When we established the country’s first Technology Incubation Center (TIC) at NUST Islamabad in 2002/2003, all of us, the pioneers, thought that by 2010, Pakistan would be counted amongst the few developing countries with a robust innovation economy. Little did we know then that converting knowledge into economy through innovation was not only a hearsay or a cliché/sloganeering, but a completely new mindset.
We coined a new discipline, ‘TEKNOMICS’ to spell out this new approach of the 21st century, which meant Technology Driven (TE), Knowledge Based (KNO) Economics (MICS). This integrated concept requires to be explored further by policy think tanks like SDPI/PIDE/PRIME etc.to further define its contours.
The knowledge economy, a buzzword, has since been used and misused by one and all without fully grasping the dialectics of it. In one breath we use the terms start-ups, SMEs and micro entrepreneurs without understanding the ramifications of each to the growth of our innovation economy. After almost twenty years in this business, time has now come for Kamyab Pakistan to fully grasp all the verticals of our innovation economy to first accomplish the target of $ 10 Billion in the next five years and to then double it by 2030.
To achieve this, we need to get new younger Leadership at the helm of affairs as it is their future we are deciding to-day instead of the other way round. A fresh start has to be made now by clearly making strategies of startups which is much different from that of SMEs and micro entrepreneurs. Over the years, the horizontal spread of the two may have added more jobs and social mobility but has hardly contributed much in our innovation economy.
One can easily predict the growth of individual SMEs but growth in a multiplying number is achievable only through the startup ecosystem. For an inclusive innovation/entrepreneurship ecosystem based upon the Kamyab Pakistan Model we need to integrate the base of the pyramid entrepreneurs (micro-entrepreneurs) leading to low-tech hanging fruit start-ups (it/telecom/mobile apps etc.) and finally moving up the innovation ladder on to the high-tech start-ups (AI, robotics, electronics, aerospace engineering etc.) for holistic vertical growth to make an appreciable impact to the growth of our innovation economy.
Starting from the grassroots, the Akhuwat model may have the horizontal spread of micro-entrepreneurs on a short-term strategy but would require remodelling for long-term impact to our innovation economy. If ten percent of these micro-entrepreneurs are turned into SMEs and in the second step, in turn some of these SMEs are pushed into the social entrepreneurship startup mode, the Akhuwat model alone can contribute more than ten times to our growing innovation economy.
The State Bank/SMEDA/SECP/PCP may have their own definitions of SMEs/micro-entrepreneurs but we should not worry about semantics and focus on their full impact on our innovation economy. The top vertical of our innovation/entrepreneurship economy are the high-tech start-ups coming out of our university incubators which are now more than forty in number. Low-tech and other start-ups we have already mentored over the years with the number now reaching almost ten thousand from all big cities of Pakistan. The challenge now is to give a final push for graduating tech start-ups, especially from the technology incubators of the engineering universities. We may have to then add on accelerators to some of these dynamic technology incubators for a robust innovation/entrepreneurship ecosystem consisting of access to angel funding, venture capital, technology transfer offices, an intellectual property rights regime and above all, a facilitating innovation policy framework addressing all these burning issues. We have all come thus far through our own grit and determination and above all, passion. The time has now come to build a well-defined permanent structure of our national innovation/entrepreneurship ecosystem led by youth leadership for the empowerment of the youthful population quietly without the humdrum and cliché of the youth bulge.
The growth of start-ups could determine the future of our innovation economy. We keep harping on the tunes of SMEs and micro-entrepreneurs but all of them put together may not impact as much as a single start-up can. Take the case of Skype. This company was bought by a Pakistani-American based in Silicon Valley for a paltry $1.5 million from the University of Estonia Technology Incubator in 2002 and within one year sold this company to eBay for $4.5 Billion. We have at best produced so far, a $10 million start-up from a university incubator during the last fifteen years. We need to now fill the gaps in our ecosystem for at least producing the first ‘markhor’ ($100 Million evaluation) by 2023 and our first unicorn ($1 Billion) by 2025.
The vertical growth of start-ups could determine the future of our innovation economy and the earliest alignment of all stakeholders leading towards a dynamic innovation/entrepreneurship ecosystem is most essential through viable policy interventions.
This article was originally published at: https://nation.com.pk/11-Apr-2021/kamyab-pakistan-changing-the-ecosystem
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.