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Making ideas happen, the Google way

Google’s Head of Startup Ecosystem for the region talks about startup success stories

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PUBLISHED September 04, 2022

Startups represent the way forward for conventional dynamics of setting up a company. Increasingly, people opt for temporary or freelance work with startups as an alternative to the traditional career route. As a result, startup jobs have emerged as a significant source of employment for fresh graduates who are unable to obtain employment in large corporations. Not only do young people have a wide variety of options but big tech giants are also encouraging them to step into startups and come up with new ideas and innovative thinking patterns. For this purpose, Google has come up with the startup challenge to encourage companies.

Google is launching Google for Startups Accelerator (GFSA) for Southeast Asia and Pakistan in 2022. The seventh edition this year, it is a three-month programme, starting from November, targeted at 10 to 15 seed and Series A tech startups that are focused on solving the region's most important challenges. For that, it is necessary that the participating startups are headquartered in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, or Vietnam.

In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, Thye Yeow Bok, Head of Startup Ecosystem for South East Asia, South Asia, and Frontier and Greater China, explains the challenge and how it can benefit startups in Pakistan: “We are looking for 10 to 15 startups that are passionate about solving the region’s most important challenges, ranging from agriculture to healthcare to financial inclusion. Seed or Series A startups based in Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam can apply by Oct 7, 2022. We are particularly excited to support startups that are focused on retail and e-commerce, Fintech, healthtech, SME-focused B2B solutions, Edutech, agriculture and logistics.”

Explaining which aspects can help start-ups in this challenge and how companies can benefit from it in future, Bok says that it is a three-month programme that will help startups solve their specific, technical challenges by providing the best of Google’s resources—Google mentors, networks, multi-disciplinary experts, and most cutting-edge technologies. “Startups will receive training and mentorship that they can use to grow their business, expand their teams or reach a bigger global audience. Training mentorship includes customized mentorship from our global mentor network, access to Google's experts in artificial intelligence and machine learning, Cloud, Android, and Web, and training in fields such as product design, business strategy, customer acquisition, and leadership development.”

Specifying the project and the challenge that they focus on, Bok shares how the programme can enhance long-term economic prospects of a start-up, such as any long-term plan, so that they can help the economy of their respective countries. “We continue to support startups even after the programme ends. This includes connecting them to venture capital partners should they be seeking investment opportunities. By supporting startups in growing their businesses, we help empower healthy digital ecosystems and bring greater opportunities, such as employment, to everyone. When startups succeed, our communities and economies succeed.”

How can start-ups apply?

How this programme can benefit companies, how start-ups can apply, and what is the selection criteria, specifically for Pakistan, Bok explains that interested startups can apply by October 7, 2022 through this link. Applicants must be Seed or Series A startups based in Pakistan.

Google’s assessment of the future of e-commerce

Google is focusing on promoting a larger market and is excited to support the e-commerce market. Given the fact that Google will be supporting or moulding the overall change in the e-commerce industry post-COVID-19, as the online services have seen a boom after 2019, and a larger market has made its way to the common man, Bok is of the view that “retail and e-commerce is a startup sector we’re particularly excited to support. As more people shop online, we foresee greater innovation in retail, and e-commerce becoming a key growth driver of Pakistan’s economy.”

Start-ups and Pakistan

Notwithstanding some phenomenal changes in IT and the online boom in Pakistan, without the support of government, not much progress is possible. The government of Pakistan, however, is supporting this project to ensure financial support if a start-up comes up with an idea for future betterment. Bok says, “We work with every ecosystem player—government, incubators, venture capital firms—to build a conducive environment for startups to thrive. If a promising startup that goes through our programme is seeking funding opportunities, we will help connect them to the appropriate partners.”

With all the options that a Pakistani company would have if they got training and mentorship, how the programme will be able to make a change in the IT industry of Pakistan or revolutionize the idea of entrepreneurship is the agenda of the programme. It aims to nurture the next wave of entrepreneurs in Pakistan, many of whom will hail from the country’s massive young population. Most young people tend to be tech-savvy, have an interest in entrepreneurship, and are more in tune with global trends. With that mindset, they’re often more inclined to use emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain to solve problems and build digital products.

The programme doesn't require any commitments. It is open to startups that are based in Pakistan. Participants will take part in a three-month mentorship and training programme, after which they will apply their learnings to grow their business in Pakistan and/or beyond. GFSA’s goal is to help strengthen the startup and tech ecosystem in Pakistan so that it has the potential to become a hub for tech talent.

Success stories from GFSA

Sharing success stories from the last six editions of GFSA to explain how it has changed businesses in the last few years, Bok says, “I’d be happy to share the story of DeafTawk, a Pakistan-based company that provides accessibility solutions for deaf people, including online sign language interpretation, audio-video translation, and sign language training.” DeafTawk, part of the GFSA programme in 2020, saw it as an opportunity to expand their knowledge and expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and explore how they could widen their customer base among businesses. During the three-month programme, DeafTawk attended workshops and worked with various Google mentors to refine their business strategy, engage investors in a more targeted manner, and ensure that they were the right match.

Ali Shabbar, CEO of DeafTawk, says that Google mentors challenged his team to see things from a different perspective while serving as constant support whenever they faced challenges. DeafTawk also had the chance to network and meet experts in the tech community, including the AI team at Google. Together with the latter, the startup developed a prototype for their sign language interpretation solution, a new product that will provide users with the option to use a bot that can automatically sign based on text or voice inputs. Looking ahead, DeafTawk’s goal is to expand to more markets and reach 250,000 users by the end of 2024.