaymu.pk Ahmed Khan in an interview with The Express Tribune.
“Pakistan e-commerce industry has just started its journey and the youth is driving this sector,” he added.
Kaymu.pk launched in Pakistan in January 2013 and is known as one of the best online platforms with 600 retailers offering their products to online shoppers. Khan believes that they still have a long journey and a big market to cover.
The portal is maturing some 1,000 transactions daily with an average turnover of Rs1.2 million per day. According to Khan, around 40% of the total transactions are of the apparel and jewelry segments. Due to suspicion and other issues with using plastic for payments, more than 99% of transactions are cash-based.
Khan said that the online transaction ratio will surge once the use of plastic money becomes common and the number of smartphone users also increase with the introduction of 3G and 4G services.
The exercise for online shopping via different portals for convenient shopping is increasing with each passing day. E-commerce is now spreading and is creating its share in the overall retail segment, with small, medium and large-scale retailers becoming eager to sell their products via such portals.


http://tribune.com.pk/story/694838/expansion-e-commerce-future-bright-in-pakistan/

http://www.kaymu.com/

http://www.rocket-internet.de/about-us
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…
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.



http://tribune.com.pk/story/969441/meet-the-man-propelling-pakistan-into-the-digital-age/
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…
#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…
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…
Three #Pakistan startups make it to #Digital Winners #Asia. #Education #Energy #Employment http://bit.ly/2e4O0eU via @techjuicepk

In November, three startups from Pakistan will be flying to Myanmar for they have been shortlisted to participate in Digital Winners Asia, a regional startup event that will host enthusiastic startup teams from Telenor’s accelerator programs across Asia.

The two-day event will be held on November 1-2 in Yangon, Myanmar. The Telenor Group’s maiden regional startup event will include case preparation sessions, in which startup teams will prepare to compete for 100,000 Norwegian Kroner in initial expansion funds.

The three Pakistani startups shortlisted to feature on the event cater to Energy, Education and Employment, the three key areas the country has long faced challenges in. EcoEnergy, a startup aiming to solve energy crisis in Pakistan, facilitates the spread of sustainable electricity, specifically to rural locations of the country. Where as Edjunction, a social network connecting parents with teachers, is a mobile communication platform to bridge the gap between parents, teachers, students and the schools. Fori Mazdoori, a Pakistani startup aiming to mobilize laborers across South Asia, enables blue-collar workers to register on an employment database to be searchable by employers.

“Establishing Digital Winners in Asia is a natural move for Telenor since we experiences strong growth in the region, and we believe there is a great innovation and entrepreneurial spirit growing here,” said Gunnar Sellaeg, the SVP & Head of Product Innovation at Telenor Digital.

Bilal Kazmi, Chief Marketing Officer, and Telenor Pakistan also extended his complements to the selected startups saying,

“We are pleased to see how Pakistani youth is finding innovative solutions to their own longstanding problems through technology, and it’s a sheer reflection of how Telenor Pakistan’s efforts of digital inclusion in the country are materializing”.

The nine teams attending Digital Winners Asia are from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia. The teams consist of current and past participants of Telenor’s five startup incubation and acceleration programs across the region. Each company has been selected based on the company’s life-cycle and potential to break into to new markets, as well as grow alongside Telenor. Two representatives from each company will participate in Digital Winners Asia. This inaugural year’s participants represent a diversity of industries: marketing services, energy, artificial intelligence, tourism and education.

The event has been designed so as to promote cross border and hence extend sharing of skills, knowledge and tools across markets. The proposed theme has been devised primarily in order to tackle digital business opportunities across markets. Telenor has been promoting individuals to pursue entrepreneurship a lot. Velocity, Telenor’s go-to-market accelerator for Pakistan, recently introduced its first cohort.

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.


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