Technology entrepreneurship: Pakistani startups on way to join billion-dollar club

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Investment in country’s startups at this point a smart bet. STOCK IMAGE
KARACHI: Be it social networking giant, Facebook, video chat and voice calls application, Skype or mobile game developer, Supercell, all have one thing in common: once tiny startups, they are worth billions of dollars today.

One great idea – Facebook, for example – has literally changed the way today’s businesses market their products and reach customers. That’s how technology can affect our lives – not to mention Mark Zuckerberg, the entrepreneur behind the social networking giant, is now worth well over $30 billion.

Can a similar idea emerge out of Pakistan? Can the country produce the next billion-dollar startup? Maybe, it can.

Industry experts, such as Lahore University of Management Sciences Center for Entrepreneurship’s Executive Director Khurram Zafar, believe some Pakistani startups have the potential to join the Billion-Dollar Startup Club – companies that are valued by venture capitalists (VCs) at $1 billion or more as described by The Wall Street Journal.

One of the founding board members of Plan9 – a technology incubator of the Punjab Information Technology Board, Zafar says technology entrepreneurship ecosystem in Pakistan is at a tipping point and investment in the country’s startups at this point will be a smart bet.

Despite lack of access to capital, the single largest hurdle facing Pakistani startups, many entrepreneurs have already earned rave reviews in the technology world. This young pool of talent reflects the country’s potential in the field of information technology.

Take for example, Convo Founder and CEO Faizan Buzdar, a multi-platform social network enterprise. The company raised $5 million from a top-tier VC firm, Morgenthaler Ventures, in 2013 and earned a lot of appreciation from technology focused publications. President of the United States Barack Obama also praised Buzdar, stating people like him could help promote innovation in America’s technology industry.

Farhan Masood, Founder of SoloMetrics, is another talented entrepreneur that earned international recognition for producing the world’s fastest retina and face scanner algorithm. In 2014, Masood signed a joint venture with Mace Security International, an American company that manufactures personal defence, safety and security products.

Lahore’s Mindstorm Studios, according to experts, is another startup that has the potential to make it big. In 2010, its gaming app Whacksy Taxi hit the top spot on App Store in more than 25 countries. The company had developed the official game for 2011 Cricket World Cup, which was previously made by leading game developers Electronic Arts United States and Codemasters of the UK.

Its latest app, War Inc: Nations Fury already has installs ranging between 500,000 and 1 million – one of its users spends up to $5,000 a month on the games, indicating the potential the company has.

With access to capital, Zafar says they can market their games on a big scale and become a global player like Supercell – the Finnish mobile gaming company, which earns Rs46 billion in profits before tax and was founded in a country that has half the population of Lahore, according to Zafar.

When it comes to discussing the country’s IT workforce, one can’t rule out Rafay Baloch. The 21-year-old computer science student of Bahria University was recognised as the world’s top security researcher in 2014.

Baloch, who aspires to run his own information security company, clearly reflects the kind of talent and potential the country produces.

These are only a handful of examples of the large pool of talented IT workforce that is shaping the future of Pakistan’s small IT industry ($2 to $3 billion). Almost all of these entrepreneurs have made the headlines well before the recent wave of technology incubators and other startup support initiatives.

Plan9 was the only technology incubator for local entrepreneurs that had some kind of official backing but it was limited to Lahore only. However, more programmes have been launched recently to boost the country’s startup ecosystem. For example, The Founder Institute, a leading entrepreneur training and startup launch programme, recently launched its Karachi chapter. It promises to create a Silicon Valley-like startup ecosystem in Pakistan and launch over 30 meaningful and enduring technology companies per year in the city.

The Nest I/O, a technology incubator of Pakistan Software Houses Association, is the latest addition to this growing segment. Given this incubator has the official backing of the country’s IT industry and partners with over 30 startup hubs around the world, it can certainly provide a much-needed platform for the country to produce the next billion-dollar startup.

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