As originally published in Synergyzer Issue 4 – 2018

Shahjahan Chaudhry, Director – NIC

What is the idea behind National Incubation Centre?

Disruptive innovation is when you do something which is ten times better or costs ten times less. The idea behind NIC is to encourage our inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs to come up with ideas that can improve the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. NIC hopes to remove the obstacles that entrepreneurs come across when trying to execute their ideas so that they can turn those ideas into successful businesses. If our entrepreneurs succeed, our innovation ecosystem will flourish and help the country prosper.

What are the challenges that NIC plans to address through its vision?

Pakistan has a major challenge: Half our population lives in poverty and we need to find ways to lift them out of it. A second big challenge is our trade deficit. We buy more from the world and sell very little. If we want to become a wealthy country we have to find ways to increase our exports and serve the domestic market; basically more exports and fewer imports will eventually lead to a trade surplus. Of course, easy to say but hard to achieve!

What is NIC Karachi focusing on?

NIC Karachi is focusing on acceleration. We feel that it is easy to start up – the real challenge is in scaling up. That’s where we feel we can have the maximum impact on the innovation ecosystem; by creating successful role models we aim to inspire the next wave of innovators.

What success rate have the already established NIC centers achieved in other cities of Pakistan?

The early success of NIC’s in Islamabad and Lahore is very encouraging. Just one startup raised investment equal to the 5-year investment made in both NIC’s.

I believe that the impact of NIC’s is going to be exponential, and then successful startups will eventually re-invest into the ecosystem and a whole generation of innovators will come out of this process.

Why choose NED University as the venue for NIC Karachi?

NED University is the oldest multi-disciplinary engineering school in Pakistan with about 12,000 students and over 500 faculty members and researchers. By connecting researchers and entrepreneurs we aim to address some of Pakistan’s biggest challenges: Housing, energy, mobility, water, education, and health.

NED has produced many successful entrepreneurs who created multi-billion dollar companies abroad. Our mission is to build a culture that combines innovation, excellence, and entrepreneurship so that we can create those success stories here in Pakistan.

What is the difference between any private incubation center and NIC?

NIC is funded by Ignite National Technology Fund, administered by the Ministry of IT & Telecom. It’s managed by LMKT and our partners are HBL, PTCL, PPAF (Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund) and NED University. So we bring a lot of firepower to the table.

If we compare NIC to a for-profit incubator or accelerator, the difference is obvious: They want to make money and we want to build the innovation ecosystem. On the other hand, if we compare NIC to a non-profit accelerator, the difference would be our scale; we are a bigger facility with ambitious targets.

What kind of startups is NIC focusing on?

We are looking for innovative ideas with the potential to scale and either improve a million lives or create a large enterprise quickly.

Currently, we are looking at all the startups that apply to us, but more so at sector-specific batches because learning from peers working in the same space has its own advantages. 

What are the qualities that you look for in startup founders?

We have a rigorous selection process. We are basically looking for founders with the talent, the grit and the desire to make an impact. We want to encourage unstoppable souls with great ideas and the capacity to execute.

How does NIC grow a small idea or business into a large business?

A startup incubated/accelerated at NIC has instant access to potential partners and investors. We also connect them to world-class coaches, distribution partners and investors. While the opportunities are endless, the founders have to step up and ask for them.

What role does NIC plan to play in Pakistan’s innovation ecosystem?

The innovation ecosystem of our country is still in its early stages, we have yet to make major progress. Right now, our innovators are neither celebrated nor do they achieve the kind of success they should.

The role of NIC’s is to facilitate in building a knowledge economy that can take Pakistan forward. However, in order to have a real transformative impact, we need to invest considerably more and at a larger scale, for instance in building a 100-acre knowledge village.