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Techies brainstorm disruptive change

Updated November 05, 2017

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Panellists participate in a Investor Panel discussion at the moot on Saturday.
Panellists participate in a Investor Panel discussion at the moot on Saturday.

KARACHI: If you want to deploy capital in Pakistan, now is the time, said Jeffery Paine, founding partner of Golden Gate Ventures, a Southeast Asian venture capital firm, at a conference on Saturday.

Speaking at the two-day moot titled 021Disrupt, organised by The Nest I/O, Mr Paine said Pakistan offered excellent investment opportunities. Sharing the experience of investments in China, he noted that huge rewards were reaped by investors.

Reassuring the audience that good data is available to see which companies will fail, he stressed on investing smartly while focusing on the math.

Ali Mukhtar, CEO of Fatima Ventures, a Pakistani seed-stage investment fund, said investments in innovative, scalable companies were needed. Giving an example from the agriculture sector, he noted that an increase in the production of one million bales translated into earnings worth billions of dollars.

Faaris Naqvi of Bakery said while investors coming into the ecosystem are essential, equally important is ecosystem development.

Kulsoom Lakhani, CEO and founder of Invest2Innovate, highlighted the regulatory issues faced by investors that hinder start-up growth. While the start-up ecosystem is being built from the ground up, top-down regulatory restrictions prevent investors from entering it, she said.

Wamda Capital’s Fares Ghandour announced the company’s decision to invest in Pakistan. He noted that the country offered a thriving ecosystem and good human resource.

Rozee.pk’s Monis Rehman said a perfect storm (for start-ups) has been brewing in Pakistan with its 208 million population, which offered endless opportunities. In his presentation on ‘Hyper-scaling your start-up’, Mr Rehman said that while business models can be built to scale and grow, timing is essential.

“Launch an imperfect product but get to the market early. Use the feedback to refine your product.” Another important aspect was to ‘pivot quickly’ – becoming skilled in breaking plans as one is in making them.

In his talk, ‘Disrupting finserv: survival of the most innovative’, Habib Bank Chief Innovation and Financial Inclusion Officer Abrar Mir highlighted that banks had a huge amount of data (gathered from customers) and the bank was willing to partner with start-ups. Mr Mir urged banks to rethink their business model and open up to allow for more financial inclusion.

Dr Umar Saif of the Punjab IT Board shared his experience of working with the government after working as an academic abroad for years. Without sounding critical, he acknowledged that “the government was not known for being innovative.”

He noted that transport, banks, telecommunications and pharmaceutical sectors were undergoing rapid change and the government needed to keep up with legislation.

“The government is sitting on lots of funds, which can be used for venture capital. This would help in creating an environment for start-ups.”

Khurram Jamali, Google’s country lead, gave an interesting talk on ‘Artificial intelligence: the revolution has begun’. While many participants expected it to be more of a rundown around Hollywood flick ‘Ex Machina’, the session was a layman’s guide to AI neural networks.

He charted how Google started building AI in the 1990s. Simplifying the lecture, he explained how AI neural network models learnt from example. “The AI trains through practice and this continuous learning eventually allows the network to evolve,” he said. “At Google, we now apply machine learning and artificial intelligence to pretty much everything.”

Giving an example, he said Google was able to cut down its energy bills with the help of its ‘Deepmind’-powered AI. The AI was in charge of managing power usage and ultimately a 40 per cent reduction was seen in power consumption, leading to savings worth millions of dollars.

He noted that 90pc of the data held by companies is unstructured while urging entrepreneurs to take advantage of the deep learning offered by his company.

In a session on ‘Entrepreneurial ecosystems’, Frederic Sicre, managing director of the Abraaj Group, stressed that companies with no purpose would not attract talent.

Hubspot Executive strategist Sam Mallikarjunan in his keynote address praised the resilience of Pakistan and its people, stressing that ‘entrepreneurship required resilience to adversity and the willingness to fail and try again’. Sharing excellenmt insights on marketing, marketers and customer behaviour, he urged ‘for staying on track. “The hardest part of disruption is focus.”

In her speech, Jehan Ara, president of P@SHA and The Nest I/O, said the conference aimed to provide the requisite support to young entrepreneurs and spark meaningful conversations on the start-up ecosystem in Pakistan.

In her keynote address, US Consul General in Karachi Grace W. Shelton said that women bring fresh perspective and that economies grow better with both men and women entrepreneurs. Stressing that the United States supported investments in Pakistan, she noted that American companies, including “Facebook, Google and other leading tech companies were the ideas executed by those who have belief in themselves.”

The two-day event has participation from over 25 local and foreign institutional investors and 200 start-ups and was attended by well over 300 entrepreneurs from various sectors.

Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2017