Inspiration and Vision
I launched i2i because I was meeting young entrepreneurs all over the world (especially in Pakistan) that had incredible ideas to affect change but couldn’t find the resources or support to truly realize that idea. There are startup communities rising all over the world – but if there isn’t an ecosystem that supports that growth, we will not see that potential realized. At i2i, we believe that entrepreneurs have the power to change the world – we provide the support and resources they need to get there.
Background and Experience
In terms of my own experience, I don’t have a traditional business background – I don’t have an MBA, I never worked in finance. I have, however, always been a doer, and I actually feel that my graduate degree in conflict resolution comes in handy in a weird way. I’m not good at everything – but I am really good at building communities, as well as identifying a problem and knowing how to find a solution. At the end of the day, that’s what we do at i2i!
Process of Investment to Innovation
i2i has three components – the Accelerator, i2i Angels (our angel investor network), and consulting – in which we pursue projects and products that support the broader enabling environment for entrepreneurship. Our consulting side allows us to work on our broader vision,and also allows us to be more financially viable as a company.
Significance of an Accelerator for an Entrepreneur
Not every entrepreneur needs an accelerator, but we can help you get to where you want to go faster, while putting you on a bigger platform to increase your visibility as a company. At i2i, we are also really focused on community – you walk out of the program with a family of other startups, mentors, and investors who all want to see you succeed. Given that the entrepreneurial journey is really lonely – we believe that community provides tremendous value.
Difference between Business Incubator and Business Accelerator
Think about it as if your business was a chicken (weird, I know): an incubator helps your business go from egg (idea) to chick (prototype). An accelerator helps your chick (prototype) become a chicken (business ready for market/investment). They both play an important role in the life cycle of a business.
Role in Fostering Entrepreneurship Culture
Our consulting side enables us to work on larger scale projects to address these ideas – from building an innovation roadmap for the KP government to supporting education innovation to designing solutions to fundraising issues in the country.
Under-Utilized Resources by Local Startups
I think not enough startups really make the effort to truly understand what their customers want, and/or how to deliver their product/service to that customers’ satisfaction. We’re big believers in the lean startup methodology, which holds customer preferences as key to the success of a business.
Areas of Concern
Customer acquisition! Understanding who your customers really are, and tailoring, marketing, and delivering your product/service to them in the most effective way. In Pakistan, a lot of technology startups also have issues with online payment portals – which is a major impediment for technology enabled companies looking to set up payment mechanisms.
Successful ‘Graduated’ Start Ups Under i2i
- Popinjay is likely the most well-known
- Saba Gul raised a significant amount of investment (over $350K) and is stocked worldwide
- EcoEnergy – cofounded by Jeremy Higgs – has also scaled their operations considerably in Sindh, providing solar energy solutions to off-grid communities in a really effective way
- Saim Siddiqui’s startup ProCheck (formerly AsliGoli) also closed on investment recently and has some really exciting developments that they will announce soon
- The Reading Room Project has added adult literacy training to their work
- Benje Williams and Amal Academy are also doing incredibly well
- Mustafa Saeed’s 3Restart, an education gaming company, was just selected to compete in the Challenge Cup Finals in Washington, D.C. in May (as was EcoEnergy!)
Word of Advice
Be specific and be proactive in building your relationship with your mentor – a strong mentor-mentee relationship is one that is built over time. Reaching out is the key.
For a small company expanding into international market, you need to understand your competition in the international market, the hurdles you may face in scaling, how you’re going to differentiate yourself from other players and how effectively you market yourself to your customer base.