Innovating Like A Startup: The Corporate Perspective @ Climate LaunchPad

A platform that brings different individuals and teams together, the Climate Launchpad is an event implemented by Stimulus to develop a clean-tech innovation ecosystem in Pakistan. Led by Hira Wajahat, the National Lead, this forum aims to bridge the divide between a corporate need and “locally sourced potential” to innovate and progress.

Day 2 of the Climate Launchpad was held virtually on September 18, 2020, in the wake of the pandemic. As the teams got ready to make their pitches, they were greeted by a panel of entrepreneurs and experienced individuals who discussed many topics ranging from the importance of start-ups to the opening up of more female occupied spaces in the start-up ecosystem.

The panel was moderated by Aqsa Tariq, the Editor in Chief of IDG/CXO Pakistan, and comprised of:

  • Wouter Plomp, Ambassador of The Netherlands to Pakistan;
  • Ayla Majid, MD of Financial Advisory Services at Khalid Majid Rehman Chartered Accountants;
  • Habib Haider, Head of External Relations and Corporate Affairs at Shell Pakistan,
  • Mian Talha Nasruddin, Head of Products, Growth & Startup Ecosystem at Jazz.

The panel discussion revolved around how the corporate-startup ecosystem in Pakistan is now growing and innovating, with the country witnessing a role reversal of sorts. As more start-ups spring up, corporations are harboring an increasing interest in innovations, even though the Pakistani start-up ecosystem is relatively recent.

The discussion revolved around corporate start-up collaborative innovation, whereby Ambassador Plomp was invited to share his perspective on corporate partnerships for innovation, and he did not disappoint. Talking about the importance of successful and effective green ideas, he stressed their importance in our current day and age.

The Ambassador also brought up another issue of utmost importance; the role of women in technology and innovation. For centuries, women’s intellectual and physical spaces have been crowded or restricted, and it is only very recently that they have started to encompass more roles in public spheres of life. Ambassador Plomp, however, made it clear that their presence is crucial to the profitability of any corporation.

Stimulus is one of the organizations, which maintained the participation of women at the rate of 51% for the second year in a row, and the Ambassador was quick to acknowledge and appreciate that.

The panel discussion also involved individuals from the Dutch companies Shell Tameer and Jazz Xclr8, two organizations that are commended for their interest in encouraging and promoting start-ups, particularly those led by women. In a male-dominated space, such organizations are hard to come by, but refreshingly appealing when sought out. Diversity is a key ingredient for the manifestation of creative processes, and the Ambassador put forth the Netherlands as an example- he stated that the Netherlands’ innovative and competitive creativities are credited to diversity, and by treating “all persons in the Netherlands equally in equal circumstances.”

“We in the Netherlands very much acknowledge the role of women in economic growth,” he stated. Female employment in the Netherlands rose from a mere 35% to a whopping 75% in our current day and age. While the Ambassador emphasized that only 100% is acceptable- “there is no time to be complacent,” he iterated. More women are now enrolled in higher education than men. Considering how important diversity is for creative processes, problem-solving, and profitability, we must establish safe and stable environments for women to exist within. Mr. Ambassador stated that the Dutch government recognizes the need for women in roles of management supervision, and the rate should be at least 30%. More opportunities need to be created for women to contribute in all spheres.

However, as the energy and start-up ecosystems gear up to take the world by force, there are still major parts of the world where women and children are badly affected because of unclean fuel and bad air quality, stated Ayla Majid. Such aspects hinder a healthy life, and hence, effective gender diversity. She suggested that as the world faces so many risks and challenges, one thing has been made clear- the need to think ahead of all possible risks. We all need to contribute to addressing challenges, and the collaboration between the corporate and start-up world is a start.

Globally, she stated, $2.5 trillion is needed annually to achieve the clean energy goals that the world needs to push for. In Pakistan, that budget is $96 billion. $44 billion are needed for energy alone, and to that end, a desire for energy efficiency means that a new ecosystem is needed. This should comprise of innovations from start-ups, and corporations must contribute to be encouraging of such an ecosystem. Start-ups are connected to real, everyday problems of society, as Talha Nasruddin mentioned, and the backing of corporations means that these problems can be addressed and challenged.

