At Invest2Innovate, our mission has been to support the growth of seed-stage enterprises in new markets, beginning first in Pakistan. This is obviously no easy task, and for anyone that has worked or currently works in Pakistan, there is much work to be done.
In the conceptualization, launch and development of i2i, the number one question we are asked is, “How do you find your entrepreneurs?” Since we started small – in an effort to test and prove our model – we previously found our entrepreneurs through word of mouth, through low-cost marketing (*cough* social media *cough*), and because we were so embedded in the space in Pakistan. However, i2i may have started small, but we aim to make a large and measurable impact – supporting high-potential entrepreneurs throughout the country to grow viable business models and access seed-stage capital. In doing so, we hope to further deal flow in Pakistan and allow entrepreneurs with awesome ideas to start, grow, and eventually scale their businesses – making a lasting social or environmental impact as they do so.
We cannot widen our reach and networks without also developing key local partnerships, namely with mission-aligned stakeholders supporting entrepreneurs at various points of the pipeline. In Pakistan, the number of university-level incubators are increasing, and they are providing an important platform for young entrepreneurs to learn key skills and a safe environment to test these ideas. One of the most interesting developments has been at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) - one of Pakistan’s top business schools in Karachi, Pakistan. IBA’s Center for Entrepreneurial Development aims to promote entrepreneurship education at the university-level, a program that culminates in a business plan competition in which students pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges (I recently had the opportunity to judge such a competition, which was incredible). Moreover, IBA CED is not just geared towards students at IBA in Karachi – it targets a consortium of eight universities across Pakistan – including in Quetta, Peshawar and Islamabad. This extension of the program gives students in lesser known and smaller universities access to quality entrepreneurship education, skills, and opportunities.
While these incubators are important in teaching youth initial skills in honing their concept and pitching their enterprises, there is a need to accelerate the best and most high-potential ideas after they complete such programs. The i2i partnership with IBA CED fast tracks the best entrepreneurs in their applications to our i2i Accelerator – a four-month program in which entrepreneurs gain access to curriculum & mentors geared towards the implementation of their businesses – from learning how to build strong governance structures to negotiating term sheets with investors to measuring social and financial impact (we aim to pilot this Accelerator in October 2012). The IBA-i2i partnership aims to further strengthen deal flow for entrepreneurship in Pakistan, a necessary step for growing and scaling viable businesses in these markets.
Another partnership we are excited to announce is with the P@SHA Fund for Social Innovation. P@SHA, a trade association for Pakistan’s IT industry (their president is Jehan Ara), recently launched this initiative to fund ideas that use Information & Communication Technologies (ICTs) as a platform for delivery and as a means for empowerment. Thanks to an initial grant from Google, P@SHA has already awarded a number of smaller grants to promising ideas in Pakistan, and have now opened up its application cycle once again. Given that i2i works at the next seed-stage part of the pipeline (we work with entrepreneurs looking for between USD $50K to $200K), this P@SHA partnership is key in feeding the most high-potential ideas to our accelerator, providing these entrepreneurs tailored support but also access to early stage investment or funding.
As we continue to foster and develop these and similar partnerships, one thing is clear: the growth of productive entrepreneurship (versus rent-seeking) can occur with the support of important infrastructure and stakeholders – such as universities, investors, banks, incubators and accelerators. At i2i, we don’t see other players – both current and potential – as competition. We see them as potential partners, as stakeholders attempting to achieve a similar mandate. We are so excited to announce our partnerships with IBA CED & P@SHA and look forward to further these and other similar collaborations.
Kalsoom Lakhani is the Founder/CEO of Invest2Innovate, based in Washington, D.C. She loves traveling, pretending to be a foodie, Jeopardy, and inane discussions about morality in mainstream television shows. If you watch mainstream television shows, you know this amounts to very little discussion.