Attracting investment: Finnish entrepreneur preaches the gospel of Pakistani opportunity

Published: February 27, 2012

" The potential and size of the Pakistani market have generated great interest in me and everyone else who I have been talking to," Technology and media consultant Wille Eerola. PHOTO: CREATIVE

ISLAMABAD: On January 20 of this year, viewers of Finnish television channel MTV3’s popular show “Good Morning Finland” were witness to something rather unusual: a businessman making the argument that one of the great unreported emerging markets’ business opportunities in the world lay not in India or China, but in Pakistan.

The entrepreneur in question was Wille Eerola, a technology and media consultant who first visited Pakistan eight years ago and for the last several months has been spending one week of every month in Islamabad. Eerola’s argument is simple: Pakistan gets far too much negative attention in the international media which overshadows the tremendous untapped potential in the country, specifically its young entrepreneurs.

“There is huge potential and a growing market that nobody knows of,” said Eerola in an interview with The Express Tribune. “The potential and size of the Pakistani market have generated great interest in me and everyone else who I have been talking to.”

Eerola visits campuses across the northern part of the country, meeting students and talking to them about their business ideas. While he did not explicitly say so, he appears to be in the process of setting up a venture capital fund to incubate, advise and grow small Pakistani businesses and start-ups.

“We are creating a project for new companies to start up from – whether it means providing funding or management expertise, understanding of sales abroad and so on,” he said. “And adjacent to that I am building up a fund by this spring which will then support funding of those new born companies.”

The concept Eerola speaks about is one that some of the largest venture capital funds in the United States have already employed. Some US venture funds provide not just capital, but also office space and consulting on how to grow the business.

The more involved method is seen as a good way to ensure a higher probability of success in their investments. Pakistan’s venture capital market is far too small – with only four registered funds – and none of them currently use this method.

Eerola was unwilling to state explicitly how big the fund would be, or who its primary investors will be, but did say that he considered a $50 million fund sufficient to fund several new start-ups. He did, however, state that he hopes that his fund will be copied by other investors, both international and domestic.

While the Finnish businessman speaks broadly of opportunity in Pakistan, he feels that the country’s focus on innovation and productivity gains should be in two areas that he identifies as Pakistan’s natural competitive advantages: agriculture and textiles. And contrary to a development strategy recommended by many experts, Eerola seems to favour serving Pakistani businesses serving their own domestic markets more than being concerned with exports.

“I would say if you are 180 million people and you have a huge domestic market, then make new products and the market is actually in Pakistan. This is one of the things we really like to see in new companies,” he said.

Pakistan’s gross domestic product – or the total size of the economy – crossed $210 billion in June 2011 and is expected to reach approximately $231 billion this year. The country has a rising middle class which many economists estimate to be at least a quarter of the population. This middle class commands purchasing power similar to their much-feted (and far more numerous) counterparts across the border in India.

Eerola says that he hopes to have several success stories to talk about over the coming months as his fund gets off the ground.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (23)

  • khan
    Feb 27, 2012 - 4:28AM

    “This middle class commands purchasing power similar to their much-feted (and far more numerous) counterparts across the border in India.”
    Compare a 400 million strong growing, confident and thriving middle class with dwindling, struggling, unhealthy 20 million. In fact, even after fudging numbers, the govt has said that another 30 million people declined below poverty line this last year. This must be a joke..Recommend

  • Straight Fire
    Feb 27, 2012 - 5:14AM

    Far from reality … a handful of ‘Rising Middle Class’ can never overshadow the ever increasing poors of this nation

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  • Falcon
    Feb 27, 2012 - 9:03AM

    Great insight by the Finnish investor. In fact I have been thinking about this issue for a while now, Pakistan’s assets are under-valued because of continuous negative press we continue to get in the international media. Furthermore, due to over-heating or just rising input costs of neighboring economies we have a great potential for providing second tier of labor arbitrage to these markets. Current state of economy however bad it be is temporary and the country has to bounce back after a long period of recession. Whoever invests by that time in the country will be able to reap considerable dividends.

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  • gp65
    Feb 27, 2012 - 9:11AM

    So what is the business track record of ‘ Wille Eerola’. Also how does a media consultant suddenly set up a VC fund? Who is financing him? This article does not give the background information which talks to Mr, Eerola’s credibility.

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  • Zeta
    Feb 27, 2012 - 9:31AM

    Pakistan is an oil well of human resources.

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  • Asad
    Feb 27, 2012 - 10:27AM

    @gp65 there something called google. Try using it if you want to look up information give it a try it works really….

    Recommend

  • y
    Feb 27, 2012 - 11:01AM

    The cost of doing business in Pakistan is way too high, making it uncompetitive with the Chinese, Indian, and others. It is not just the labor cost, but also electricity (on-again, off again and extremely expensive), gas, expensive fuel, etc which make it a difficult and undesirable location. Terrorism, lawlessness, corruption in tax matters, use of unfair tactics, unenforceable contracts, and all that make Pakistan just not worth it.

    Textile mill owners are leaving Pakistan in the droves and setting up their factories in Bangladesh or UAE. If Pakistanis themselves don’t believe in the country’s potential, why should anyone else?

    If you were writing a sales pitch for Pakistan, give three fact-based, non-emotional reasons that make Pakistan a better investment destination than some other countries.

