The orientation week for the next cohort of NIC Lahore’s revamped Foundation Programme began Monday, November 30, giving its new batch of innovators and problem solvers a taste of what they can expect from their incubation experience.
37 teams from nearly 400 applicants were selected through a rigorous process to make it to this stage. Welcoming them, Saleem Ahmad, Chairman NIC, spoke about NIC’s renewed focus on addressing the most pressing challenges facing Pakistan and inspiring and facilitating a new generation of problem solvers to tackle these through commercially viable solutions: “Over the next several months, you will embark on a transformative journey with members of your cohort, guided by committed mentorship of business leaders and instruction from LUMS faculty and international technical experts. You will acquire skills necessary to transform your ideas into a thoughtful and investor-ready business plan.” A newly-inducted cohort of 20 startups at BUITEMS in Quetta also participated in the orientation week sessions and will be following a similar incubation plan held simultaneously to accommodate different linguistic and economic needs in Balochistan. To ensure that quality, commitment, and access to opportunities is uniform, the same LUMS faculty have been engaged to deliver similar content at both locations.
Following an introduction to the NIC Team, the newly-inducted startups were called upon to present brief introductions of themselves and their companies. The cohort presented a mix of services and products in an equally diverse set of industries with businesses ranging from Pakistan’s first shariah compliant buy-now-pay-later service; an automatic low-cost roti making appliance; cost-efficient prosthetics for amputees that utilise 3D scanning and printing technology; logistical solutions such as single wheel motorbike trailers to increase cargo capacity; a bio sensor chip to monitor and reduce toxins in crops and improve nutrition; identifying shoplifters in real time by using AI; an e-commerce aggregator for fashion brands that offers a curated and personalised shopping experience for buyers, and a food delivery service that empowers female entrepreneurs who prepare meals at home. As an ice-breaking activity, the teams had also been asked to share the biggest challenge they faced in running their enterprises. Some common and obvious themes emerged from their answers–market segmentation and marketing—but it was a new realisation to understand these in real time while sharing industry experience with others.
Day 2 of the week focused on operational matters and began with Haider Ali, NIC Manager Administration, establishing ground rules and etiquette for participating in the incubation programme to ensure everyone worked together to create a sense of community. Saima and Sahar from the curriculum and planning team then walked the startups through the structure of the programme and the modules that would be covered. Over the course of six months, a completely redesigned curriculum will be delivered by LUMS faculty and international technical experts and comprise six intensive bootcamps. The modules and some of the topics covered by this curriculum include:
1) Design thinking: problem validation, prototype testing, growth hacking
2) Strategy and business modelling: business model canvas, market research, product market fit, data analytics
3) Marketing, branding and sales: branding and identity, digital marketing, Customer Value Analysis, CRM strategy, pricing, sales, advertisements and messaging
4) Finance, accounting, valuation and equity management: accounting & bookkeeping, building financial plans, bootstrapping, understanding and modelling financial statements, projections, understanding valuations
5) Negotiations and legal aspects of entrepreneurship: business law, company incorporation, IP law, tax law, compliance, contract management, understanding key agreements
6) Presentation and communication skills: communication, team and conflict management, crises communication, interpersonal communication, negotiation, pitching
The emphasis is on applied academic programming, supplemented by bespoke workshops, a speaker series and mentorship by LUMS alumni, which will be instrumental in developing ideas into reality.
Adapting to the reality of COVID-19, the current Foundation Programme is taking place entirely online with the hope of adopting a hybrid model if the situation improves in the spring. Mindful of ‘Zoom fatigue,’ the team has ensured that all sessions are designed to incorporate best practices in pedagogical methods that are conducive to learning in online environments.
The second session of the day was led by Mahnoor Anwar, NIC Legal, to explain the contractual obligations and responsibilities of startups and NIC/LUMS.
The final day of orientation focused on entrepreneurial mindsets and began with Saima moderating a highly engaging interview with two NIC alumni. Usama Javed, CEO at SEO Drop, a wastewater treatment system that makes waste water reusable, and Faaiz Arbab, CEO at AYECo., a company manufacturing low-cost voice-assisted electric wheelchairs, shared their entrepreneurial journeys, highlighting the role NIC played in enabling them to refine their products, and reflecting on the personal lessons of grit, resilience, and being open to change that they learnt along the way.
The week closed off strong with an interactive session with Dr Alnoor Bhimani, NIC Interim Project Director, on unleashing the potential of entrepreneurship. Dr Bhimani reflected on the growth of tech-based companies in the last two decades, the importance of understanding finance as a tool to inform strategy, and the role of digital technologies and data in allowing rapid expansion. Fielding some insightful questions from the startups, Dr Bhimani ended on a note of positivity, reminding the audience that some of the biggest tech companies emerged during periods of global recession, much like the one we are currently experiencing, and encouraging them to uncover the opportunities that no one else can see.