Opinions, Startups

Can Karachi be the Silicon Valley of Pakistan?

Asra Rizwan Written by Asra Rizwan · 6 min read>
Karachi

Karachi has always been at the frontier of the country with a lot of business activities, educational activism and technological happenings. The city of lights is home to top educational institutes of the country and is also a hub for not only local but also global corporate giants. The widely popular e-commerce websites, Daraz.pk and EatOye! also kick started from Karachi and have now received global acclaim. We believe that it is a city with the right mix of ingredients to transform it into a Pakistani Silicon Valley and therefore, we talked to a couple of passionate personalities from the academia and industry and asked: “Can Karachi be the Silicon Valley of Pakistan?”.

Imran Moinuddin – CoFounder & Board Member, Dot Zero

Mr. Imran has been associated with The Dot Zero that was launched as a co-working and community space for the entrepreneurs of the city. He is also the CEO & Founder of NexDegree, a company that aims on solving local and global problems through technology. He has studied Computer Science from Stanford University.

When asked about whether Karachi can be transformed into a Silicon Valley, Mr. Imran proposed that we need to identify what worked for them and why can’t it work for us? The mere fact is that they have top of the line colleges, thought leaders, adversity and most significantly a prime location. He believes we need to fulfill the following pre-requisites to emerge as the Silicon Valley of Pakistan:

  • We need to embrace the culture of sharing, giving back to society and mentoring those in need and not just keeping our expertise to our self because at the end of the day we need to light up more candles with one.
  • Universities should start focusing on soft skills apart from technical expertise. A comprehensive curriculum needs to be formulated that not only addresses industrial needs but also induce critical thinking and problem solving skills in the students.
  • Academia needs to collaborate with industries. For instance, the professors of Stanford University expose their students to business thinking and help them to seek professional assistance when developing products and new solutions.
  • We need to go beyond Business Plan Competitions and instead nurture new ideas not with a prize money but rather with giving them a foundation they require for a start up.
  • The conventional mindset of mentors and investors needs to be changed so they overcome their ego and become more open to accept the young potential and the fact that CEOs can be young too.
  • We need to change the common perception of our people towards risk and instead convince them to address failures so as to move forward and derive the positive energy within.
  • The perception of entrepreneurship as a money-making principle needs to be changed and instead we need to foster a culture which focuses on solving problems.
  • We need to revive a culture of reading. There are a lot of Entrepreneurial Reading Clubs in Silicon Valley where different entrepreneurs discuss books and what can be learned from them thus applying bookish knowledge to the practical world and gaining numerous benefits.
  • The start ups that are trying to make a break through should gain knowledge about local business and how they are operating.
  • Our government need to synergize different authorities for this purpose and formulate subsidies and tax ease to motivate new start ups to expand their businesses.

He believes that P@SHA is our very own voice that has transformed into a lobby for our presentation abroad. With the pace they are going the only thing he suggests them is to continue with whatever they are doing to support technopreneurship. When asked about the hiccups faced by our software industry, he commented that the government tax regimes are producing a great hindrance in terms of operating companies. Another issue related to smooth operation of the companies is that graduates are not aligned with industry needs and lack business perspective.

Prof. Najmi Ghani Haider – Chairman of Department of Computer Science & Information Technology, NED University of Engineering & Technology

Dr. Najmi Ghani Haider is a PhD in Neural Networks and holds a graduate degree in Electronics Engineering from United Kingdom. He also the CEO of Cybertech Pvt. Ltd and has been associated with a number of institutions namely, SZABIST, PNEC-NUST, FAST NUCES and now NED University of Engineering & Technology.

Dr. Najmi believes that we cannot transform into the Silicon Valley just like that and before we plan on doing so we need to have a well devised action plan. He laments that students nowadays does not have the desire to excel and usually come with a job oriented mindset because that is how our society is bringing them up. He believes that we need to be more pro active towards our goals instead of just wishing to excel. According to him, the need of time is to induce a spirit in youth and drive them towards greater opportunities through collaborative efforts of business and academia. For this purpose, we need to bring stakeholders together to bridge the gap between businesses and universities. He also believes we need to devise a curriculum that can be beneficial for both parties. He thinks that a lot of forums can be productive if they stop discussing the problems over and again and actually take a strong step to bring a change.

