2021: A Banner Year For Pakistani Tech Startup Investments

The year 2021 is turning out to be a banner year for Pakistani tech startups. At the end of the third quarter of the current year, technology startups have already raised $278 million, twice the funding raised in the previous 5 years combined. 

Venture Capital Investment in Pakistan. Source: Kalsoom Lakhani, i2i Ventures

The third quarter (July-Sept 2021) alone has seen startup companies raise $172.6 in 17 deals closed in the three-month period, according to data compiled by Kalsoom Lakhani of i2i ventures. The top deals closed in the third quarter were: 1. Airlift $85 million series B 2. Bazaar $30 million in series A and 3. QisstPay $15 million seed round. 

Source: Kalsoom Lakhani, i2i Ventures

The lion's share of the ,money ($117 million) went to E-commerce startups followed by Fintech ($35 million) and trucking platforms ($13.6 million). Male-founded startups got 46.5% while female-founded companies received 1.7% with the rest of the money going to startups whose founding teams include both male and female founders. 

Pakistan's technology sector is in the midst of an unprecedented boom. It is being fueled by the country's growing human capital and rising investments in technology startups. A recent tweet by Swedish fund manager Mattias Martinsson captured it well when he wrote, "Have followed Pakistan for 15 years. Can't recall any time time when VC activity was anywhere near we've seen in the last few months. Impact of reforms kicking in?".  New laws have made it easier to create startups and offered greater protection to investors.  Digital infrastructure has expanded with over 100 million smartphones and an equal number of broadband subscriptions. 

With expanding Internet infrastructure and rapidly growing user base, Pakistan is now seeing robust growth in venture money pouring into technology startups. Pakistani startups have already attracted more than $278 million in funding in 2021, more funds than all the money raised by Pakistani startups in their entire history. A recent example is Kleiner Perkins, a top Silicon Valley venture capital investment firm, that led a series A round of $17 million investment into Pakistani start-up Tajir. The startup operates an online marketplace for small store merchants in Pakistan. The announcement came via a tweet by Mamoon Hamid, a Pakistani-American Managing Partner at Kleiner Perkins who led the investment. Last year, Tajir raised a $1.8 million seed round.  The company's revenue has increased by 10x since its seed round. 

Pakistan Technology Exports Trend 2007-2021. Source: Arif Habib


Pakistan's technology exports are experiencing rapid growth in double digits over the last decade. Total technology exports jumped 47% to $2.1 billion in fiscal year 2020-21. 

Pakistan University Enrollment Growth. Source: Encyclopedia of Higher Education

The foundation for Pakistan's digital transformation was laid with the higher education reform and telecommunications deregulation and investments starting in the year 2001 on President Musharraf's watch. With a huge increase in higher education funding, Higher Education Commission Chairman Dr. Ata ur Rehman succeeded in establishing 51 new universities during 2002-2008. As a result, university enrollment (which had reached only 275,000  from 1947 to 2003) soared to about 800,000 in 2008. This helped build a significant human capital that drove the IT revolution in Pakistan.      

Please watch the following video presentation for more details on Pakistan's technology startup ecosystem:

https://youtu.be/ePApXOM3vkQ

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan #agriculture #startup Tazah gets #2 million pre-seed funding. It screens produce for quality, removes rotten produce. It sorts into categories for specific types of buyers. Now it offers 5 products: ginger, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes & onions. https://tcrn.ch/3lgDm7C

The founders of Tazah Technologies, a B2B agriculture marketplace in Pakistan, met while serving leadership roles at Uber subsidiary Careem. Abrar Bajwa and Mohsin Zaka bonded during long working hours as the platform dealt with COVID-19’s impact. Eventually, the two started talking about creating their own startup. When asked how they got from ride-hailing to agri-tech, Bajwa told TechCrunch that the two grew up in farming communities. “We are from central Punjab and every family there has something to do with agriculture,” he said. “We had seen firsthand how farmers, or people who are involved in small holder farming, do not encounter social mobility based on how the deck is stacked against them.”

Agriculture is Pakistan’s biggest sector, contributing about 24% of its gross domestic product and employing half of its labor force, according to government statistics. But fragmented and complicated supply chains lead to inflated prices, food waste and low profits for farmers, all problems that Tazah wants to solve. The startup, which launched two months ago in Lahore, announced today it has raised a $2 million pre-seed round led by Global Founders Capital and Zayn Capital. Other participants included Ratio Ventures, Walled City Co, i2i Ventures, Suya Ventures, Globivest, Afropreneur Syndicate, +92 Ventures, Sunu Capital, Musha Investments and angel investors like senior executives from ride-hailing platforms Careem and Swvl, where Bajwa worked before launching Tazah.

There are currently about 300 small- to medium-sized sellers buying inventory through the platform and it moves multiple truckloads of produce per day. Right now it offers five main kinds of products: ginger, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes and onions. Tazah plans to expand into other vegetables and fruits, but wants to ensure that it can guarantee consistent supply and quality. For example, instead of just serving as a marketplace to connect farmer and buyers, Tazah also screens produce for quality, removing rotten produce. Then it sorts them into categories for specific types of buyers.

For example, potatoes are separated into ones for households, restaurants, small retailers, or to be made into French fries, based on what Bajwa and Zaka learned during market research. “We have spent months in wholesale markets, we’ve interviewed hundreds of retailers and we got to know that standardization of product is needed in Pakistan,” said Bajwa. “We get into the bottom of operations, because retailers will know what exactly is in the sack.” This has resulted in a monthly retention rate of more than 80%, and most customers buy from the platform about four times a week.

