The fourth event in Invest2Innovate’s Roadshow series – the Islamabad Roadshow – took place on June 3rd at Kuch Khaas. As the last event in the Roadshow series, it also served as the official launch for applications for the 2014-2015 program.
Before the event started, a quick chat with the i2i team (Anusheh Naheed and Saad Hamid) helped us clarify the program timeline, as well as the direction i2i is headed in next.
i2i Accelerator Program Timeline
The i2i accelerator applications are part of the annual accelerator cycle that runs from April to March.
April – June: i2i actively promotes the program to startups who are encouraged to apply. Applications close in June, and selections are made in August. In 2014, i2i has held four roadshows (including Islamabad) to promote the program in different cities (Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad).
August: With applications closed, the team goes through them and selects the startups they want to bring into the program. For the 2013-2014 cycle, they chose 6 from the (aprox.) 50 that applied.
September– January: Incubator program runs trainings, including retreats, for the chosen startups. This includes conversations around budgeting, marketing, HR and other elements of a business the startup founders must get right before they are ready to pitch to investors.
January – April: In January, at an annual event, all the startups present to the angel investor network in the i2i community, as well as mentors and other i2i stakeholders. Following the event, the startups are matched with investors that are interested in them. i2i operates an OK Syndicate model (where a group of investors come together to invest in a startup), so a lot of time is spent building these groups within the investor network and making sure the meetings the startups have with them are successful.
Graduates of the incubator program (like Raise D’Bar, and 3Restart) stay involved by serving as mentors for the new incubatees, and attend events sharing their experiences with the newer crop of startups. Having gone through the program, they are in a better position to help address small business issues that the startups will face along the year, and can help guide them in a way a larger business owner might not be able to. They, along with mentors like Shehryar Hydri (Convo), work with the startups throughout the program.
A Pivot From Incubation To Accelerator
i2i was started with the intention to develop an accelerator program for late-stage startups. However, the founders quickly discovered that the lack of incubator programs meant they would also have to address that need. For the first two years, i2i has been accepting startups still in the concept stage (where the founders are working out their idea), and taking it all the way to launch and funding.
The key distinctions between incubators and accelerators are time period and structure. An incubator gives startups workspace and community at an affordable rate for an indefinite time period. Accelerators generally have workspace and a cohort that forms a community. They are run over a fixed time period with some significant degree of structure with regard to education and coaching. Accelerators are also capped by a demo day after which startups have to make it on their own, without further subsidy from the accelerator. – Bill Aulet, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship
According to Anusheh Naveed (Community Manager, i2i), this is about to change as i2i is pivoting towards its initial idea – to be the premier accelerator program in the country. This pivot will bring about a few changes in how i2i runs its program:
– A change in curriculum which will increase a focus on practical application in the real world,
– Invest2Innovate will raise funds so that it can invest in the startups it is working with, providing them with seed capital that will help them implement some of the ideas they have before they head into fundraising.
Agenda For The Day *we will be updating this as the event progresses*
Intro by Anusheh Naveed, Community Manager i2i
“We believe entrepreneurs can change the world, and we see ourselves as providing the support they need to get there. We serve as a middleman, connecting investors to startups.”
i2i sees the potential for advancement in Pakistan, given that 2/3 of the country is under 30 years old, and has access to mobile technology. This opens up opportunities to create an impact, using some of the potential that the youth has.
The three parts of i2i:
i2i Accelerator: The yearly program.
i2i Angels: Angel investors
Q&A about the Invest2Innovate Accelerator Program
As of January 2014, 11 companies have graduated. i2i selects companies that are impact ventures, for-profit, and develop technology for social impact. The program is a 4 month program, with 6 in-person weekends, providing business support from the 3+ mentors in the i2i community. The graduates are ready to pitch to investors at the end of the program.
A few questions came in from the crowd. One of the audience members asked for a clarification with regards to the requirement that the founders work full-time. The actual requirement is that at least one of the founders work full-time on the startup. There were also questions regarding failure rate (which is one of the reasons i2i has started focusing on late-stage startups as well as for-profit models).
i2i tries to diversify the kinds of startups and industries they operate in, but as most of the investors are young tech entrepreneurs, it is very easy to get them excited about startups that have a technological component to it. They do want to see a passionate team behind the startup.
Have more questions? Chances are the team already has answers to them. Check out the application page and scroll down.
Experience Sharing Session: Junaid Malik – Raise d’Bar
An ex-Telenor employee/film-maker, Junaid faced a problem on the personal front – a daily need for a quick snack but no healthy options that were reasonably priced. He also noticed, during his travels through Gilgit and Baltistan, that a lot of the fruit being grown in the area was rotting and being wasted (due to a decline in tourism and lack of sales channels).
Raise D’ Bar was built around the idea of empowering local farmers while creating a product that was highly nutritious and convenient. The brand name is a play on “Raise the Bar”, essentially pushing yourself to do more, creating an aspirational brand value.
