On a Wednesday night, thousands show up to attend an online event titled ‘Pakistani Start-ups: The Next Big Thing’. Before the conference begins, the timer ticks on screen and dramatic music plays in the background. The comments section is already brimming with excitement.
“Hello from Rawalpindi,” one comment reads. “Hello from Los Angeles,” says another. And in a sea of hellos from Pakistan and around the world, one jokester says, hello from Wakanda — referring to a fictional country that is very technologically advanced, from Marvel comics and films.
The event has been organised by Paklaunch, a community aiming to connect start-ups with mentors, advisers and investors. Clearly, many in the virtual audience are looking for connections and mentorship. The comments section continues to populate with young individuals, working in tech, introducing themselves.
Pakistani start-ups have thus far secured at least 240 million dollars in investment in 2021 alone.
The countdown ends and makes way for a promotional video that declares that, in Pakistan, you’ll find the “drive, grit and ambition characteristic of the early days in Silicon Valley.” “The venture-backed start-up transformation that happened in the US, China, India and Indonesia is now taking off in Pakistan,” the voice-over continues, over imagery of tech being used across the country.
Soon, President Dr Arif Alvi is on the screen. “Pakistan is catapulting itself in the new digital era,” he says. After welcoming the participants and investors from around the world, he opens the conference by saying, “Pakistan Zindabad!”
The Pakistani tech industry and start-ups have been a frequent talking point over the past year. “Pakistan has huge potential and we are open for business,” tweeted Prime Minister Imran Khan last month when Airlift — a Lahore-based tech start-up — secured 85 million dollars in ‘Series B’ financing. Less than a week later, it was announced that Bazaar — a Karachi-based tech start-up — had secured 30 million dollars in ‘Series A’ funding. This prompted federal minister Asad Umar to tweet, “Time for the Pakistani tech sector has arrived.”
Indeed, the Pakistani tech sector seems to have arrived in a big way. Good news about this boom has continued to mount over the past year. Pakistani start-ups have thus far secured at least 240 million dollars in investment in 2021 alone. For comparison, 66 million dollars were raised in all of last year.
News reports of these triumphs are often published with images of young men and women, usually dressed in business-casual attire or even t-shirts and jeans, smilingly looking into the camera. Surely, they have something to smile about. They see and are a part of a future not everyone can envision just yet.
While the technologically challenged and those without much business savvy may not understand what Series A and Series B funding are, or what terms such as ‘FinTech’ mean, it is clear for all to see that the young minds behind tech start-ups understand international and local funds, and the needs of Pakistan.
(Cheat sheet: Pre-seed-funding is the earliest stage of funding, while seed-funding is the first official funding stage, according to Investopedia, a publication that aims to simplify complex financial information. Series A, B and C the next are funding rounds. Series B financing is the second round of funding for a company that has met certain milestones. Another Investopedia article says that the term ‘FinTech’ refers to the integration of technology into offerings by financial services companies, in order to improve their use and delivery to consumers).
Here we look at some of the success stories that are part of this tech start-up boom and what it all means for Pakistan