Exclusive Interview with Dr. Zakiuddin Ahmed
By Omar Farooq Ramay
Dr. Zakiuddin Ahmed is a physician by training and he became a doctor by choice, but he moved into entrepreneurship at a very early stage of his professional career. He started a medical center and then came into this area of health and IT, which was very new in the world.
He started the first company of telemedicine and e-health in Pakistan and did a number of projects. His company started the first video conferencing project of Pakistan. He also moved into medical call centers. That was his one specialty that brought him into entrepreneurial space. He has other companies, which are working in the sphere of health events. They organize the largest events in healthcare and IT in Pakistan and they work in the space of medical tourism and digital applications and solutions for health care. Currently he serves as President of OPEN Karachi.
Startup: Please tell us about the entrepreneurial venture that is OPEN?
Dr. Zaki: OPEN stands for the Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America. Some Pakistani entrepreneurs established it in Boston, USA, 15 years ago. Now the organization is expanded into seven chapters across USA, with a membership base of more than 3000. Karachi, Pakistan is the first chapter outside the USA, which we launched 2 years ago.
Startup: What are the core objectives of OPEN?
Dr. Zaki: There are two main objectives:
1. To bring all the Pakistani entrepreneurs together (since it was established in the USA, so that is the prime objective)
2. To bring and create a networking opportunities for them because through networking there are business opportunities.
For OPEN Karachi, our main focus is essentially on the young, the youth of Pakistan. We have established student chapters in major universities of Karachi (including IBA, NED, SZABIST, PAF-KIET). Each university has around 10 to 30 students who are actively participating in OPEN activities and they are interacting with senior entrepreneurs, from not only OPEN but other organizations as well.
The other activity, which we have been engaged in, is our newsletter, which we bring out after every quarter for our members. We have also organized two major conferences, where we have gathered contemporary speakers and entrepreneurs who have shared their experiences and subsequently creating opportunity for networking. We have also organized some competitions for the elevator pitch and business plan competitions. Now we have moved on to certificate courses in entrepreneurship, not only for students but also for young entrepreneurs who are planning to start their own businesses and going for startups. So OPEN plans to cover all the activities from organizing people, bringing them together, networking, as well as some genuine projects and activities which can develop the capacity of young entrepreneurs.
We are also working on our mentorship program because OPEN being the largest organization of Pakistani entrepreneurs has access to a very big membership base and database of some of the leading entrepreneurs of the world! So we are connecting them with the young entrepreneurs. Our next plan is to send young entrepreneurs from one chapter to another for internships. For example, someone from London could come to Karachi for an internship of 2 to 6 months. Similarly, if someone in Lahore wants to go to Silicon Valley, then both chapters will coordinate and support the young entrepreneur. So that is something which I believe is very significant and meaningful which we are planning.
Startup: What can be considered as your greatest contribution in this field?
Dr. Zaki: I like to believe that I have contributed in two different areas. Firstly, establishing the OPEN chapter itself, in Karachi and Pakistan because OPEN USA had been trying and thinking to start a chapter outside the US but due to some reason or the other, they were not able to do it. So they reached out to me and gave me this task of starting the Pakistani chapters. I feel that this is one of the major contributions for the country’s entrepreneurial space; the entrepreneurial ecosystem. OPEN provides many opportunities for existing entrepreneurs as well as future entrepreneurs. As far as the entrepreneurial business is concerned, I introduced health and IT (which is telemedicine & e-health in Pakistan). I not only brought it into the space of funding activities but I created sustainable, skill able models, which could also generate revenues.
Startup: What are the factors behind this success?
Dr. Zaki: For any individual or a group or an organization, “purpose” is the most important thing. Purpose or the reason for existence. Why do you exist? You can relate that to your mission and based on the mission and purpose, you create a vision based on that for the future. How would they like to see the future? Then, based on their values they work hard. They bring in innovations into their practices. They believe in making their partners and colleagues successful. This is because when you make other successful, you become successful yourself. So keep in mind, honesty, hard work, consistency, perseverance and focus. If you don’t focus, you have a chance of spreading yourself too thin. But if you’re involved in a lot of things, you develop teams. I believe in that. There are people who work at the level of strategy and there are people who work at the tactical level. This is the perfect recipe of success in any field.
Startup: What message would you like to give o the aspiring entrepreneurs?
Dr. Zaki: I would rather be a person who creates employment rather than who’s looking for employment. This is a blessing if someone finds a calling though which he or she can actually provide employment opportunities for others. If he or she becomes instrumental in bringing risk or earnings for others, I think that is the best opportunity. And that’s what brought me into this rather than focusing on a job, I could get paid lot of money and I could pay a lot of money. I thought of creating things, doing things for the society, making a contribution. And through that contribution, you actually provide an environment, an ecosystem where you not only add and create value but you also create wealth. That’s what entrepreneurs do; they let others live their dreams as well.
Startup: What are your plans for the next 5 years ?
Dr. Zaki: As a person from health care industry, my vision for Pakistan is the upcoming years is to see a healthier society. I would like to use the information technology (IT) and Information communication technology (ICT) in healthcare more and more. I would like to use the quality and innovation in healthcare with the ultimate objective, to deliver healthcare to all the Pakistanis.
My dream is to develop a U-Health ecosystem (which means ubiquitous health) where we provide health care to anyone, anywhere, anytime!