ISLAMABAD:Two Pakistani startups, Airlift and Bazar, have been in the spotlight in the past week because of successfully securing a sizeable investment.
Foreign investors are now showing confidence in creative abilities of the youth leading the startup culture in Pakistan. The rate at which startups in Pakistan are progressing and the wins they are securing spark hope for a new dawn of innovation in Pakistan.
Incubation centres and mentoring programmes have played an important role in triggering this new wave of creative economy in the country.
The National Incubation Centre (NIC) Islamabad, an initiative of IGNITE, has groomed and mentored countless startups, which have raised a substantial investment.
For instance, DigiKhata raised $2 million and DeafTawk secured an investment of around $1 million.
DigiKhata has provided a convenient way to small and medium enterprises for bookkeeping through its web and mobile application. DeafTawk has bridged the language gap between the deaf community and service providers.
They seem like simple enough ideas. What sets them apart from other startups is the opportunity they got for skill development, mentorship, networking and, of course, how the founders invested in their own learning and growth.
Why do entrepreneurs need mentoring and skill development? Dr Zunaira Saqib has established merafuture.pk as a platform for aptitude tests of young students to guide them.
She is a faculty member at the NUST Business School and incubated her startup at NIC. “I had knowledge of my product [but] I did not have the requisite expertise in the areas of brand development and social media outreach. So, I joined NIC that helped me test [the market for] my idea.”
Mentorship is helpful for the startups to discover what exactly they need, provide them with that guidance and engage the founders and the team in constant learning and growth.
There is a generally a low focus in Pakistan on improving one’s interpersonal skills.
Shua Khalid, CEO and Co-founder of atomcamp, considers communication as the most important skill for entrepreneurs. This is because at least 70% of an entrepreneur’s time is spent in some sort of communication.
This includes communication with internal/ external stakeholders, communication with the team, communication with target audience for marketing the product/service, etc.
The entrepreneur needs to build a narrative around her startup and use it to strategise her pathway to success.
Further, leadership skills are of utmost importance for the founders. A startup founder does not have to be born a leader; he/she can learn the traits of successful leaders.
Fasieh Mehta has recently returned from the Silicon Valley after conducting training workshops for the founders of various startups. He says “investors bet on founders, not on business plans.”
Pakistan needs to develop accelerator programmes to groom the leadership capabilities of emerging founders in the country.
There has recently been some discussion on the social media that most of the international investment is going to the startups raised by the founders who have either studied or lived in the US before.
There are two takeaways from this trend. First, the social capital matters a lot. Entrepreneurs need to be part of local and international communities working in the relevant field.
Education, work and other professional linkages abroad widen the opportunities for potential entrepreneurs. Second, the understanding of cultural sensitivities in the international settings help entrepreneurs to build relations and such an understanding is easier for someone living or studying abroad.
However, these skills can be inculcated if incubation/ training/ acceleration programmes help entrepreneurs expand their network globally.