Globally, Pakistan isn’t well known for its achievements in the startup world. However, for a place where startup accelerators and incubators were unheard of just a short time ago, Pakistan is making rapid progress. According to the 2014 Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Report, startup culture is flourishing in major cities like Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad. Opportunities for startup support and information have increased dramatically over the last several years. Below are just a few places where new Pakistani startups can go to build their foundation and expand their knowledge base.
The intention of EFP is to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pakistan. Their belief is that Pakistan’s perceived lag in entrepreneurship can be attributed to an underdeveloped “entrepreneurial mindset.” Once rectified through education, entrepreneurs will naturally flourish as they have in other nations.
Annual membership fees vary from students to SMEs (small and medium enterprises) to corporations. EFP offers regular events for members and fosters an atmosphere for networking and learning.
The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) offers a compelling support system for entrepreneurs. The LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship runs The Foundation, a program that hosts 3 groups of startups each year. They comb through applicants, selecting only the most qualified companies to mentor.
Each 4-month program offers founders the chance to grow their business with the aid of LUMS office facilities, internet access, mentoring, and a stipend which is available for up to 4 founders per company. Participants even have access to a gym and library, as well as video conferencing services. Founders are not directly charged for all of this, but must give between 2.5 and 7.5% equity depending on how many services they choose to utilize.
3. IBA CED
The Center for Entrepreneurial Development (CED) is an accelerator program aimed at rapidly fostering startup growth through mentoring, seed funding, investor access, and teaching students to anticipate and conquer problems. Ideal for young entrepreneurs, CED offers a networking hub, workshops on topics such as finance, and access to successful and experienced mentors.
CED sessions occur over the course of a year and are broken up into 3 phases: spring, summer, and fall.
4. DYL Ventures
DYL is an internet consultancy for startups in Pakistan. Among their services are mentorship, funding assistance, marketing education, and online resources (some of which are freely available to the public). They also offer related tools for A/B Split testing, Android app design, and graphics templates, along with other technology tools.
Peracha is yet another startup accelerator that has recently sprang up in Pakistan. While this Karachi-based group of organizations has only been around for a year and a half, it has already begun generating some traction with 6 startup program launches under its belt.
Pakistan’s Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority, established in 1998, is Lahore’s prime government institution for SME development. They offer a myriad of services and actively aid female entrepreneurs in establishing themselves through training programs and capacity building. SMEDA also aids entrepreneurs in refining and upgrading products, securing proper manufacturing consultants, and receiving financial/legal help.
DotZero is a Karachi-based community center where entrepreneurs can collaborate in a spacious, internet accessible work room (and enjoy a beautiful view of the city while they’re at it). They also assist by helping startups locate funding by tapping into their dense network of investors in and outside of Pakistan.
Similar to MIT Enterprise Forum Pakistan, DotZero offers 3 basic membership plans, which grant access to facilities, desk space, and conference room/event reservations. Entrepreneurs can get a taste of what it’s like to work with DotZero by grabbing a trial, half-day, or day pass. The facility offers members support as well as opportunities for independence. They allow members to invite guests in for meetings and set their official business address to DotZero.
Plan9 is an increasingly popular startup incubator that operates under funding by the Punjab Information Technology Board. The upside for entrepreneurs is that unlike most incubators, Plan9 does not take a percentage of equity.
They offer 6 month programs in which startups can work on business plans and build a foundation from the comfort of Plan9 office space. Plan9 helps founders get in touch with much-needed talent like programmers and designers. Towards the end of the program, participants work with mentors and learn how to present their product or service to investors.
The landscape is changing each day for current Pakistani entrepreneurs, and for those yet to realize their entrepreneurial potential due to past restrictions. As resources become more accessible and numerous across several major cities, startups will thrive under fewer and fewer limitations. Despite the technological setbacks Pakistanis have faced over the last 5 years (such as the banning of major social media outlets like Facebook and Youtube), IT and communication-related fields are growing faster than most other sectors of Pakistan’s economy.
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