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  • Danish
    Feb 27, 2012 - 11:11AM

    He has totally ignored the fraud component of political risk and dishonesty in our people

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  • y
    Feb 27, 2012 - 12:12PM

    In China, factories run 24hrs on two 12hr shifts. After working 12hrs, workers sleep on factory floor on cardboard (not on comfortable beds), eat one small bowl of ramen noodles (no taftan, biryani, qorma every meal, every day), no healthcare, no benefits, etc. Electricity for Three River Gorges dam is free and machinery run nonstop.

    Can expensive Pakistan labor compete with Chinese labor? No, never, ever.

    Recommend

  • Parvez
    Feb 27, 2012 - 12:53PM

    If you go to invest your money you are told ‘ the higher the risk, the greater the return ‘. The same principle holds good here as well.

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  • Interconnect Partners
    Feb 27, 2012 - 4:52PM

    In full agreement with Wille Eerola from Finland. Despite the odds the country is beautiful and ratings with yourselves more positive than S&P and Moodys.
    I suggest to please convey your sentiments to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Helsinki to the continuation of the Embassy of Finland, Islamabad as a strategic step from the new President of Finland and Excellency Ambassador Mr. Osmo Lipponen.
    Finland a major contributor to the energy sector from Wartsila, communications from Nokia, and NSN. Pakistan being greatly loyal to Nokia with market share of 80% for the mobile handset, and the most imitated, faked brand as a barometer of popularity.
    Finland support to world climate, disaster management, technology, research is un-paralleled.

    Recommend

  • Feb 27, 2012 - 5:04PM

    New businesses are dependent on government permissions, which makes new enterprises vulnerable to extortion by government officials. Unless and until this problem is confronted successfully, foreign participation in business-creation in Pakistan will be limited, at best.

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  • y
    Feb 27, 2012 - 6:24PM

    These days, global investors have too many choices when it comes to investing globally. Too many countries offer higher returns without all the negatives associated with Pakistan. Who wants to put up with so much trouble coming to Pakistan. England, even Bangladesh, do not want to come to Pakistan for a few hours to play cricket and you think someone will come to invest?

    Nokia does not invest; it only sells to make money. If you want foreign investors, think from their perspective what you can offer them, why Pak is a better destination, if their lives and money are safe, etc.

    Pakistan has to compete for business and global investors, like everyone else. No one will just hand out dollars because they like us.

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  • Feb 27, 2012 - 9:18PM

    @x and @y and @z and @all

    I know one thing . nobody likes us in this world . so If someone is putting some faith on us there must be some reason..

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Feb 27, 2012 - 9:18PM

    @Asad: “@gp65 there something called google. Try using it if you want to look up information give it a try it works really….”

    Two things. When an article is written ,it should provide key relevant information that supports its main point and that is what I was suggesting. Remember this article would be in the print version and go to people that may not have google access. Secondly, I HAD googled this man and apart from vague things like ‘CEO of various companies’, I did not find anything on him. No speaking engagements, no newspaper articles featuring him – nothing in fatc that speaks to his track record. So your sarcasm is misplaced.

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  • Feb 27, 2012 - 10:57PM

    @y: Chinese factories have excellent accommodation for their workers. And no their workers are not slaves. We don’t want slave jobs here anyway. Surely we are better than that!

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  • Feb 28, 2012 - 12:36AM

    @gp65 If you google you will find my full history e.g. on Linkedin. Pleased to share my 20+ experience. But this is not about me, I gave the interview about and for the Future of Pakistan!

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  • antanu g
    Feb 28, 2012 - 1:41AM

    Must have come as a shock to pakhaters who can not near any positive reporting about the country.

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  • Human being
    Feb 28, 2012 - 7:17AM

    @abdussamad:
    Two words for you to look up on Google, ” Foxconn” and “Apple”.

    Recommend

  • Human being
    Feb 28, 2012 - 7:19AM

    @antanu g:
    I thought that you were Indian as per all your posts, so it must be a shock for you also.

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Feb 28, 2012 - 7:47AM

    @Wille Eerola: “@gp65 If you google you will find my full history e.g. on Linkedin. Pleased to share my 20+ experience. But this is not about me, I gave the interview about and for the Future of Pakistan!”

    Yes LinkedIn is something that you yourself create. My point was that there was no objective 3rd party information about you that would talk about your credibility. I do not say you are not credible – just that I have no way of knowing.

    Secondly, this article is about you because the main thrust of the article is that even a Finnish foreigner believes in Pakistan and is going o take steps to support Pakistani entrepreneurs. In light of that it would be helpful to know what type of successes you have had in the past, so people can extrapolate to the success you will have with your Pakistani venture.

    Recommend

  • MarkH
    Feb 28, 2012 - 1:06PM

    He’s basing it in a shallow way. The logic is “not many people have opened up business, therefor if someone does they will have a marketing sector to themselves.” While it may be one deciding factor, it’s not the only one. The reason for the situation ranks just as high, if not higher. Of course negative press is going to make people shy away. Even if it was completely wiped from the press it would be the same situation. Nobody makes large investments without researching the pros and cons. The media is just saving them time.

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  • Zaman Shariff
    Mar 7, 2012 - 7:14PM

    Well the astonishing fact is the markets are still goin on “good” inspite of the downfall elsewhere ,

    Recommend

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