Pakistan Startup Cup 2018-19: Who Won and What they Learned from the Experience

The 5thedition of Pakistan Startup Cup, the country’s largest startup competition presented by TiE Islamabad Chapter and US Embassy in Islamabad, has come to a close with 4 startups emerging winners! More than 2,000 startups applied to the competition; the shortlisted ones underwent rigorous evaluation, mentoring and coaching. With the finale of the competition approaching, we take a look at how the finale turned out and talk to startups that won the coveted prize! 

Zeeshan Shahid, Executive Director of TiE Islamabad shares,This was the 5thedition of Startup cup and it was quite a journey. I say so because the quality of startups was so amazing that it was very difficult for our judges to make selections. We had approx. 2000 applications this year from all over Pakistan. More than 550 went through some form coaching and mentoring. For a country like Pakistan, programs such as Pakistan StartUp cup is the way to go for achieving economic uplifting. There is huge entrepreneurial talent in Pakistan. I say so with confidence because I travel all around Pakistan to see it. There are ideas everywhere that can disrupt conventional industries and practices and create huge impact. All we need to do is handhold them, support them and equip them with the right entrepreneurial sense to help them bring about change our country needs. Startups can solve the larger problem of unemployment in Pakistan and fulfill prime minister’s vision of jobs creation. Entrepreneurs can solve various other problems faced by our countries, be it education or financial inclusion because they can offer cost effective, affordable and highly scalable solutions to these problems. For me all the Startups who are doing that are the winners. However, at the end of the day it’s a competition and there have to be a select number of winners. We have previously never had the winner from outside Lahore, Karachi or Islamabad. This time we had two Startups from Peshawar emerge as winners, which shows how the ecosystem all over the country is thriving.”

NanoIT Solutions, a startup from Peshawar, which took home the 1stprize talks about what they learned during the journey, “We learnt a lot through this journey. We improved our customer experience of individual products, we improved the whole VRHere experience to make it a better Edutainment Arcade for every age group and family members. We also learned that in spite of being too good at your product development and research, you better be good at articulating your product to a layman. Also, you need to have good numbers based on sweet equity before thinking of investments. Think very far ahead and think of it as a business rather being obsessed with being a startup. Remove any sort of sentiments that you have for your product and think of business numbers.”

According to DeafTawk, which took home the second prize,It was a great honor for DeafTawk to participate in Pakistan Startup Cup Challenge. The journey was indeed filled with rich experiences for team members. The mentors provided us with great inputs and advice such as improving the business model, and scaling the service across Asia Pacific. Moreover, it was a great chance to learn from fellow startups about various challenges and their solutions particularly bootstrapping. We learned a lot of other things. First, a strong business idea and engaging revenues. It is good to have impact, but if its not sustainable, then all efforts will be in vain. That’s why it’s important to have strong business ideas, which generates revenue for sustainability. Secondly, developing a strong team with vast knowledge in background and maintaining business model is important. A strong team will always be there to support each other and make it a very successful social enterprise. Because of that, DeafTawk is able to accomplish many other competitions, and achieve higher targets. Lastly, persistence is the key for achieving higher targets.” 

Irfan Sharif from ReceiptBot shares his experience, “When I started my business back in 2015, I struggled with startup support. Lack of mentoring was one of the biggest challenges that we had to face. I found this opportunity to participate in Pakistan Start up cup really helpful. The level of mentorship, competition and stakeholders’ engagement, everything exceeded our expectations. A few of the things I learned – having a business plan in mind is not sufficient, drafting it on paper with the numbers attached is an eye-opener. Good mentors are important, they can make you think about the considerations that you did not think of earlier, of course, there is an experience gap. Pakistan has great opportunities to offer, the startup ecosystem is flourishing, mentorship and investment opportunities are available, and the market is ready to adopt new and advanced products. Following Pakistan Startup Cup, we are very optimistic about the opportunities here. Previously we were solely targeting the developed markets, having realized the opportunities here, we have decided to launch our product in Pakistan as well and we look forward to working with the thriving startup and entrepreneurship eco-system here.

Aprus, which was also the 2ndRunner Up thinks, “Pakistan Startup Cup was an exuberant experience for us. During the journey we felt that we grew as founders, we learnt how to think big and most importantly, we learnt key business concepts and why design thinking is extremely important. The learning through mentoring sessions was unparalleled.”

What’s next after Pakistan Startup Cup 2018-19 for TiE Islamabad? Zeeshan Shahid highlights, “TiE Islamabad aims to create opportunities for all the budding entrepreneurs. We are a platform that encourages and inspires youth and budding entrepreneurs to pursue their innovative ideas. Currently, we have some great projects in pipeline that we are working on. In addition to our current initiatives, we plan to add an acceleration program to our portfolio of programs. Under this program we will induct 5 companies each year and help them scale by providing necessary resources. This will be formal acceleration program. Secondly, we plan to form a Think Tank based on stakeholders of Pakistan’s Startup ecosystem. The idea of the Think Tank is to combine the scattered efforts of the community into one big platform to create a better impact. The Think Tank will brainstorm over the challenges faced by Pakistani entrepreneurs, and provide solutions for the government policy issues that need to be addressed. It will also act as an influencing agent to influence policies. TiE Islamabad, being the biggest platform for entrepreneurship development in Pakistan, intends to perform its role as a thought leader along with all other stakeholders.” 

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