For decades, Silicon Valley has long been a ripe, fertile incubator for tech startups, but a hot, new player is emerging in the far east – Pakistan.
With a largely untapped market, fresh talent pool, low startup costs and a nurturing tech community, Pakistan is poised to develop a number of tech startups and is quickly becoming known as the “Silicon Valley of Asia.”
Only in recent years have tech companies discovered Pakistan, but interest is growing as more companies look for new, emerging areas for fresh talent and tech startups.
Tech entrepreneurs in Pakistan are busy creating new ideas, working feverishly to become the next Mark Zuckerberg of mobile apps, but in a country that’s tens of thousands of miles away from the Valley.
In Pakistani cities like Lahore, 16th century mansions co-mingle alongside scrappy startup incubator spaces led by app developers, as tech entrepreneurs gather in the city to create everything from mobile apps to cloud-based security features.
Here are five reasons why Pakistan is the hot, new place to invest in tech:
1. A growing and thriving technology ecosystem.
At one point, tech incubators and Pakistan had nothing in common. There was no reason to: The country was more known for nurturing hospitals or agricultural industries than supporting a tech community.
Much of that has changed, though in recent years, as technological investments have moved full force to Pakistan. Today, the country is a beehive of tech activity and technology investments are proliferating. Mobile apps are hot. No official numbers exist, but there is a wave of tech accelerators, incubators and university programs cultivating ideas and innovation. There are nearly 3 dozen incubators, backed by universities, government and private industry.
One of the first successful technology innovators, Plan9, launched in August 2012. Backed by the Punjab Information Technology Board, it hopes to boost entrepreneurship in the country. Founded by Dr. Umar Saif, it helps tech startups with networking, business plans, advises them on internal operations, monitors product development and connects companies with clients.
Since its launch, Plan9 has graduated nearly two dozen companies and more are on the way.
2. A pool of talent.
Building a technology company is one thing. But having the talent to staff critical projects is another. With outsourcing still on the rise, Pakistan has the luxury of a rich pool of top talent to recruit from. The IT industry in Pakistan has more than 100,000 employees, with top companies such as Techlogix, TRG, Systems Ltd, LMKR and TPS, among others. Pakistan’s tech industry doesn’t rival the much larger India, for example, but it is still growing.
Not only is Pakistan nurturing its existing talent, it’s also bringing up a whole new, young crop of future tech employees – women. Since 2012, hundreds of girls are learning technology as part of the Pakistan Social Association (PSA) that gives young girls in rural villages around Islamabad training on computers and the Internet. The girls receive certifications and are encouraged to further their studies. More than half of some cities are made up of women in villages.
3. Money to invest.
Not only are companies talking about investing in Pakistan, they’re putting up the cash to prove it and are nurturing talent.
Tech incubators and accelerators such as Plan9 and Invest2Innovate are connecting companies with angel investors, funding and business opportunities worldwide.
Google recently chose a Pakistani-based company, Eyedeus Labs, to participate in an immersion program for startups at its headquarters in Silicon Valley last summer. The company is a university-based spin off that developed a popular photo app.
No hard figures exist on the amount of technology investments, but China in February 2014 announced plans to invest $20 billion in the country’s energy infrastructure.
It’s a a decision that could have a positive ripple effect, and could spur more technology businesses to invest in Pakistan to support the nation’s growing energy industry.
4. Growing acceptance of technology.
Pakistan is home to a fast-growing online community. There are more than 30 million Internet users in Pakistan, with half of them on their mobile phones, and many of them under 30. According to a survey by Ansr.io, Internet penetration in Pakistan has reached 16%, and the country is estimated to be the fifth-largest mobile market in Asia.
Nothing breeds more investment than success. Many of Pakistan’s tech startups have been successful, including Yayvo, an online retail store that sells computers, mobile phones, home and kitchen appliances and automobile accessories. Labels eStore is a high-end retail online store that caters to fashion designers in the country.
Another success story that launched in Islamabad in 2005 is Convo, formerly known as Scrybe, which was recently lauded by US President Barack Obama. The software product-based company has gained a global audience for its multi-platform social network enterprise that is dubbed the “Facebook of enterprises.” It allows teams to share and work together more efficiently. The platform combines discussions with messages, images, documents, presentations and PDFs, and is available as a desktop app.