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Our startups, our great hope

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Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir analysis :
How can a country not have hopes and dreams for a better future if its startups have the grit, tenacity, and determination to successfully produce jet engines, energy-efficient air conditioners, bioplastic, 3D high-tech computers, and drones?

I learned this while watching dinnertime television beginning at 8:00 p.m., where high-profile, lucid, and professional anchors with fat salaries dig up one issue after another, or if there is no issue, they create one and create a molehill to spread as much despair as possible.

My resistance gave up, and my fingers on the remote shifted away from doomsday scenarios and towards prime time entertainment channels for some relief. PTV home made me pause when I saw a young man in his twenties presenting his start-up proposal to a jury lead by none other than the planning minister himself in a reality show.

The joy on his face, his confidence in himself, and his command of his subject gave my mind what it craved: “hope.” My impulse to change stations lost way, and I found myself glued to the TV. The young man was presenting his pilot project, an indigenously designed air conditioner that does not use gas for cooling and thus is more environmentally friendly, consuming 80% less energy than standard air conditioners, resulting in lower electricity bills and less environmental degradation without sacrificing cooling quality.

All parts and design were made from locally available materials with the assistance of Pakistani technicians and expertise, and an outdated Russian technology that was available copyright free was used as a base, and the product was further improved, upgraded, and state-of-the-art features were added with indigenous research and development in a garage. The prototype was evaluated and authorised by a sector expert.

The four-tonne AC, priced at Rs. 400,000, was initially intended for commercial use, and the newly founded company hoped to patent it not only in Pakistan, but also in the United States. They asked Rs. 20 million in seed funding from the Prime Minister’s Kamyab Jawan Programme to scale up the project, which was immediately granted.

I was now hooked to the screen, eagerly awaiting the next candidate. A young lady in her late twenties entered the room, filling it with her cool and composed demeanour, confident and daring appearance, and modest dress. She surprised the jury by stating that she had successfully created a jet engine using indigenous and locally made parts to power heavy duty drones capable of transporting heavy cargo from one location to another in a safe and secure manner, which the battery-powered drone cannot do. She claims to be a daredevil pilot herself, and being the daughter of scientists and researchers, she believes that making flying objects was in her blood.

She claimed that this locally made jet engine will revolutionize drone manufacturing in the country and solve most of the country’s logistic and transportation issues by transporting heavy cargo to remote areas that are difficult or expensive to reach by other means. It can deliver medical supplies to people in disaster areas and to bring food to people in remote villages. They are ideal to monitor infrastructure, such as power lines and pipelines, for damage or defects and locate missing people or objects in difficult-to-reach areas.

The prototype of the engine has successfully been tested by sector experts and is ready to start commercial production soon after her request for finance is approved. The jury was spellbound. The Minister said that she was a role model for our young entrepreneurs, especially women. The jury with the sparks in their eyes and full of admiration approved the project.

She claims that this domestically manufactured jet engine will revolutionise drone production in the country and address the majority of the country’s logistic and transportation problems by transporting heavy items to remote places that are impossible or expensive to reach by other methods. It may transport medical supplies to disaster zones as well as food to rural settlements. They are great for detecting damage or flaws in infrastructure such as electrical lines and pipelines, as well as locating missing individuals or things in difficult-to-reach regions.

The engine prototype has been successfully tested by industry specialists and is ready to begin commercial manufacturing as soon as her request for financing is approved. The jury was transfixed. The Minister described her as a role model for our young entrepreneurs, particularly women. The project was approved by the jury, who were filled with admiration and had sparkles in their eyes.

My typical tense and jittery state of mind was almost cheering, as I waited in excitement for the next candidate. They were two young ladies who claimed to have invented a plastic out of indigenous plant wastes that has a shelf life of over six months, is biodegradable, and can be transformed into manure after decomposition. They claimed that this would eliminate our long-standing problem of littering in our villages, towns, cities, ponds, rivers, and oceans. They proudly stated that their product is unique because no ingredients are imported, the manufacturing unit is created locally with parts that are fully manufactured in Pakistan, and they are in contact with hypermarkets, large markets, and sales outlets that have expressed an interest in purchasing user-friendly and environmentally friendly plastic bags.

All they needed to do now was scale up their production facility to manufacture enough biodegradable plastics for a range of items. Since the concept made a lot of sense, the jury happily approved it, and the two young ladies departed the platform with a brilliant glow on their faces and a mighty spark of hope for themselves and their country in their eyes.

