Unlearn and Learn with Furqan Qureshi: Startups on the Path of Innovation

Every week a tall, grey haired individual walks in at the NIC in Islamabad. One wondered what he is doing at a place full of millennials in a fast pace environment. We decided to catch up with Furqan Qureshi and find out.

Idea to Execution

There are ideas galore out there, the key is in execution. At the end of the day, a startup is a startup for a short time, eventually it becomes a business entity. You need plenty of business acumen and strong domain knowledge of the industry sector to run a business successfully, and this acumen comes from running a business or from having worked in a corporate environment. Transferring that skill to the startups is the goal. I keep reminding startups that the only way for them to make their startup go big is to Think Big, Think Global. In order to adopt that mindset, startups need mentoring and coaching, to open them up to new ideas, possibly pivot, improve their business models and sell their value proposition. With training, mentoring and coaching, the objective is to not only develop startups’ business and technical prowess, but also to equip them with the skills they need to become better human beings, because eventually, that influences the way they conduct themselves in business.

Mentoring and Coaching

Startups do need plenty of mentoring and coaching. Most founders of startups are from non-business backgrounds and need to learn about building their business models; how to look at the potential market for their business and how to sell their product. A lot of them request time for coaching and mentoring. Training doesn’t solve the problem completely and founders need to be equipped with the right skillset to transform their startups into successful businesses. For this, mentoring and coaching is the answer. The key to mentoring, as a mentor, is to take ownership of the startup with the goal to evolve a mindset – changing an existing mindset to developing a new one. Coaching is like changing a skill or developing a new one. Both are important for startups, depending on their unique set of needs.

Innovation: The Driver

Dream, Build, Rise is all about innovation – this term is widely misunderstood. Innovation is about change. What we have been doing in this country for a very long time is not innovate, we’re doing renovate – we’re patching up ideas as products at the startups. It is not the product or service innovation that causes disruption in the market, it’s the business model innovation that creates disruption. The rate at which technology and the world is changing, innovation is the only way to survive. It’s all about survival of the fastest – if you innovate fast, you survive. But is it enough to just survive? We don’t want startups to just survive. We want them to grow, scale and thrive – every startup needs to understand that innovation is the lifeline, change is the only constant. The path is not linear and sustainable, it’s iterative and transient. Hence, if they want to succeed, they have to adapt constantly – learn, unlearn, relearn, unlearn, relearn.

Working with Startups

As a Mentor in Residence at the NIC, I indulge in training, coaching and mentoring the startups. I conduct trainings on design thinking, business model generation, value proposition design, selling skills and pitching. Selling and pitching being a crucial skill as it is the key for any startups to learn how to represent itself to their audience. Working with the Community Manager, Cynia Ejaz, we have been working on developing a totally customized curriculum for startups in Pakistan. We have done extensive research with startups to gauge their needs and requirements; the skills they consider important. From people who run incubators to other stakeholders and startups, we have taken into account their feedback. Done an in depth review of, why startups fail and succeed, both in Pakistan and globally. This is probably the first NIC and possibly the first incubation facility, in Pakistan to have a totally customized curriculum for startups. As we speak, we are prototyping the curriculum with the 4th cohort at the NIC.

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