Bribery and corruption are widespread, while government efforts to tackle graft have resulted in an unfriendly regulatory environment “towards investors and entrepreneurs alike”, i2i said in a 2019 report on Pakistan’s start-up ecosystem.
The government is enthusiastic about start-ups and has launched incubators in dozens of universities and tech schools, which it hopes will help develop the sector.
Global tech giants are also taking interest.
Ride-hailing app Uber has partnered with a government fund to bring its #UberPitch to Pakistan, where budding businesses are given a chance to present their ideas, while Google and Facebook have awarded grants to start-ups featured on Pakistani reality show Idea Croron Ka (Million Dollar Idea).
But, compared to countries such as neighboring India, investment has been slow to come, making it hard for start-ups to grow beyond their incubation period.
Many tech entrepreneurs are out of touch with the realities of Pakistan and the unique needs of consumers there, said Maryam Mohiddin Ahmed, co-author of a report on Pakistani start-ups entitled “Beyond the Buzz”.
“We don’t need people to get our emails arrive faster but our crops to grow better. If a large chunk of the population is not being served by innovations, then what is the point of innovating?” she added.
What Pakistan needs is more “game-changing startups” on a human and environmental level, she argued.
But despite the challenges, there is room for optimism.
With Pakistan’s young population rapidly digitizing, “never have the opportunities for social, economic and political progress been so great”, the UNDP stated in a 2018 report.
by Kaneez FATIMA and Joris FIORITI