It is late at night in Kula Lumpur. Most hotel restaurants are done for the evening. The day that was 15th October is slowly sliding to a close. Excited, tired and exhausted after pushing the Pakistan delegation through the hoops during the first two weeks of October leading to Awards night, we finally find a moment of peace. Not to rest but to wrap up the press release announcing Pakistan’s historic performance in front of a packed hall of regional and Malaysian dignitaries.
We finally get done in the early hours of 16th. Two of us have flights to catch in a few hours, while the third will stay back for a day of meetings with APICTA counterparts. Jehan Ara, Badar Khushnood and your truly are finally done with our nonstop 72 hour stretch of effort for the Asia Pacific ICT Awards.
The year is 2010. We are sitting down in a private corner in the lobby at the KLCC Traders in Kula Lumpur somewhere between bone tired and dead asleep. The conversation turns to how we landed here in the first place. We talk about how far we have come from the 2006 APICTA held in Macau and what we need to do to travel farther on this road. There is a wish list that gets bounced around. Mistakes we have made in the past and elements we need to improve to put up a better performance in the future on Awards night.
It has been four years but I still remember that night. Badar ordered a Pina Colada. I munched on chicken wings with blue cheese. Jehan was too tired to move or eat. As we played with our food, we spoke about what was next. What would our teams need in the future to do well at the awards? More judges would certainly help. Additional mentoring would go a long way. A longer preparation cycle was a must. We had to do our awards much earlier to make all of this work.
Our key take away that night was that the biggest beneficiary of the awards were young startups. Young teams got a great deal more out of international exposure. They bloomed and transformed overnight with a little attention and effort. Three young startups had accompanied the Pakistan delegation to Kula Lumpur. My Offstreet (Shahjehan and Shahrukh) offered a fast track online store front, Aero car (Akhtar Hasnain) built battle field ATMs and Solo smart (Good morning Farhan Masood) presented Touch XS, an attendance management platform for labor pools that did not require a literate population.
How do we get young startups interested in competing and representing Pakistan in international events? We quickly realized we needed to ask a different question. How do we get more young men and women to give the startup and technology world a chance?
The answer was simple. Make it possible for young teams to experiment. Reduce their cost of failure. Give them an environment where they could focus on succeeding and not worry about paying rent or electricity bills. Put role models in front of them that they could follow. Like design patterns, guide them with milestone based roadmaps that allow them to succeed or fail quickly. Take the shame out of iterations and pivots. PASHA obviously didn’t have the resources to do everything. We were not even sure if this was our mandate. While we believed in young teams we were not sure how our Central Executive Committee would react to adding the technology startup community to our mandate. Later discussions with the CEC clarified the mandate. New technology startups would ultimately become PASHA members, create technology jobs and give back to the community. If we jump started the ecosystem the Karma would pay us back.
Done with our work at 2 am in the morning, we discussed the outline of what would ultimately become the PASHA Social Innovation fund and dreamt about the idea that this weekend became Nest.io – the PASHA Technology Incubator funded and supported by Google, Samsung and the US State Department. While the Social Innovation Fund happened within the next few months, the PASHA Technology Incubator project took a great deal more effort spread over the next four years.
Maybe one of these days I will sit down and write about the effort made by the PASHA team to get to the finish line.