by Ather Imran Nawaz , President@OPEN Islamabad
OPEN Islamabad has a knack of bringing the best of Islamabad together. The Annual Forum 2016 on November 26, 2016 was no exception. An exciting theme, brilliant speakers, wonderful venue, quality audience, tinge of music and art, a traditional outlook and endless cups of SecondCup coffee made it one of the best events of the year. There were around 500 participants throughout the day, from as diverse domains as Technology, Government, Academia and Development sectors, including about 100 CEOs, co-founders and heads of public sector organizations.
While we do events around the year, the flagship Annual Forum is what excites everyone the most. It takes a monumental effort to pull it off, considering the scale of the project. We had a great partner this year – Corporate Advisory Council of NUST, the most prestigious engineering university in Pakistan. CAC is the primary body within NUST that liaisons with industry, they had been valuable partners with us for many years in many initiatives (e.g. FICS); building on this relationship to partner for Annual Forum seemed a no-brainer. We could not have had a better partner! Thanks to Rabia Ahmed, the Director CAC and her entire team.
While the 2014 and 2015 Forums were more inspirational, deriving value from the stories of young and accomplished entrepreneurs, the theme for this year was instructive. As the entrepreneurial culture gathers steam in Pakistan, there is an increasing need to provide actionable and concrete advice to budding entrepreneurs. Startups range from being in someone’s head, in early days, struggling, raising seed capital, selling their vision or products, battling with a failure or turnaround situation to being accomplished but looking to scale. This diverse spectrum pushed us to have a ‘Startup Series’ – a series of 7 talks on different, but connected subjects: Finding the Right Co-Founder, Raising Seed Money, Building Organizations through growing People, Managing a Turnaround, Leveraging your Failures, Art of Selling and Scaling your Venture. There is a progression from when you pick your partner to when you are ready to scale. These short and focused talks were supplemented by keynotes that added value from the sides. And as always, how can there be an OPEN event without a tinge of music and art?
Adnan Shahid, Chief Commercial Officer at PTCL, kicked off with his brilliant talk on picking the right co-founders with very specific 6 takeaways. Adnan’s talk made us realize the value of a solid opening, not to mention his presentation made in local Truck Art theme made it all more riveting.
Nasrullah, popularly knows as Nash, has raised seed monies for his ventures and works for Convo, one of the first Pakistani startups that raised VC money from the Valley. Nash gave a solid run through all of the do’s and dont’s of raising seed money, and all the quirks and pitfalls that go with them. Mistakes made at this stage stick a long way, just like in picking a co-founder.
Mohsin Lodhi, arguably the best corporate trainer and coach in Pakistan, showed that the only way to build organizations is by growing people: Organizations Don’t Succeed; People Do. Examples of Akhuwat and Grameen Foundations, and local success stories, served as perfect pivot to explain the value of focusing on people in addition to revenues, products and business models.
Junaid Iqbal, the dynamic CEO of the latest car-riding sensation in Pakistan – Careem, spoke with his signature charisma and charm about how to do an organisational turnaround – a situation many ventures find themselves in. His focus was on the cultural changes that transformed a sinking ship to one that made a great exit.
Dr Ismail Shah, the big boss of all Telcos in Pakistan, spoke on leveraging one’s failures – not merely managing them. Examples from his own life, episodes that seemed like failures at the time and how he managed to derive value and learning out of them, to be where he is today. No presentations, no numbers – just raw speech from the heart from one of the success stories of Pakistan!
Our very own, Owais Anjum, used his experience of Cricout and GivingAtWork to talk about the much less talked about topic of Art of Selling. Owais highlighted that an entrepreneur is always selling – what changes is the stage, mode and the audience. It can be selling your dream to your family, your vision to an investor, or your potential to a top-notch candidate. He laid out the selling models and pitches for every stage.
There could not have been a better ending than by Wahaj Siraj, CEO of Nayatel, which has been a great success story of a Pakistani company that started from 2 people in 1998 and is now one of the biggest connectivity providers in Pakistan. Being the brilliant orator that Wahaj is, the series ended on a real high and a loud chorus of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’!
The Startup series were supplemented by equally valuable keynotes that touched related subjects.
Master Ayub, a firefighter from Islamabad, who has been running an open air school for underprivileged communities, largely funded through his own pocket for 34 years, shared his life lessons of perseverance and grinding it out – something very relevant for the struggling entrepreneurs. Asad Umar, ex-Engro CEO and the most successful corporate CEO of Pakistan and a true friend of OPEN Islamabad, talked about institutionalizing innovation in growing and large enterprises.
Rabia Ahmed, head of corporate relationships in NUST and our partner, showcased 6 startups from NUST who are developing great products, from world’s first wearable technology for Cricket, to establishing hand tremors to measuring toxic contaminants in water to self-cleaning glass to hiring bikes in closed communities, to demonstrate the value these startups can bring to local communities with proper mentoring and resources.
We had a short-video message from Sheba Najmi, founder of Code for Pakistan, on partnership with OPEN Islamabad and the strides made in Islamabad for civic hacking! This partnership between Code for Pakistan and OPEN Islamabad is a continual success story, resulting in two civic hackathons, setting up of Islamabad Civic Innovation Lab and numerous other civic engagement projects, like Mohafiz.
And we had Taimur Rehman, the brilliant Urdu literature expressionist, who thrilled the audience with beautiful narrations from Urdu literature, and Ravish band enthralling audience post-lunch with beautiful renditions of sufi and classical music!
And finally, I closed out with the President’s closing remarks, key achievements of OPEN Islamabad and way forward. We highlighted the success of our networking and Special Interest Group programs and the many partnerships we have built with public and private sector organizations providing real value to them. Our last quarterly networking event had over 250 participants, with over 60 CEOs and founders, and 4 SIG tracks have started with over 13 sessions so far. Announcements included offering subsidized membership to entrepreneurs in NUST as well a a partnership with the hot coffee brand of Pakistan – The Second Cup – where all OPEN Islamabad members can get coffee at a 20% discount!
Thanks to a great organizing team, including OPEN executive members and CAC team and a fabulous group of NUST student volunteers who ran the event like a clockwork!
All details of the event are at: www.openislamabad.org/forum2016
All pictures of the event are at: https://www.facebook.com/pg/openislamabad/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1199933713422620