Attitudes towards entrepreneurship have changed drastically in Pakistan in the past few years, partly fueled by the success of start-ups in the region as well as broadening access to the internet.
Just a couple of years ago, budding entrepreneurs in Pakistan would have found it difficult to gain access to mentors, business training, and investors due to the lack of interest in encouraging disruptive start-ups. Now, however, the landscape has changed and start-up founders have a choice when determining which incubator to reach out to.
In no particular order, here are some incubators and accelerators making an impact in Pakistan.
Based in Lahore, Plan9 initially started in mid-2012 as part of an initiative of the local provincial government. Since then it has incubated over 60 start-ups. Plan9 requires all companies to undergo a rigorous three-month program in which it provides them with free office space, consultancy, and mentoring. It does not take any equity.
2) The Nest i/o
Launched early 2015, The Nest i/o is a technology incubator associated with the Pakistan Software Houses Association (PASHA). It has received funding from Google, Samsung, and the US State Department.
Located in the coastal city of Karachi, the incubator is currently mentoring its second batch of start-ups. It also provides free office space and mentorship, while not taking any equity.
3) LUMS Centre for Entrepreneurship
The LUMS Centre for Entrepreneurship is a tech incubator associated with the Lahore University of Management Sciences – arguably Pakistan’s most successful private sector university. Also located in Lahore, the incubator has a four-month programme where it provides free office space and counselling.
It does take a small equity percentage for each start-up accepted into the program, ostensibly to compensate for the monthly stipend it disburses to each venture.
Located in the scenic capital city of Islamabad, i2i is an accelerator for early and mid-stage companies looking to make a social impact. The program is spread over four months but does not require the start-ups to be present in-house, with the option of working remotely.
It features a total of six in-person sessions spread across various cities in Pakistan. The accelerator takes equity from each start-up accepted into the program, in the range of 1.5 to 3 per cent.
PlanX is an accelerator based in Lahore that was designed to complement its sister incubator, Plan9. The program is slightly longer, at six months, but also provides free office space and consulting without taking equity.
6) Microsoft Innovation Centre
The Microsoft Innovation Centre has programs in both Lahore and Karachi and is primarily concerned with harnessing technical skills. It offers accepted start-ups a range of free Microsoft enterprise software products, whilst also connecting them with mentors and coaches.
7) Technology Incubation Centre
The Technology Incubation Centre is an initiative of the National University of Science and Technology, located in Islamabad. By virtue of its association with the university, most of the start-ups housed in the incubator have a focus on hardware, engineering, and big data.
It also offers companies free office space and mentorship, taking a small equity percentage in exchange.
DotZero is more of a co-working space rather than a full-fledged tech incubator. It does not offer a structured program but maintains a highly-curated work environment designed to encourage synergy and cooperation between the start-ups housed there.
Its founding members recently launched an angel investment fund to encourage the growth of the investment landscape in Pakistan.
Basecamp operates in a similar vein to DotZero, running an invite-only co-working facility located in the frontier city of Peshawar. There are a number of events, including Start-up Weekend Peshawar and TEDx Peshawar, and it hopes to foster entrepreneurship through community-led efforts.
10) Founder Institute
Founder Institute, the Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur training and start-up launch program, runs a local chapter in Karachi and Islamabad.
The program is structured over three and a half months, with companies meeting once a week. Each start-up must contribute 3.5 per cent equity to an “options pool” and pay a one-time fee of US$250 to be accepted.
Nspire is a newcomer. It’s a private tech incubator started by Netsol, a successful Pakistani IT services company. Applications for its first batch of start-ups are currently open.
12) Tech Incubator
Tech Incubator, based in Lahore, claims to be the first privately-managed incubator in Pakistan. It functions on a rolling basis, accepting start-ups all year round.
The incubator takes a hefty amount of equity, though. Start-ups have to part with 10 per cent just to use its co-working facilities, and a lot more if they wish to obtain mentoring, consulting, and potential investment.
13) WeCreate Pakistan
WeCreate Pakistan is an entrepreneurial community centre exclusively for women looking to start or expand an existing business. The program is spread over 15 weeks and is supported by the US Department of State