“We’re not just a box-moving operation because in one sack of potatoes, there can be multiple rotten potatoes, so you don’t want to just buy from farmers and then give to retailers. That doesn’t add a lot of value,” said Zaka. Tazah is currently focused on small to medium-sized sellers who are overlooked by fast-moving consumer goods and grocery product inventory providers because they aren’t able to buy at sufficient bulk. It’s also started talking to other customer segments, including B2C marketplaces, grocery apps and stores.

Increasing farmers’ profits and reducing food waste
Tazah’s founders say fragmented supply chains mean that about 30% to 40% of produce is wasted because they perish or are damaged each time they are unloaded, warehoused and reloaded onto a truck. The company wants to fix that by creating a shorter, more streamlined logistics infrastructure. It plans to keep costs down by working with third-party warehouse and trucking providers instead of owning its own facilities.

Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan #agriculture #startup Tazah gets #2 million pre-seed funding. It screens produce for quality, removes rotten produce. It sorts into categories for specific types of buyers. Now it offers 5 products: ginger, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes & onions. https://tcrn.ch/3lgDm7C


“There is the traditional supply chain and we’re building a parallel customized supply chain that is a more efficient supply chain,” said Bajwa. “It’s almost like reinventing the wheel to build a supply chain that ensures products move as fast as possible from point of harvest to point of retail.” This means Tazah will make early investments as it works with its warehousing and trucking marketplaces for middle- and last-mile deliveries, establishing best practices for how to handle produce.

Since Tazah needs to make deliveries early in the morning, it operates small fulfillment centers in addition to warehouses to stay close to customers. Part of its new funding will be used to expand its fulfillment center network in Lahore, with the goal of being operational in the entire city by the middle of October, before expanding into new regions.

Over-harvesting also contributes to food waste, and one of Tazah’s goals is to build a data and analytics platform that will help farmers plan crops to make sure there is no oversupply in the markets they serve. Farmers typically sell their produce at markets, occasionally forming groups with other farmers. But they don’t have a lot of information about market places and supply/demand beyond their communities. They also often end up in debt to middlemen because they lack access to working capital.

While Tazah is currently focused on its supply chain work, it plans to eventually add financing options for farmers after doing research, like going through several more procurement cycles to understand what how much capital farmers need and how they are able to repay it. Some of the barriers they face include lack of formal credit histories or access to financial institutions that usually don’t open branches in rural areas. Sometimes they borrow working capital from intermediaries in the supply chain, or loan sharks who charge interest rates of more than 60%, creating cycles of indebtedness.

“Financing is something we are aggressively looking after because it’s a future play for us and we are working with farmers to know what they are doing, and how they are actually getting financing,” said Zaka.

Tazah’s founders hope to see more startups emerge to solve problems for Pakistan’s farmers. “Agriculture has been a mostly ignored sector in Pakistan from a technology perspective, and I think that as more people come into this, they’re going to help each other, as opposed to competing with each other,” said Bajwa. “We feel that as more people come in, it will be better because it will accelerate the problem solving in this very difficult space.

He added, “this is such a large space in Pakistan and it’s so inefficient that if we are even able to make a small dent, it’s going to lead to social uplift for hundreds or possibly thousands of farmers, improve the availability of fresh produce, result in less food tasted and reduce food price inflation.”

Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan Launches #STEM program for youth. It is being initially introduced in 50 schools (grades 9-12) with building of special laboratories and teachers training. Students will be enrolled "based on their ability and talent" #science #STEMeducation https://www.dawn.com/news/1650447

President Dr Arif Alvi stressed on Wednesday the need to focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in the education sector, saying it was important for the country and people to progress.

Addressing a ceremony held to launch the STEM programme for higher secondary school students, he compared Pakistan with its neighbouring countries in this regard.

"China produces around 4.7 million graduates in STEM subjects every, while India produces around 2.6 million and Iran 350,000. And where do we stand?" the president said, adding that he believed that the number of STEM graduates was lower in Pakistan.

He called for increased focus on STEM in the education sector, saying that it was crucial for the nation to compete with the rest of the world so that it did not lag behind and progress.


The STEM programme
According to a report by Radio Pakistan, the programme, which will train students in STEM subjects, will be launched by the Ministry of Science and Technology in 50 government-run higher secondary schools across the country.

Students of grades 9 to 12 will be enrolled in the pilot programme and selected "based on their ability and talent", it added.

In a video message ahead of the programme's launch, Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz said STEM subjects had acquired a "special importance" in the world.

Sharing details about the programme, Faraz said the programme was planned in 2020 and he and his team had worked on it day and night to give it "practical shape".

Initially, the programme would be introduced in 50 schools, he said, adding that special laboratories would be built and teachers would be given specific training.

"These schools will also be associated with universities. The schools have been selected purely on merit, not political reasons. The principals will be our guests [in today's event]."

A new era of progress will start because of these STEM schools in which we have given a new direction to the education system to make our students competitive globally, he further said.

The programme would have three aspects — labs, teacher training and STEM modules, he shared.

Meanwhile, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who previously held the portfolio of science and technology, termed the programme a "game changer".

He said he had designed the programme because the country will "not change" until government schools are modernised.

"I am very happy that this plan is turning into a reality despite delays," he said in a tweet.

The minister expressed hope that more schools would adopt the STEM model following its implementation in 450 schools initially. Universities have been instructed to "adopt" schools and improve the level of science education, he shared.

Last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan had approved the STEM project in collaboration with varsities.

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) had said at the time that special laboratories for science and technology, engineering and mathematics would be established in 40 schools in the first phase.

Around 100,000 children in 400 schools will have access to education and training in modern sciences through the project.

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