Mr. Talha mentioned that Jazz has worked with more than 185 start-ups, and is one of the organizations that believe innovation has to come from outside a corporation. As strong believers that the future will be driven by start-ups, Jazz was one of the first companies to step up to the challenge by establishing an incubation center. Other organizations followed suit. He emphasized the same points as Ms. Ayla Majid and stressed on the importance of facing up to the challenges. Development is a long haul ahead, and to support start-ups, it is important to have all the ingredients for success. Even if one key stakeholder lags, success can be halted.

Jazz Xlr8 is one such start-up accelerator that enables young people to shape their futures and make their mark by encouraging and working with start-ups all across Pakistan. Working in line with VEON’s ‘Make your Mark’ program, it enables young people to bring about a significant positive impact in society, by giving them resources such as exposure and tech-incubation. While there are some strict criteria for qualification, individuals are given multiple benefits which have come after considerable negotiations and collaborations with other organizations such as IBN and Microsoft. These benefits include free credits as well as access to a state of the art experience lab, where start-ups can use equipment to create applications and understand if they are workable or not.

While Jazz invested $150,000 in the National Incubation Center (NIC) Islamabad, it also allowed free mentorship and resources for these start-ups. Start-ups can approach Jazz departments for legal help, aid in marketing and so much more. Space has been provided for this ecosystem to flourish with a cross-pollination of ideas, giving rise to the idea of collaboration over competition. Jazz also remains aware of mothers and their responsibilities while juggling a career and personal life, and has established a daycare center with easy access, for ‘mompreneurs’. The center has been built at NIC. Furthermore, Jazz is encouraging start-ups that focus on social issues- working with the deaf community, and for early-stage breast cancer detection. Mr. Talha credited the Minister of IT for helping with the funding throughout.

Following the same train of thought, Mr. Habib Haider from Shell’s flagship enterprise development program, Tameer. Globally, this program is known as LiveWire. Stemming from Scotland in 1982, the program arose because of high unemployment and expanded to many countries. Tameer was established in 2003 and since then, has aided 12,500 entrepreneurs. Holding the belief that the driver of the future is a young population, the program aims to work with universities and students, to instill in them the thought process around innovation and starting their innovation.

Mr. Habib also talked about the Shell eco-marathon, which is a program that is also making waves in helping start-ups gain resources, mobility, and funding. The Shell eco marathon is a program about energy conservation in mobility. It’s a challenge where universities worldwide come together and present ideas on the conservation of fuel. Pakistan has been participating in the Asian challenge for nearly 10 years now, with nearly 400 universities participating in the competition. However, one thing was abundantly clear. Many universities in Asia receive high amounts of funding, which is something Pakistani universities lack. Students in Pakistan are given little funding from universities, and the rest has to be garnered from other sources. This puts a serious rut in quality and productivity.

To enable more Pakistani start-ups to forge ahead, Shell changed the process and created a pitching competition. University students who put forth innovative, unique, and creative ideas are funded and backed up by Shell to allow them to have a chance at winning a global competition and making a name. Teams get coverage to allow their successes to be highlighted, and their motivation is upheaved by receiving enough funding. The global eco marathon encourages students to also interact and bring back unique ideas that can be applied in Pakistan. This is much like what Stimulus is doing, bringing individuals together on one platform for the sharing of ideas to promote the growth of a new ecosystem.

However, Ms. Ayla Majid also talked about the risks involved in financing start-ups. There is a lot of hesitation surrounding new start-ups and investing in them, and that risk is here to stay. Innovations stem from risk. However, she suggests that the government and large corporations can have hand in this to encourage start-ups and promote collaboration of ideas. As different stages of a start-up’s life, different tools will be necessary, but it is necessary to support them at the very first stage. Having a holistic view of corporations’ role in these situations is very important, as is maintaining a diverse set of people. Mr. Habib mentioned that as the world forges ahead, the barriers that were upheld when trying to reach customers are no longer in place, and it is important that start-ups recognize the kind of tools and technology they will be needing.

The panel discussion shed light on the way corporations are stepping up to allow startups into the sphere of entrepreneurship, and what that means for Pakistan’s economical ecosystem. But the discussion also made it evident that there are a lot of hurdles on the long road ahead. Risks must be taken, but effort must not stop. If successful, this collaboration could forge the country ahead into a day and age of new dynamics, opportunities for all, and a safe and healthy environment.