🛌Will Pakistan sleep through the Fourth Industrial Revolution?😴💤

Since last year, I have gotten the chance to sit through various pitches given by entrepreneurship students at Pakistani universities. I've also been fortunate to have been part of local mentoring programs as well as international ones. I've heard ideas from the brightest youth coming from around the world and made notes and comparisons about our current standing.

While everyone is encouraging for our entrepreneurship students and should be, I secretly worry how much we all need to speed up to catch on with the world - tech, innovation and social entrepreneurship wise. And how little we are willing to admit we are far far far far far behind.

1. At the university level, entrepreneurship is being taught by academics

A failed entrepreneur might be a better teacher than an academic who has studied entrepreneurship theoretically for decades.

2.We are scared of experimenting with using emerging technologies

We have so many mediums VR, AR, AI, Blockchain. Of course, these are harder to master and work with and introduce in a nascent ecosystem but these are all technologies that are most disruptive and could be game-changing for Pakistan.

3. We don’t focus on building startups on real problems. Social innovation and entrepreneurship is considered “sawab ka kaam” and not the need of the day.

When we have electricity, water, gender inequality, plastic problem, waste disposal issues, human trafficking, child labor, education flaws, health problems, lack of senior care infrastructure, do we need another food delivery startup competing with another food delivery startup, another dating app, another chocolate naan startup?

4. We don’t like to collaborate with other startups

We are all so secretive about our work!

5. Our government invests in fancy incubator after incubator but not in a real curriculum

Bright lights, cool ceilings and big conference rooms - I wish this was all we needed for a startup's success. Its not just about "if we build it, startups will come". Its also about "when they come, how do we get them to where they need to be".

There are enough fellowships programs, innovation labs, private and government incubators producing more startups than cockroaches. Sadly though, we squish them while they are nymphs.    

6. The government does not give large-scale projects to startups

While "oohs" and "aahs" are expected when the minister make their visits, there is not enough follow through to get startups to where they need to be.

7. The startup world is incestuous and doesn’t bring in new mentors.

The same five people are mentoring since I entered this industry. Three of them have never built startups.

8. We don’t inform our students, carry out research or share with others where big opportunities for innovation lie.

There are 100 million girls and women in the country, are we trying to innovate make their lives better? Did you know that FEMTECH has a market potential of $50 billion by 2025? There are a handful of startups working in this area. Did you know the number of persons aged 60 or over is projected to double by 2050, from 1 billion in 2015 to 2.1 billion in 2050. Have we thought about how we will build systems and technologies to assist and empower seniors? 

10. Our speaker panels, startup judging panels, conferences do not reflect gender equality

Recently a fellowship sent their communication material with big quotes from 10 big entrepreneurs and not one out of them was a woman. They probably did have female mentors but the problem with such communications is that it makes girls and women think that the startup world is not for them. No real effort is made to be inclusive of women for large-scale conferences. How will we get more women to innovate when these problems exist?

11. Most startups are afraid to question or speak out against the corruption and status quo.

There is bullying and intimidation but speaking out might piss off a potential mentor who may badmouth you to a very small ecosystem.

12. Startups often copy-paste ideas from the West and try to make them work here

We have a culture of plagiarism and often we think something that works well somewhere else can be applied here but without contextualizing it for the local market. Often, such products and services fail here.

13. There are a handful of VCs, and corporates don't invest in startups beyond their CSR budget

Corporates are intrigued by startups the way a goofy Labrador is with a toad. Corporates often try very hard to jump on the startup bandwagon, don't know exactly what to do with them once they do have them in a program. Worst of all, corporates often use women in tech as a marketing tool to brush up their image.

14. Long- stretched mentoring programs but no real funding to build, grow, scale.

I recently spent four months in a mentoring program, where all the content was taught by a corporate whose app seems like it was made by high-school students doing their project. Instead of them training startups on innovation, could they have better utilized material from YC startup school?

15. Judging panels should feature people who really understand emerging technologies and can do a technical evaluation

16. We invest time and money in teaching people coding skills but not in their problem-solving approaches

These coding skills are a basic start and will only go so far as to making people become freelancers. Most languages and coding skills you are teaching now may become extinct in the next few years or may be done in less than a second through automation. Will our student continue to update their skills constantly and keep up with the work being done globally? We are a long way before our students can tackle real-life problems.

17. We invest in startups on their revenue potential but not on the founder's strength.

A startup using emerging technology will not be able to bring revenue from day one. There is a lot of research and development that will go into the product. Are we willing to invest in a founder's strength because we believe and know their passion and expertise for their work?

Jaya Rajwani