Atif Azam – CoFounder & Board Member, Dot Zero

Mr. Atif Azam has been working with DotZero since its inception. In addition to that he is founded a lot of startups including Perfigo in Silicon Valley that was acquired by Cisco Systems. He holds a graduate degree in Electrical Engineering from Imperial College and a post-graduate degree in science from Stanford University.

Mr. Atif is positive that yes, we have all the right ingredients to transform Karachi into a Silicon Valley of our own. He compared these ingredients of the successful recipe of Silicon Valley to what we have on our hands:

  • Silicon Valley has a vibrant education community and Karachi is no different. With the top engineering and business schools, our city have the right talent to fuel the passion of setting up a technological hub of our own.
  • There are a lot of potential corporate users in Silicon Valley, therefore the solutions and products that were being developed raked in profits. Similarly, Karachi is a business and tech hub of the country.
  • A need for a structured capital market just like the Valley had West Coast, a lot of banks and venture capitalists. Likewise, Karachi has a lot of banks and investors willing to invest in start-ups. The only incentive that investors need is the Return of Investment, what we need to do is to expose such investors to lucrative potential of young entrepreneurs and educate them too.

According to him the biggest hiccup faced by our progress is ‘outsourcing’. He believes it is restricting our innovation by holding us back from critical thinking and architectural exercises. We still are a lot behind in developing products that are laced with an impeccable user experience and target the masses. The professionals and students in Pakistan do not have a strong mindset of product development therefore, he laments that we are far behind to propagate ourselves in global market. Though our global reach exposure is less however he also believes that local products should not be discouraged.
He also commends P@SHA and believes that it has surely moved towards greater heights with the launch of NEST I/O. He suggests that it would be highly beneficial if they start bringing foreign experts and launch some exchange programs. He also pointed out they need to work with universities more closely to expose developers to business perspectives for assuring a financial ecosystem for their products.

Dr. Shahid Qureshi – Program Director, Center for Entrepreneurial Development at IBA Karachi

Dr. Shahid Qureshi has been associated with the CED at IBA for a long time now and has done tremendous efforts to fuel the spark of young entrepreneurs. Under his leadership, the CED has launched a number of training programs and incubated young start ups to help them grow.

Dr. Shahid believes that what worked for the Silicon Valley might not work for us. Why? Because it was idiosyncratic to United States of America and therefore it will be a difficult enough job to replicate another Valley. However, it does not mean that he is not open to the idea of transforming Karachi into such thing, but he believes that we need our OWN valley and a different journey to transcend into an identity that represents us. Since USA, is a developed nation with a pool of global professionals therefore things worked differently for them. Likewise, we need to identify the strengths we have and we also need to learn how Indians, Chinese and Filipinos transformed themselves. He believes that it is essential to start small with low value added products and then move on towards bigger product development. He wishes that our government is proactive to offer subsidies and setting up facilities such as technology parks and innovation labs to motivate young talent to pursue their ideas. He strongly suggests that we need to educate the youth about entrepreneurship and make them believe that they can make wonders happen without waiting for investors. He also believes that since Karachi is a hub for all the business activities of the country therefore, we cannot restrict it to technopreneurship but we should also incorporate sociopreneurship and agripreneurship to progress further. He negates the idea of business plan competitions and believes that you cannot light up an entrepreneurial journey through a seminar or contest. In order to educate investors to make them willing to invest in startups we need to project success stories to them so they are confident they will get a return of investment. He also points that engineers are more likely to initiate entrepreneurial ventures as compared to business students and therefore we need to equip the engineers with soft skills as well.

In a nutshell, I believe that we need something like a 5 year action plan that is devised by garnering suggestions from all the stakeholders involved namely, the government, universities and investors. We also need to bridge the gap between academia and industry, and not rely on business plan contests for this purpose. Furthermore, we need to propagate entrepreneurial success stories to masses to strengthen the entrepreneurial eco system of the city. Lastly, we need to change the job oriented mindset of our youth and have to equip them with such skills that they are confident enough to initiate their own ventures.

Do you believe that Karachi can turn into the next Silicon Valley? Let us know your thoughts!

Written by Asra Rizwan
I profile people and startups contributing to the Pakistani technology entrepreneurial ecosystem. Share a story with me, asra@techjuice.pk Profile