Fifteen start-ups have won grants of up to $35,000 each in the Pitching Competition organized by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) under the Innovator Seed Fund (ISF). As many as 26 entrepreneurial teams, shortlisted out of 186 applicants, participated in the competition.

The grant winning start-ups include ezGeyser, mimAR Studios, Funkshan Tech (Pvt) Ltd and truID Technologies (Pvt) Ltd from National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST); Savvy Engineers (Pvt) Ltd and Arm Rehab Technologies from International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI); Averos Life Sciences from Institute of Management Sciences (IMS), Peshawar; Wonder Women from University of the Punjab (PU); Orko (Pvt) Ltd, Boltay Huroof and Porter Pakistan from NED University of Engineering and Technology (NEDUET) Karachi; VisionRD and Oxbridge Innovative Solutions (Pvt) Ltd from Bahria University Islamabad; 110 Innovate from Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Sukkur; and Shahruh Technologies (Pvt) Ltd from University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore.

Chairman HEC Dr Mukhtar Ahmed graced the award distribution ceremony as chief guest alongside Country Director World Bank (Pakistan) Gailius J Draugelis, Executive Director HEC Dr Shaista Sohail, Vice-Chancellors, members of corporate bodies, jury members, and other notables.

In his remarks, Chairman Dr Mukhtar Ahmed said Pakistan’s start-ups saw a record-breaking year of fund-raising in 2021 with over $350 million in funding. He noted that with collective and persistent efforts, this fledgling ecosystem can flourish further and safeguard Pakistani entrepreneurs through regulatory, networking, and funding opportunities.

He stated that HEC, in collaboration with partners like WB, will continue creating a good working environment for youth, as Pakistani youth have no dearth of potential. He emphasized the need for introducing and materializing impactful research and entrepreneurial ideas to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to national problems. “The important thing for institutions to do is to ensure availability of best-possible facilities for youth and create a quality research ecosystem,” he underlined.

The Chairman highlighted that the youth have multiple opportunities under various initiatives like the Prime Minister Youth Program, while the BICs are playing a very imperative role in exploiting the capabilities of young scholars, researchers and entrepreneurs. “Amidst the ample facilities and opportunities for talented Pakistani youth, he said, there is need for doing more as there is still a long way to go.

“Let’s open the chains and break the walls to challenge the status quo and bring change to the society,” the Chairman stressed, congratulating the winning start-ups. He stressed the significance of holding pitching competitions and said the award of ISF grant is a dream come true. He also shed light on the background and importance of the HEC-WB partnership.

Mr Gailius J Draugelis expressed satisfaction with the HEC-WB partnership and hoped that the HEDP initiatives will support quality tertiary education in Pakistan while generating revenue streams and triggering socio-economic growth. He appreciated the role of BICs in helping execute the business ideas introduced by university teams. He said that the HEC-WB collaborations aim at promoting quality and relevant research and encouraging academia-industry linkages.

During the pitching ceremony earlier, Dr Shaista Sohail said Pakistan currently has the largest number of young people ever in its history, which makes it one of the youngest countries in the world. “This huge generation of young people can be the biggest asset of the country, if we are able to reap its potential by empowering and uplifting them.” She stressed the need for providing the youth the right kind of education and skills as well as the opportunities to fulfil their roles as responsible, productive citizens, and drivers of economic growth.

She noted that in many countries, startups and entrepreneurship play a very important role in job creation. She further observed that Pakistan’s startup ecosystem is still in its embryonic stage compared to other nations of the world. “There is a dire need to propel our efforts towards promotion of technology and innovation-based Startups in the country and to boost the overall Startup ecosystem,” she emphasized.

A jury member, Mr Wahaj-us-Siraj, CEO Nayatel Pakistan Mr Wahaj-us-Siraj, acknowledged the talent and potential of university students, graduates and researchers with regard to presenting solutions to local challenges. He underlined that Pakistan definitely faces problems, yet it is certain that problems bring opportunities with them. Highlighting various achievements of Pakistani academia and industry in the spheres of technology and innovation, he stressed that the young generation of Pakistan is blessed with the capabilities to sort out solutions to the challenges facing the country.

HEC constituted an independent jury panel having eminent industry and business representatives to adjudicate the competition. The jury members included Mr Azhar Rizvi, CEO Cambridge Advisors Network; Mr Noshad Minhas, Country Head Pakistan, Fasset; Dr Zain-ul-Abdin, General Manager SEEDS, IGNITE; Ms Nadia Jahangir Seth, General Manager, Policy & Planning SMEDA; Dr Shoab Ahmed Khan, Chancellor CASE; Ms Madiha Parvez, Head Corporate Innovation, Telenor; Mr Owais Anjum, CEO, EMumba Pvt Limited; Ms Fatima Mazhar, Member Advisory Board, COLABS – CEO Confidential; Mr Furqan H Qureshi, Founder, TheFourDees; and Mr Aftab Chatha, CEO Chatha Bio Care.

ISF is an initiative under the Higher Education Development in Pakistan (HEDP) that aims at engaging entrepreneurs and upcoming aspirants who want to convert their business ideas into action. Under ISF, a package of support and seed funding is awarded to early-stage start-ups through HEC-recognized Business Incubation Centers (BICs) at universities.

The grant winners, in addition to seed funding, will be extended support through BICs in the form of entrepreneurial training, legal training and support, financial education, business development service provision, and investment readiness training. Besides, successful start-ups will be connected to a range of funding sources that can help them meet their capital needs during the scale-up phase post program.

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Arsalan Haider is a reporter at Academia Mag and has worked with leading national dailies and news channels. He tweets @arsalanhaider14

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