US expert impressed with Pakistan’s tech industry

She believes lack of capital is not a hurdle, country needs enabling environment

Salman Siddiqui November 20, 2017
She believes lack of capital is not a hurdle, country needs enabling environment. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: “I have been very impressed with the tech industry here (in Pakistan),” said visiting US technology expert Rebecca Garcia.

She called people in the country very smart and hardworking, saying they were doing a lot of good-to-great things through tech start-ups.

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Talking to The Express Tribune, Garcia underscored the need for encouraging more people to acquire skills and become entrepreneurs, adding the country needed to create an enabling environment to encourage people conduct new experiments and learn new things for building their future. “The private sector should take the lead in shaping all this,” she said.

“Top 10 tech companies in the world were founded by the people who had dropped out. The second biggest tech company had no capital right away.”

She was of the view that the construction of tall tech buildings and school buildings would not alone achieve the purpose, but availability of an enabling environment for youth would prove their strength.

During her visit to Pakistan, she held a series of seminars and workshops on entrepreneurship, tech start-ups and women entrepreneurship in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. She also visited several public and private universities, schools, institutions and chambers of commerce.

She is a self-taught developer, public speaker and educator and has served at Microsoft besides undertaking many other tasks. “Pakistanis have good ideas; many of us believe that it is usually the lack of capital that discourages entrepreneurs. But it is not the case, what is most important is the enabling environment or the culture to be an entrepreneur,” she said.

The tech expert pointed out that the challenge was going to be to connect the dots of available resources in emerging markets, adding hubs of entrepreneurs and incubators were in place and everybody should have access to that knowledge.

“The other challenge is going to be culturally allowing people … to experiment more,” she said, adding such cultural limitations were found in general throughout Asian countries.

She emphasised that one of the strong areas of Pakistan was that it had a well-educated IT population, which could find its way into small companies, businesses and start their own business. “Pakistan’s tech side is very strong. I think this is the entrepreneurial side and business skills which need to be grown,” she said.

“Education is the main actor of success. I think it is really great you (Pakistan) have a good foundation of (IT) education,” the tech expert said and called on youngsters to acquire skills like becoming better programmers, acquire communication skills that would help them better market their ideas and develop the habit of working independently.

Pakistan can continue to encourage individuals to see entrepreneurs. “It should value individuals not just for their degree and educational background, but what they individually contribute and what skills they have,” Garcia said.

Praising Pakistani women in particular, she said they were really doing amazing things in the fields of entrepreneurship and tech start-ups. But the country still needs to make extra efforts to encourage them to play their part more actively as their participation remains very low.

World Bank report

Her visit to Pakistan coincides with the release of the World Bank’s report “Pakistan Development Update - Managing Risk for Sustainable Growth” which has a special section on the issues Garcia has highlighted in seminars and workshops.

The report said Pakistan’s job challenge was characterised by a youth bulge, low female labour force participation and slow progress in improving the quality of jobs and labour productivity. It called start-ups an important aspect of opportunity entrepreneurship, which contributed globally to job creation and economic growth, made innovation and addressed key market gaps.

Studies find that opportunity entrepreneurs, who are part of the formal economy, are more likely to grow their businesses faster, hire more people and fill market gaps with their innovation than necessity entrepreneurs.

According to the report, start-ups, or businesses in their first stage of operations, are an important component of opportunity entrepreneurship because they can introduce new, innovative and potentially high-growth ideas into the market.

Well-known companies such as Facebook, Uber, Google and Airbnb were once start-ups that introduced ideas with the potential to disrupt various industries.

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However, because the global failure rate of early stage businesses was quite high (in Silicon Valley, nine out of 10 start-ups fail), the report emphasised that it was critical to equip start-ups with the support they needed to grow and become larger and more established businesses that were engines for job creation and economic growth.

The writer is a staff correspondent

Published in The Express Tribune, November 20th, 2017.

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