Recently, we conducted an interview with CEO Ignite, Mr. Yusuf Hussain. He is a Tech Entrepreneur, angel investor, and tech enthusiast with international experience. He is associated with Ignite, The National Technology Fund for last two and a half years now and played a very significant role in promoting innovation and commercialization of research in the country. In a quick session with him, he shed light on Ignite’s contribution to the development and promotion of ICT and the regulatory changes required to keep up with technological advancements.
1 First, tell us what is the difference between entrepreneurship, startups, and innovations?
Innovation is the transformation of ideas and inventions into products and services that impact society. For example, if the light bulb is invented and there are no electricity transmission lines then the light bulb is an invention, not an innovation which benefits the society. Entrepreneurship or Entrepreneurs are new businesses. That new business can be a restaurant, it can be an IT Firm, it can be a gym or it can be a technological innovation company which brings a new business model or a new technology model. If it’s a latter, we call it a startup.
2 Tell us about your Entrepreneurial Journey?
So, my entrepreneurial journey started a long time ago. I was a co-founder of a company In America called Press Soft that used to do E-commerce, Business to Business.
Innovation is the transformation of ideas and inventions into products and services that impact society
We had fortune 500 Global 2000 clients like Time Warner, Philips, Schlumberger, and British Petroleum and so on. Moreover, I’ve been associated with other startups like Premier Unconventional Hydrocarbons exploration and production Software Company, one of the best in the world. Also, I managed a Silicon Valley’s incubator through which we trained and groomed many firms. I was heading TIE Angel fund and we did some investments so it was a great experience.
3 What have been the Major Obstacles in your career and how did you overcome them?
The main thing is your attitude. I think it’s very important to have focus, passion, and perseverance because if there is no passion or interest, you don’t put in your best and end up in a complete failure. Setting up a great company without passion and ambition is not possible and I believe my biggest strength has been my ambitious, determination and risk-taking nature. Whatever hurdles came my way, I have dealt them upfront.
I think it’s very important to have focus, passion, and perseverance because if there is no passion or interest, you don’t put in your best and end up in a complete failure
4 What has been Ignite’s Contribution to the development and promotion of ICT in the country?
If you talk about Ignite, our focus has always been on innovation. There are two major initiatives we want to undertake, one is E-government, not in sense of digitization of government and services but a well-thought-out architecture which we feel is 100% better than all the other government initiatives and return on investment. It will be very simple to use and centralized architecture just like India is working on India Stack and the UK government is pursuing UK.gov.
There are two major initiatives we want to undertake, one is E-government
So we have developed a plan and put forward for criticism from experts around the world. This is our going-forward strategy for IT industry. The other one is digiskills.pk initiative through which we are training people about the digital skills at a very fast pace; we have published some figures too which has left people astonished about the success of the programme. We are also planning to hold an event in which we will tell people about the structure and revenue projections. Learning from Digiskills, we felt there should be a similar online platform like codiskills.pk to train 100,000 programmers which has a classroom component as well. We believe that the finest urdu content is necessary as it is the national language.
The other one is digiskills.pk initiative through which we are training people about the digital skills
Other than that, we use artificial intelligence, predictive analysis to match the right content with the right people.
5 How successful Ignite has been in promoting entrepreneurial culture in Pakistan?
As I have already said, DigiSKills.pk is our own startup that has been doing very well. Our second program is of National incubation centers. We have established five of them; I am very happy that the team worked so hard. People used to say that it will take at least about 5-6 years. However, we delivered in only a year and 3 months and have already making revenues. We already have some success stories like Pak Whittay that has made a nanotech filter with the help of which you can filter and purify gutter water, it is quite cheap that anyone can afford. There are almost 10 Crore People in our country who suffer from different diseases caused by drinking unclean water. It has raised an investment of about 22 Million Dollars and will provide clean drinking water to almost 1 Crore people by the end of this year which is a huge achievement and we have many other similar success stories as well.
Pak Whittay that has made a nanotech filter with the help of which you can filter and purify gutter water, it is quite cheap that anyone can afford
Another thing that we do is seed funding. We provide funding of about 1.5 to 2 lacs to the technology startups of the 4th industrial revolution that has the potential to bring the next way to innovation. Facebook, Google are now a bygone what comes next is the artificial intelligence, Robotics, the internet of things, the block chains.
