Twenty Third March, Armed forces Parade, Karachi city painted in the colors of Pakistan Super League, Islamabad United versus Peshawar Zalmi in about 48 hours from now. The excitement is in the air and I am with a Hitchki. Mom used to say that hitchki (Hiccups) happen when someone is missing you, so when they appeared on this national holiday, I wondered if the country is missing me? Does it want to remind me of what all it has done for me? It possibly wants me to retain the belief that Pakistan is a prize that we have in this country. The martyrs laid their lives so the future generations can fathom the potential of its brilliant minds to make a difference. I have to pen my story of discovery, the yester years and the future that is imminent.

17 years ago it was the same week when I was building my dream team, the startup champions of the day building the first Mobile App startup of Pakistan. The venture was called yEvolve. We left the cushy corporate jobs to get into the startup action and packed sleeping bags in the closet at the Cyberport of Continental Trade Center, Clifton, Karachi. The Junoon of starting Mobile computing revolution with Palm III handheld gadgets won the trust of Pakistan Tobacco Company (BAT Pakistan) and the wallet of TMT Ventures- the first VC fund of Pakistan for the seed capital. We were on a roll after that and won Reckitt Benckier, Unilever, P&G Pakistan, Tapal Tea, Ali Gohar Pharma for the trade marketing and sales automation solution. When GPRS services got to Pakistan, we were the first one to do a realtime stock trading solution for mobile phones and did the SMS Banking solution. We broke into public sector bringing handheld ticketing solution to Pakistan railways and private bus service. Yes this was 2001….

The journey helped me understand and negotiate some real challenges that ICT companies face in Pakistan around access to finance, markets, talent and cutting edge technology. While I could negotiate some of them, I failed as well. To figure out if the challenges were personal, structural, environmental, timing or others, I took an Alice in Wonderland journey. I traveled deep into the rabbit hole to be a part of the other ecosystem participants, play a part of the system and large enterprises to understand the improvement opportunities in entrepreneurial ecosystem of Pakistan. I spent the last 12 years finding answers working with multinational brands, big boys and thought leaders of the industry. Building new tech enabled products and revenue lines as Interprenuer within large organizations. With my high powered teams, we built innovative products contributing bottom line resilience and mostly a belief in the power of innovation. I have worked with amazing people and change champions within the eco-system that surrounds ICT companies.

After banking (retail, wholesale, micro, transaction banking), fintech and regulatory consulting career roles, the discovery journey still continues. I have taken up an opportunity in the development sector and discovering if the right interventions can set the course for the private sector and give them the confidence to take a leap. As a ICT sector specialist with USAID SMEA (Small Medium Enterprise Activity) program I am inviting ICT enterprises to work with us improving their competitiveness. Providing technical and financial assistance, we will help build capacity, process, access to finance, access to market and technology and gender diversity.

Working with the tech companies today, I see the challenges repeating what we faced 17 years ago. They haunt the growth of the private enterprises still but there is a silver lining. The challenges are better understood now by the companies themselves and ecosystem that surrounds them. The technology is disrupting businesses and they have no option but to open themselves up to change giving opportunity to tech companies. I believe the time has come for Digital Pakistan and the companies in the tech sector. With the right support from multilateral donor agency we can dent the challenges. My parents, family, career in armed forces and startups have strengthened the belief system in me that there are no challenges which cannot be addressed. Almighty wants us to try with clarity of purpose and devotion so I ain’t losing hope yet. I am at it. Hitchki is a sign and calls for payback time, but I need your help. Help me carry the message to support the right ICT businesses for the greater cause of a vibrant tech entrepreneurial ecosystem.

USAID SMEA program is now open to apply for technical assistance program for ICT Enterprises. ICT entrepreneurs (with some preconditions) can get the capacity building support from USAID SMEA program. The technical assistance program is easy to subscribe by sharing their details and requirements via email. The details are available https://goo.gl/Nqs5XW.

If you are a service provider that can help build the capacity of the ICT Ecosystem USAID SMEA program helps you reach the underserved SMEs by matching contributions. They can apply for the same via published EOI with the link https://goo.gl/VfNsSu

DON’T WAIT and share this today with the tech entrepreneurs you know. Together we make Sub sey pehley Pakistan!

PS: Dedicated to my family, co-workers, supervisors, investors and stake holders who worked with me all this time. They believed in me, believed in my thought process and paid for products that I sold to them. Most of all I am indebted to the high power professionals who worked in my teams, believed in me and took a bet on me to nurture them personally and professionally. Thank you guys and especially ladies for making me a believer in diversity.

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