By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Pakistan is working hard to grow a tech ecosystem, and this week signed agreements both with the City of Austin and Capital Factory to further those efforts. A Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Austin and the City of Lahore was signed by Mayor Adler and Dr. Umar Saif, chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board, (PITB) designating the two cities as Sci-ence Cities. The MoU was signed during SXSW.
This follows an agreement launched by “Global Entrepreneurship Evangelist” Alicia Dean with the U.S. State Department that awarded the City of Austin a grant to connect the community of entre-preneurs and investors in the Austin to those in Pakistan. The Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce will be managing the Austin based activities of the grant. In addition, Nabeel Qadeer, director of entrepreneurship, and enterprise development, PITB has signed another MoU with Capital Factory’s Touchdown Austin program to launch a Global Market Access Program (GMAP) for Pakistani startups.
The Global Market Access Program (GMAP) is a three – phase business acceleration program designed to rapidly and strategically assist foreign technology companies entering the U.S market with the least amount of risk. It will include an in-country bootcamp and a follow up US itinerary for select startups to ready Pakistani startups launch successfully within the U.S.
These agreements are planned to spur several levels of cooperation between the cities as well as between Capital Factory and Plan9. Every six months, a cohort of 5-to-7 startups from Pakistan will spend three weeks at Capital Factory receiving mentorship from Gordon Daugherty and oth-ers in everything from monetization to pitching. Austin companies will also be invited to spend time at Plan9 Incubator in Lahore learning about expanding entrepreneurial opportunities in Asia and in particular Pakistan.
Qadeer said the relationship between Austin and Pakistan makes sense because of the cultures.
“This is the landing pad that is closer to how we operate,” said Qadeer. “It may not be as ‘cool’ as the valley but coolness is only going to get you so far…we feel we can adapt to the Austin culture, as opposed to so much plastic.”
Austin’s focus on enterprise software, for example, is more about getting work done, which aligns more closely with the Pakistani approach, he said. And while Pakistan startups are currently ex-perimenting with many kinds of innovations and business models, they’re particularly strong in e-commerce which is an area where he feels Austin can excel. But he acknowledged that also relies on getting other areas right, like fintech.
Entrepreneurship for Change
Pakistan has had some outspoken advocates for an entrepreneurial ecosystem including Dr. Saif who, according to Faizan Mahmood, assistant program manager for Plan9, told the government he wanted to start an entrepreneurship program but would not follow the typical bureaucratic rules for government programs. Since Plan9 launched in 2012, many other incubators and accelerators have grown up around it. More than 60 percent of the population of Pakistan is under 30, and while most have been trained to be employees rather than entrepreneurs, the interest in entrepre-neurship is huge.
But because entrepreneurship is so new, it’s difficult to get private investment. Many industrialist families own everything, Mahmood said: factories, banks, resorts, dairy farms and more. If they take an interest in a startup, their natural inclination is to buy it, not invest in it. Plus, the stock market is leading the Asian markets with huge returns, making investments in startups far less attractive. Qadeer plans to up the interest by launching a Pakistani version of Shark Tank.
“My goal is to bring a social change,” he said. “We don’t have a Mark Cuban. Who people are in-spired by does not come from a business perspective.” Consequently, he hopes to make entre-preneurship as exciting and accepted in Pakistan as it is in the U.S.
Another change that is likely to come from the entrepreneurial efforts is a greater involvement from women. Currently, Mahmood said, Pakistan is the third largest country for freelancers. Plan9 has a program—Herself—to help equip women with skills to compete as business owners both as founders and freelancers. The organization’s website points out that women struggle to be taken seriously by investors and to get funding, but that their tendency toward collaborative leadership has proven more effective and profitable than the leadership styles of their male counterparts.