We have made success in these technologies as well for example, there is a startup named Electrocute in Peshawar that uses Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things to control line losses and power theft. They have controlled almost 90% losses in Peshawar MES in the past 1.5 years which makes almost 1.8 billion dollars. A Chinese company offered to make an investment of 46 million dollars but the Finance Minister, Dr. Asad Umar said that the government will invest in it as its investment return would be very good.
Similarly, Malik Jihan from Mianwali has developed an Urdu App in which any kind of diseases or problem related to the cattle is entered that uses artificial intelligence to diagnose the problem and then suggest remedies accordingly. So these are just some of the examples of our entrepreneurial contribution.
6 What Is the Business Model of Ignite?
We are owned by the government but are funded by the telecom operators like Telenor, Jazz and the Internet Service Providers like Nayatel and Worldcall. Our board is a public-private board having people from the Government as well as the private sector who have an equally important role in the selection of startups for training.
7 What are the selection criteria of the new startups? What are the incubators, seed funds and why are they important?
First of all, I would like to answer why are incubators important. Incubators are important in experiments and creating new startups. As I already told you that startups have been the vehicle of innovations for the past 30 years and the world’s 5 most valuable companies were initially startups. However, now we can’t wait for 70 years to reap the fruits so how can we accelerate this process? For that purpose, incubators are established where startups are being counseled, groomed and trained to become great companies.
Incubators are established where startups are being counseled, groomed and trained to become great companies
However, 90% of incubators had been shut all over the world now. So, we have studied all of this in great detail to highlight the factors of success and failure and to work out our own system. We have the top class mentors and trainers who guide the startups about their goals and how to achieve them while focusing on every aspect of the business including finances, marketing, idea development, target market etc.
Each incubator has its own criteria of selection but typically, we evaluate the startups on the basis of the future prospects of the startup idea, the character of the founder, the customer traction of the business if any, and the business model.
For seed funding, our focus is on 4th generation industrial revolution; we try to analyze that whether this team can develop a certain product at this much cost in this much time and secondly if that particular product is developed who will buy it? You will be quite happy to know that the UN’s industrial development organization UNIDO has selected Ignite as the top government organization in the world for its policy, strategy, and initiatives for the fourth industrial revolution.
8 Are you satisfied with the current technology revolution in the country? In your opinion what government and private sectors can do to speed up the process?
I think ease of doing Business is the most important factor in the process. In the past, we were at number 60 in the world and now we are at number 130, 140 in the index. It includes approvals, imports, customs, a taxation system that is really hurting the companies especially the smaller ones that don’t have the resources like lawyers, accountants etc to deal with the government agencies.
Secondly, our Tariff and Import Duty structure has also been quite disparaging where higher duty was charged on components as compared to the finished products which is quite opposite to what is actually required. If you want to promote local manufacturing in the country you will have to change this approach and make the raw material and components cheaper by bringing down the duties.
Thirdly, clustering is also very important so that likeminded people and businesses could grow together. In this regard, IT Parks and Tech Parks can be highly beneficial and special economic zones are a great opportunity for this.
our Tariff and Import Duty structure has also been quite disparaging where higher duty was charged on components as compared to the finished products which are quite opposite to what is actually required
9 What do you think are the top tech trends for the next five years?
Industrial Robots, Artificial intelligence, the blockchain, Internet of thing, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality etc are some of the trends that will change the world completely. We are also doing a number of projects on all these new technologies so I am quite hopeful that in the next couple of years Pakistan will be at the forefront of the technology revolution.
10 What regulatory changes do we require to keep up with technological advancements? What suggestions would you give to the government?
I would like to reaffirm rather than suggest because the government is already well-aware about the importance of Ease of Doing Business. At the same time, we need to work on our tariff and taxation system as well in order to promote the local manufacturing industry. I think these two things can create a lot of impacts.
11 What advice would you like to give to somebody who wants to become an entrepreneur?
Self-Knowledge is a very important aspect of life whether it’s in a personal or professional relationship. Whatever is your calling, just dive in with passion and perseverance, be bold enough to take risks.