Junaid has partnered up with Kitchen Cuisine to utilize their kitchen during their down-time, and makes bars in batches. At PKR 125 per bar, Junaid compares Raise D’Bar’s quality to other imported bars, and the importance of finding the right balance between price and quality. He also talked a bit about the impact they have had on the community in Gilgit-Baltistan, and how they hope to re-invest into the community to improve their efficiency, as well as improve the quality of dry fruit they get from them.
Junaid also highlighted the benefit of the i2i program: mentorship, peer fraternity, access to an entrepreneur (Kulsoom, founder of i2i) and how she helps the founders focus and prioritize, investment and the network you get access to. He says the main benefit of i2i is, “Hope and Faith”. Having a network/program that helps you get through all the milestones required to setup a company in Pakistan is extremely important, and one of the main reasons Raise D’Bar exists.
The product is currently on sale in Lahore (Shapes), and Karachi (Neccos).
Experience Sharing Session: Mustafa Saeed – 3Restart
“Building a game layer on top of the educational world”. Pakistan has 25 million children out of school, and there are many reasons for why they are out of school, but one thing is that classrooms are not engaging enough. It is important to make education fun for children.
There are many companies making games for kids, but there is no measurement of their learning from these games. The idea behind 3Restart is to create a game where children can not only learn, but also provide analytics of how well they are performing – scaling the difficulty based on how well the child is doing. It will be an adaptive and self-paced learning platform.
With a memory and retention alogrithm that with predict what the child will have trouble retaining, and focusing on that curriculum element, he hopes to develop something even parents will encourage their children to play.
Mustafa talked about how i2i helped him bring his idea from a very technical concept to something the average person can understand. Everybody might have a great idea, but it’s all about how you present it, and i2i was immensely important in helping him develop that skill.
The app hasn’t launched yet, but will soon, and will be available on the various app stores (we’ll provide more information once it launches here on PakWired). It will be free, but provide the option for in-app purchases.
Fireside Chat with Shehryar Hydri from Convo
Convo is an enterprise social network (Facebook for work), where you can share documents and comments on them in real-time allowing you to create a collaborative working environment.
The product is developed by Convo (previously known as Scrybe). The company initially got a lot of attention because they made a video about their product (iScrybe), and put it on YouTube, getting 450k views and lots of comments on the ingenuity of creating a product video at a time when few people were doing that. They were able to get investment from Adobe on the back of their Flash-based calendar.
They launched Convo after that, and now have 9,000 customers around the world and are one of the main enterprise social networks. According to Shehryar, these are the kinds of products that will shape the future of the workspace, and how people communicate with a fading out of email over time.
Success is not easy, nor does it follow a certain path. It’s never easy to launch a startup – and a certain amount of luck is involved. Shehryar says he’s a bit cynical about the current startup-fever that has hit the country, and while entrepreneurship for the sake of entrepreneurship can be a good learning experience, only the genuine entrepreneurs are going to make it. There needs to be a certain proactive approach towards entrepreneurship, and at one point it comes down to knowing what you want and making that leap of faith. No one is going to give you a foolproof plan to follow to be a success, you have to know what you want, be passionate about it, and just go for it.
He also touched upon startups that start as service-based companies then go on to become product-based companies, and how difficult it is to make the shift. Tech startups in Pakistan have to also deal with the problem of not having a local environment suited to entrepreneurs. There are very few incubators, and very little money being made available as investment for local startups.
Anyone who has a genuinely good product, and is half-smart, they know they have a solid product. If you have a solid product, with an international market, it should be possible to raise money to fund the startup. But a lot of the companies in Pakistan are not good enough to get that kind of funding, and local startups have a lot of catching up to do.
Panel discussion: JumpStart, NUST Incubation Center, GEW Pakistan
The last session of the day had a discussion panel where three people involved in the entrepreneurial space in Pakistan talked about the challenges and opportunities for startup founders.
A spirit of entrepreneurship needs to be created in Pakistan, and organizations like i2i, and even universities play a part in it. Peshawar 2.0 was a huge success, and more events like this need to be encouraged. Fakhr (from Jumpstart) talked about their plan for creating an ecosystem that supports startups in the country. The other panel participants talked about the local incubators and their potential for helping local entrepreneurs.
NUST Incubation Center (despite being part of a military backed organization), is trying to focus on startups that have the value and can deliver. They work more with product-based companies that are scalable in the future, and provide them with workspace at the center.
Saad, the moderator, asked if they felt that there was something missing for startups to see serious growth. Adnan countered that even Silicon Valley started somewhere, and he has seen growth in the startup ecosystem in Pakistan Things are moving in the right direction at a good pace. Kashif said in 2013 he looked for incubation centers in Pakistan and found only 3. There has been growth in the last few years. A spirit of entrepreneurship has kicked off in the country, and people are more open to it (including parents). Mentoring and coaching are required for the new startups, they need to get access to resources (workspaces) and successful ventures need to be celebrated. GEW is planning on focusing on a Top Ten from Pakistan in 2014, so as to highlight the successes and have more people want to get into entrepreneurship.
Official Launch of Applications for i2i Accelerator Program
The applications for the accelerator class of 2014-2015 are open, so if you are interested and think you have a great idea, go ahead and apply today! Applications close at the end of June, and the final decision will be announced in August.