Pakistan is a country with a population of over 220 million and out of the total population, 60 percent comprises of youth (aged 15-24). Unfortunately, the majority of this youth remains unemployed due to a lack of job opportunities, but the adaptation of the latest communication technologies has led to the growth of a tech-based entrepreneurial culture in the country.
Entrepreneurship is a buzz word, it can be a highly rewarding experience or it can be a setback but one thing is confirmed that it is a great learning experience. The ability of young entrepreneurs to brainstorm ideas, strategies that can result in development of innovative solutions for the problems around us is a catalyst for economic development but to achieve this, they need proper guidance and a platform to convert their raw business ideas into a profitable business.
Sensing this need and the potential, Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) launched Pakistan’s first incubator (Plan9) back in August 2012 and now it has expanded its incubation programs all across Pakistan under the National Expansion Plan of NICs. Backed and funded by the Federal Government, a total of 13 incubation centers are established across Pakistan that provide startups with resources and tools that help them prepare for future business problems. Since its inception, the National Expansion Plan of NICs has received approximately 4000 startup applications, incubated over 250 startups and has created approximately 1000 jobs.
These incubation centers are established across Pakistan in partnership with public sector universities. The centers ensure that the incubated startups stay one step ahead of their competitors by implementing better business strategies and marketing plans which help them in the correct identification of target audience and customer base. Apart from providing startups with Free office space, Monthly stipend, Networking opportunities, Business Mentorship, Trainings; the startups are incubated on a zero equity model which means they are not required to pay back anything. Each service is tailored and targeted to enable, support and sustain the startups to transform their idea into a functional product/service.
Out of the 13 incubation centers, one of the centers is based in Lahore which has been highly successful in creating a positive impact and is achieving the primary objective of the project which is to encourage innovation among youth by incubating startups and to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Pakistan.
Lahore center is currently taking applications for its third cohort (application link: https://lnkd.in/dsfpAdU6 ) and the impact Lahore has created can be seen from the fact that the incubated startups have so far generated more than PKR 10 million in total revenue and given direct jobs to around 100 professionals.
One shining example from the Lahore center can be of MAKSOL Digital Solutions which was incubated at the ideation stage. During the incubation period the startup grew and now has a monthly revenue of over PKR 350,000. The startup has managed to bag many national and international clients across diverse industries including e-commerce, finance, shipping and logistics, construction, healthcare and food and beverages.
Another example can be of Subzi.pk which joined the Lahore center in the first cohort. Subzi.pk aims to disrupt the traditional supply chain of grocery within Pakistan and today it is earning approximately PKR 7 to 8 lacs per month. It is the sole distributor of groceries for many B2B customers in Lahore and Faisalabad
Similarly, another startup Copy Pencil was incubated at the National Expansion Plan of NICS-Lahore Cohort 2 at the Growth stage. During the incubation period, the startup grew and now has a monthly revenue of around PKR 1 Million. It has managed to bag several Corporate Clients across diverse industries (Schools, Institutes, Retail Stores and Digital Platforms) to serve as Trusted Stationery Supplier.
Maheen Sami who is currently working at PITB Incubation Wing as a Program Manager says “It takes decades for a startup ecosystem to develop in any country. But with the help of people and institutions such as incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces it has been possible for such an ecosystem to gradually develop in Pakistan. Other stakeholders like VC funds and regulatory bodies including SECP and SBP have also helped foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pakistan therefore it is a combined effort of multiple institutions and people to make this possible and National Expansion Plan of NICs, a project under Punjab IT Board is one such effort by the Government to help facilitate the startup ecosystem in Pakistan.”
After successfully graduating twenty startups from two cohorts, NEP NIC Lahore center is currently taking applications for new startups for the third cohort. Interested startups can apply online via the link (https://lnkd.in/dsfpAdU6).
The best way to predict the future is to create it. That is exactly how the youth of this country should think. Youth comprises of 60% of Pakistan’s population therefore rather than becoming a job seeker, they should try to create their own destiny and become a job creator and National Expansion Plan of NICs and the Lahore center is a perfect Launchpad to achieve this goal. Moreover, it is the true reflection of the Government’s commitment to promote business activity and encourage growth in the startup space.
*The author is an Incubation Manager at National Expansion Plan of NICs (A project of Ministry of IT Telecom and Punjab IT Board). He can be reached out at firstname.lastname@example.org for queries related to startups, government programs and entrepreneurship.