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Promoting Technology Entrepreneurship in Pakistan

Khurram Zafar and other entrepreneurs meeting with Chief Minister of PunjabYesterday I helped organize a “Meet & Greet” event with the Chief Minister of Punjab for technology entrepreneurs primarily based out of Lahore. Most of the entrepreneurs were young leaders of small startups in the web and mobile application and games development space. A few of the seasoned tech entrepreneurs participated also.

Overall, it was a great event and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the Chief Minister and his leadership team from the Information Technology, Investment and Trade and Information departments.

Prior to the meeting, I had a poorly conceived, media biased impression of the CM as a political leader who yells and screams at ‘jalsas’, breaks mics and quotes Jalib Sahab’s poetry for effect. But yesterday’s meeting was a bit of an eye opener. In a small and informal gathering of educated entrepreneurs representing their businesses and communities, Chief Minister Mr Shahbaz Sharif came across as a very well-spoken, articulate, knowledgeable and decisive leader who seemed very passionate about Pakistan and genuinely sorry at the state of affairs in the country. I am reporting as I saw and felt it without any adulteration, bias or judgement on my part.

What was unarguably very real was the follow-up to many suggestions presented by various participants. Some important action items that I took note of were as follows:

  • Mandatory participation of local start-up businesses in various Punjab government led initiatives related to information technology. The CM suggested 20-30% portion must be outsourced by the government to the local, small technology companies. Umar Saif, Chairman of Punjab Information Technology Board was asked to work out the modalities of this proposal.
  • A conference was ordered to take place that will provide an opportunity for young startups in the province to showcase their products and services as well as highlight the various Punjab government initiatives that they can participate in.
  • CM also asked his leadership team to work out a plan which will facilitate access to capital for young entrepreneurs aside from the great initiative by PITB to provide free space in the Arfa Technology Park to select new technology ventures. This could be in the form of grants, subsidized services or debt notes offered at subsidized rates.
  • The Chief Minister also took notice of a local GIS service provider and advised his staff to involve the company in the Land Records Automation project of Government of Punjab.

Although small, these are important steps in the right direction towards creating a nurturing ecosystem to support technology entrepreneurship in the country.

I am grateful to the honorable Chief Minister Mr. Shahbaz Sharif, who took hours out of a very busy schedule to meet with the entrepreneurs. Thank you to his staff for arranging this meeting. And lastly, I would like to thank everyone who attended this meeting and made it a great success.

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