When I waited for the next candidate, my mood had entirely changed. They were two, one teacher and one student, who created a 3-D printer for the construction industry, allowing the construction of highly durable houses in a fraction of the time compared to conventional house building processes, at a cost that is 35% less, and will give the designer the flexibility of choosing any design of the walls, the rooms of any dimensions that one can imagine, adding innovation and unique design to each house and each room. A layer of material, such as concrete or plastic, will be deposited on top of another layer via the computer-controlled construction process. This procedure is repeated till the object is finished. They stated that they had developed the prototype, but that it now needed to be scaled up to satisfy the requirements of large-scale construction. The concept made so much sense that it was approved without any thought.

Two young men were the next candidates. One of them, who was in the lead, confidently showed their indigenously made application capable of analysing the area in terms of texture, composition, and rock formation type. It will also identify the water pathways in the land parcel and will confidently propose the water channel required to remove rain water in the event of urban flooding. According to them, this application is unique, indigenously built, and particularly cost effective for the end user in terms of producing sound plans and designs for large-scale building and housing projects. They had already launched the programme, which was used by the construction business in Pakistan. They were also planning to promote it to the rest of the globe as a unique and cost-effective application that will aid in the construction of safe, secure, reliable, and long-lasting structures and housing projects. They needed to improve the application’s effectiveness, efficiency, and usability. They requested funds for the project, which was quickly granted.

One competitor after another presented innovative products and services that demonstrated innovative solutions to complex problems. Indeed, they are evidence of the creativity and innovation of the Pakistani people. My eyes were filled with floods of pure joy, and my heart was brimming with optimism and hopes for a better future. It was the first time in my lifetime that such a transparent and merit-based system was adopted to approve high-value startup projects based on indigenous research and innovation while utilising locally available goods, services, and expertise.

This prompted me to explore the Prime Minister’s Kamyab Jawan (PMKJ). It is a government-backed program that aims to provide financial assistance to the young entrepreneurs at subsidized rates starting from Rs. 5 million to help them start and grow their businesses without having to worry about high-interest rates. The program also provides training and mentorship to young entrepreneurs to help them start and grow their businesses and to learn the skills they need to be successful in business. It gives the young entrepreneurs access to government resources, such as land, licenses, and permits to to overcome some of the challenges they face when starting a business in Pakistan.

The financial details were disclosed by the State Bank of Pakistan. Under PMKJ, financing is available to all Pakistani citizens between the ages of 18 and 45 who have entrepreneurial potential and a valid CNIC. There are options for both long-term and working capital loans. The funding is divided into three categories. Under tier-1, loan limits range from Rs 100,000 to Rs 1,000,000, under tier-2, from Rs 1,000,000 to Rs 10,000,000, and under tier-3, from Rs 10,000,000 to Rs 25,000,000. Markup rates for tier-1 loans are 3 percent, tier-2 loans are 4 percent, and tier-3 loans are 5 percent.

It is indeed encouraging that the startup ecosystem in Pakistan is expanding rapidly and that startups are making significant contributions to the country’s economy by creating jobs for both skilled and unskilled workers, developing new technologies, exporting goods and services to international markets, and attracting venture capital and other foreign investment.

Careem, a ride-hailing app, Bykea, a motorbike taxi service, Foodpanda, a food delivery service, Tapmad, a mobile payments platform, Airlift, a logistics company, and Byonyks, a biotechnology startup that develops affordable healthcare devices, are just a few of the companies already making their mark in the country.

Mera Maweshi is an agriculture startup that utilises artificial intelligence (AI) to provide smartphone-based diagnostics for cattle diseases to small producers. Smart Helmet is a safety venture that employs the Internet of Things (IoT) to detect poisonous gases and guide illiterate miners to safety. Tawazun is a fintech venture that offers microloans to rural Pakistani women. Edunext is an EdTech venture that provides Pakistani students with online courses and resources. Befiler, a tax and business advisory services, AdalFi, a credit-scoring platform for digital lending, Swag Kicks, a pre-owned e-commerce startup, Trukkr, a managing logistics and financing for trucking companies, and Maqsad, a seed funding platform, are recent market entrants.

During my assignments in Malaysia and France, I was able to examine their educational systems. In Malaysia, 25% of their enormous budget is allocated to Education. In France, there is only one school system, in the Public Sector, to which all school-aged children, regardless of socioeconomic status, are required to attend. As a result, the school system produces outstanding students, and both countries excel in all sectors.

Creating a supportive regulatory environment, providing funding and mentorship, promoting entrepreneurship education, connecting startups with investors, attracting foreign investment, and building a strong startup community are a few additional steps that must be taken.

Work ethic, entrepreneurial skills, a desire for research and development, and the ability to create straightforward solutions to complex problems are unquestionably assets. We must establish a critical mass of Startups to become one of the largest growth engines. They are few, but give the nation great hope. We must create a large number of them, which is only possible if, as a nation, we recognise the importance of imparting quality education throughout the country and ensure that every school-aged child attends school and receives quality education and proper upbringing.

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