Tech incubators are an essential part of forming a vibrant and sustainable IT sector in any country, but especially so in Pakistan where opportunities in this area are not as plentiful as they might be elsewhere.
Over the past few years, several programs aimed specifically at assisting and nurturing Pakistani startups have taken flight and the results are already apparent in the startups that have been launched through these programs. The first one of these incubators and the most popular by far is Plan9, established by the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB).
By now, aspiring and established Pakistani techies all know what Plan9 is and have been avidly following startups emerging from its incubation program. Plan9 offers a comprehensive program that involves everything from mentoring to working space to potential funding, making it the holy grail of opportunities currently available to aspiring young techies and entrepreneurs in Pakistan today.
How Plan9 Works
Plan9 has been holding Launchpad events in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad this month in order to select teams for incubation. Teams are invited to participate at these Launchpad events after completing an online application process, which is done through their website.
Plan9 is looking for ideas that have some sort of tech component, though the exact focus of the idea can be anything. The viability of an idea is an important consideration when selecting teams, in order to make sure that the final product is something that will be able to survive outside of incubation and that will be both applicable and functional on a large scale.
Once selected, teams receive many benefits from taking part. The incubation process involves giving teams guidance and mentorship on: “refinement of business plans, mentoring on product development, connecting with potential clients, advising on internal operations, affixing with domain-specific mentors, safeguarding legal concerns.”
Alongside these, there is also a provision of facilities needed for teams to work and develop their product. These are: “free office space, monthly stipend per team member, laptops, uninterrupted power supply and internet connectivity, mentoring, training and workshops, legal advice, channels for funding opportunities, connection with potential customers/clients.”
There are two six-month incubation cycles each year, and after completing one of these, teams formulate business and investment plans for their product. They are assisted in this by mentors during the incubation period, and then introduced to Plan9 Angel Investors Club, from whom they might be able to receive funding, though this is not guaranteed.
The Team Behind Plan9
Plan9 is being developed by Dr. Umar Saif who is the founder, Sajid Latif the Director General E-governance at PITB, Nabeel Qadeer (@nabeelaq) the Joint Director EED, Uzair Shahid (@UzairShahid) the Assistant Program Manager, Hafsa Shorish (@HafsaShorish) the Marketing and PR Manager, Mariam Shakir (@MariamShakir) as a Research Analyst, Sarah Gilani (@SarahTGilani) the Content and Design Strategist, Ebad Firdous Ali Shah as Animation Specialist, Chaudhary Ahmad Islam as Project Officer, Abdul Samad Khan (@abdulsamadskhan) as Graphic Designer, and Ahmad Farooq Malik as Intellectual Property Right Specialist.
The Founder of Plan9
Dr. Umar Saif (@umarsaif) is the force driving Plan9 incubation and is the Chairman of PITB as well as Vice-Chancellor of Information Technology University. An alumni of Cambridge University and MIT in the United States, Dr. Umar Saif is an experienced and dedicated technology enthusiast who sees potential in Pakistan and its youth to compete with global tech innovators.
During an interview with Forbes, he explained his transition from MIT to coming back to Pakistan and why he did this: “I had a conversation with one of my professors, and he asked me “Have you ever thought about what you’d like to achieve in your life?” I became very philosophical about the question. Unfortunately, many people are unwittingly slaves to their circumstance, and rarely endeavor to discover and pursue their true passion. After about 2 months of soul searching to find an answer to that question, I finally realized that I really wanted to go back to Pakistan to contribute to improving my country.”
Dr. Umar Saif has an enduring belief in the potential of Pakistani youth, realizing that what they need are facilities and mentoring in order to believe in themselves and be able to work on their ideas. He described in the same interview: “The issue is that many do not realize how to take risks. They do not have the belief that they can change the world. This is what I have tried to bring to our students.”
Dr. Umar Saif is involved in other ventures as well, aimed primarily at fostering a culture of innovative entrepreneurship. He described his plans in the same interview: “Ultimately, I hope to create the kind of entrepreneurial spirit here in Pakistan that exists in the US. I am optimistic with the progress we have made thus far.”