ISLAMABAD: Muhammad Mohsin Rafiq used to visit his father at work – a technician in a public-sector hospital in Peshawar – and would pay close attention to hospital devices. Rafiq later went on to study electronic engineering to fulfill his father’s dream.
Once his father brought a machine at home and asked him to see if he could fix it, Mohsin carefully observed its functions and responded, “I can develop this machine myself.”
This was the beginning of Rafiq’s start-up – Aprus Technologies – for electro-medical devices. Since then, he has been designing and manufacturing arthroscopic surgery instruments of gold standard. These devices will soon be available in the market at half the current import prices.
I met many such thriving and ambitious entrepreneurs at the recently established National Incubation Centre (NIC) in Peshawar, one of five such NICs supported by the Ministry of Information Technology’s Ignite.
Peshawari chappals (sandals) do not need any introduction or testaments on their popularity. Peshawar, Charsaddah, Mardan and Kohat host thousands of craftsmen selling hand-made chappals.
Jehangir Ahmad, having an MBA degree, planned to exploit the e-commerce market for selling the chappals. His start-up named Bera is now housed in the NIC Peshawar.
Jehangir Khan, one of the co-founders, said: “Since his experience at the NIC, his sales have grown 450% as he has learnt both marketing and business planning here.”
He thinks there is now a great demand internationally, especially in the countries having large Pakistani diaspora. However, the lack of access to PayPal and other payment gateway services and difficulties in managing foreign exchange accounts in Pakistan are the hurdles in his way to expand business at the international level.
Rabia Naseer and Motiba Noor, both sisters, have set a great example for young and aspiring women by establishing a start-up in Peshawar namely Kaltoor. Kaltoor is a Pashto word for culture and tradition.
It is an initiative to provide fully customised women shoes through an online platform. Women can go to the website to design their own shoes. They started the business with savings of Rs50,000 and now with mentorship and guidance from the NIC they have expanded the business across the country and have won several national and international awards.
“When we started the business, craftsmen in small cities and towns did not take us serious as women generally do not do business in the province,” said Naseer, who is also pursuing her PhD in entrepreneurship.
Their shoes provide customization for odd sizes, colours, designs, special occasions and art among others. The business is being managed through e-commerce.Responding to a question about who is the designer, they responded: “She is our friend based in Islamabad.” So, an all-female-led startup.
The founder of eleven.pk said he studied in the UK but came back to Peshawar for doing business because he loved being in the city.
In a short period of time, his sales have increased from Rs1 million to over Rs2 million a month. The items on this platform are bags, electronics goods and wallets.
It imports products from China and also manufactures some of those in Pakistan. It has been trying to engage local businesses in Sialkot and other cities but business ethics in Pakistan are not favourable for the start-up.
“A country businessman committed to providing samples of a few products before last Ramazan but he has not yet delivered those despite the lapse of delivery date of more than three months,” he said.
Chinese suppliers keep up their promises and have the capacity to deliver products on short notice. When Pakistan is undergoing trade integration with China through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), it is important that Pakistani businesses learn such business ethics and efficiency to compete with Chinese companies.
Murtaza Zaidi, Director at the NIC Peshawar, said Peshawar was suffering brain drain due to security and other urban challenges. In this context, the performance of 12 start-ups housed in the NIC Peshawar is certainly a great achievement.
“Since the start-ups have been incubated at our centre, they have grown both in terms of revenue and job creation,” said NIC Communications Manager Bilal Farooq Khan. The NIC management was hopeful that their close engagement with local universities and industries would further pave the way for improving the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and opportunities for the youth.
The NIC office’s architecture and interior designing of co-spacing facilities are appealing in many ways.
Ahmad Faraz, the famous Urdu poet born in Kohat, is considered an inspiration at the NIC with a vivid display of his lines – “Shikwa-e-zulmat-e-shab se to kahin behtar tha, apne hisse ki koi shama jalate jaate”. These lines urge that instead of complaining about the circumstances, do your little effort!
While leaving the NIC, a portrait of a local digital artist Abdal caught my attention. The portrait presents the future of Peshawar as a digital city. Air deliveries, smart cars and other digital facilities are quite obvious in the portrait.
Had I not interacted with the young entrepreneurs, I would have doubted such a futuristic vision of the city. But my interaction with aspiring and young Peshawar’s entrepreneurs gave me a hope about the bright future of the city being shaped by initiatives like the NIC.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) needs to understand that the road to ‘Naya Pakistan’ passes through entrepreneurship and innovation.
The new Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government should support such initiatives in Peshawar and it would be advisable to replicate the NIC model in other cities and universities in the province.
Many of the political promises presented by the PTI, including jobs, housing, education and health, indeed can be delivered by engaging such start-ups and young entrepreneurs.
The writer is a public policy adviser and research fellow having interest in public-sector governance, cities and entrepreneurship
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2018.