Pakistani startups make a mark globally

Two companies of country feature in Forbes Asia 100 to Watch list


Usman Hanif September 20, 2021
PHOTO: TECHINASIA

KARACHI:

Pakistani startups have started making waves in the international arena by attracting wider international investment and media coverage.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak in the country, the e-commerce industry has grown in popularity and firms specialising in this sector are leveraging digitalisation to bring suppliers and customers closer to each other.

In the current era of rapid digitalisation, many startups have sprung up across different industries.

One can say that competition has intensified in the market, but still many have managed to strategically place themselves at the top. Not only they have generated impressive sales and stellar revenues, they have also managed to make a mark internationally.

The first Forbes Asia 100 to Watch list is worth mentioning here, which highlights the prominent Asia-Pacific small businesses and startups that are on the rise.

These nimble businesses are growing at a time when economies throughout the world are suffering due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Their placement on the list is due in part to their efforts to resolve issues by improving mobility in congested cities, extending cheap connections and so on.

Biotechnology, healthcare, e-commerce and retail are among the most popular categories in these startups.

Pakistani startups have received significant foreign funding, which is more than the value of initial public offerings (IPOs) at the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX).

In the entire 2020, Pakistani startups got investment of $77 million whereas in just first eight months of 2021, the investment in Pakistani startups crossed $228 million, according to Ignite.

The growth was almost three times over 2020 with a few more months still to go.

If the momentum continues like this over the next couple of years, the annual investment in Pakistani startups can reach billions of dollars by 2025.

Sastaticket.pk, Pakistan’s online travel search and booking service, and Safepay, a digital payment solution for Pakistani businesses, are the two firms from Pakistan that have featured in the list. This is Pakistan startup ecosystem’s one of the most significant achievements.

“This feature catapulted us into the limelight,” stated Shazil Mehkri, CEO of Sastaticket.pk, in comments to The Express Tribune.

“People are looking at us not only as a young Pakistani company, but as a worldwide business opportunity. Sastaticket.pk hopes to expand to other regions in future and this will assist us in that endeavour,” he said.

Safepay CEO Raza Naqvi has also expressed his team’s delight at being recognised at an international platform.

Continuing, Mehkri added, “It proves that Sastaticket.pk is on the rise and has a bright future ahead. We have been chosen from a pool of 899 candidates. We are outperforming 800 other South Asian contestants by getting a place among the top 100. On the worldwide stage, we have been able to represent Pakistan.”

“The fact that our neighbour has 22 listed businesses while we just have two is concerning for Pakistan. Nonetheless, on the brighter side, our hard work is helping build Pakistan.”

The CEO gave an insight into how it all started when they chose to work with an internet travel startup rather than continue alone with the family company because he saw an opportunity and believed the timing was perfect.

Reflecting upon the idea of e-commerce reaching the saturation point, Mehkri said that by any stretch of imagination, he did not believe Pakistan’s tourism sector had achieved saturation.

“I believe we are still in the early stages, and big investment in the sector will continue to be made in future years. Our aim at Sastaticket.pk is to create Pakistan’s most trustworthy platform, enabling every Pakistani to travel, experience and connect,” he said.

“We have a long way to go after launching new services such as travel insurance, airport transfers, hotels and buses.”

The CEO said that Pakistan still had a lot of potential that could be exploited in the best of ways.

“I believe that the State Bank, led by Dr Reza Baqir, and the finance ministry, led by Shaukat Tarin, are performing well by promoting the IT industry,” he said.

“To expand our talent pool in future, the government must make major expenditures on promoting science and engineering, while economic policies must favour the tech industry and the digital economy.”

The writer is a staff correspondent

 

 

Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2021.

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