An exclusive interview with the chairperson, Mr. Afaq Riaz Ahmed
1. What’s a common misconception you encounter about entrepreneurial education in Pakistan? Is there a Significance of Entrepreneurial Education in Pakistan?
People often mistakenly believe that entrepreneurship cannot be taught to students as a discipline. They defend this notion by quoting the examples of successful entrepreneurs who haven’t been to any business school or haven’t received any formal education at all. However, research over the years has proven that by luck or innate wisdom, those entrepreneurs applied the same principles unconsciously, which we are striving to inculcate through formal training in our students today. Education not only ensures you remain globally competitive but also lets you learn from other people’s mistakes. You study business models that have been amazing successes as well as those that have been unexpected failures. Being educated ensures you can distinguish viable ideas from unrealistic ones and also identify and pursue people with the right ideas if you don’t have any of your own.
Entrepreneurial Education has immense potential in Pakistan. We are a developing country and our business landscape is far from mature; there are plenty of opportunities for young entrepreneurs who want to be trained as entrepreneurs and then become part of the game. From there onwards, there is no stopping them.
2. As an entrepreneur yourself, can you share what you believe to be essential components of entrepreneurship? What kind of training does a technology entrepreneur in Pakistan need?
Entrepreneurship requires an entrepreneurial mind-set, a ‘can-do’ attitude that always pushes you to constantly challenge the limits and strive for better. A true entrepreneur not only thinks about creating a business, but is also driven by creating value for the society, to create an enterprise which can make other people’s lives better in any way. Certainly, being your own boss is sometimes the hardest thing to do; you need a sense of discipline like no other, day in and day out. Hard work, resilience and a sheer determination to succeed identify quality entrepreneurs. A technology entrepreneur should be trained to have great observation skills to find space where his or her technological skills can create a difference. For most, technology is just a tool (though an important one) but the eye to spot the space for an innovation and finding the solution for it is the key.
We aim to train people to be on the lookout for these spaces all the time and at the same time load them with all the tools (technological skills) to use them in finding the solutions. The technopreneur needs to be able to work consistently on several ideas, fail a few times but keep trying to come up with an idea that will really work. Attention to detail is necessary to understand what the market of the time is demanding and the best way to fill that gap in the market. This can only be done through research; rigorous, time-consuming research and understanding human behavior.
3. How are you helping foster the culture of entrepreneurship in a country that does not have any proper entrepreneurial culture?
KITE has developed an ecosystem that has entrepreneurship at its core. While we have an undergraduate business degree program with focus on entrepreneurship, the entrepreneurship core courses are mandatory for the other degree programs that we offer like Bachelors of Computer Science (BCS) and Bachelors of Design (BDes). The idea is to create a widespread mind-set required which will eventually lead to new startups in many fields. KITE, being a flag bearer of entrepreneurship education, cannot convince its students to be entrepreneurs without acting like one. We strongly encourage, support and sometimes push our faculty and staff to be entrepreneurial in their thinking and action. Almost each and every core member of the faculty is working on some kind of venture at any given point in time. Any KITE student having a viable business model is supported through incubation space, support in raising seed capital and provision of resources through internship programs so they can get their hands and feet dirty in the practical world. Being an entrepreneur myself for the past 15 years, I have strong connections with the industry, especially technology based enterprises. So, I make sure that our students gain maximum benefits from it and once they graduate, each one of them has a strong network with industry professionals, investors and regulators. Connecting them through our series of workshops, mentoring sessions, guest speaker sessions and gatherings is a major part of KITE’s effort in fostering an entrepreneurial culture.
4. How different is a standard business administration degree from a full fledge entrepreneurial degree?
Completely! To start-off with, I think an entrepreneurial degree should be taught by an actual entrepreneur. If doctors are teaching medicine, engineers are teaching engineering and educationalists are teaching teachers then why should things be different for entrepreneurs? Unfortunately, none of the universities in Pakistan, who claim to be teaching entrepreneurship are actually run and managed by entrepreneurs apart from KITE.
The curriculum and teaching methodology is also different. The traditional business school model tries to manufacture business managers rather than entrepreneurs. The focus there is to train graduates to become a part of a big machine like multi-nationals and large corporations. On the other hand, an entrepreneurial degree, if taught in the right spirit, makes an effort in crafting a person who can take matters in his/her own hands. Traditional managers spend more time in planning whereas entrepreneurs talk less and do more.
5. What was the vision behind establishing KITE? How does KITE differentiate itself from other institutions?
After spending a decade of my life in pursuing entrepreneurial ventures both here and abroad I realized that Pakistan’s business landscape lacks the kind of entrepreneurs that are needed to lead our local industry. I could clearly feel the gap in the quality of students, their mind-set and their ability to take actions to fix problems. I am not saying that Pakistan lacks talent. What I am saying is that we have the talent but that talent needs the right nurturing. Hence came about the vision for KITE – the institution to create graduates who will possess the right skills to lead the future of business in the country.
Our students are trained not only to think like entrepreneurs but also possess the necessary technical skills to be able to run a technically savvy business fairly independently. We encourage students to step out of their comfort zones and do something they have not tried before.
6. As the Founding Chairperson of Karachi Institute of Technology and Entrepreneurship, what role do you plan to play there? What do you hope to accomplish in this capacity?
As Founding Chairperson of KITE and being a serial entrepreneur myself, I work hard to ensure that my vision translates into reality without losing a beat. I imagine KITE to nurture a certain ecosystem and provide a platform that would serve to benefit the student community in general and in my everyday work, I strive towards that dream. I ensure all students are receiving quality education and are being taken care of. All my students can approach me any time, whether it is for career counseling session or to resolve any personal concerns they may have.
7. Is it safe to say that KITE is bringing a slice of Silicon Valley to Pakistan?
Oh yes! Over the years, we’ve learned that the Silicon Valley mindset can be replicated in other entrepreneurial ecosystems and we can benefit greatly from the growth of technology companies locally. Karachi has a fast growing startup ecosystem, and entrepreneurs here are fortunate to have so many resources available to assist them. However, many people are unaware of these resources, the differences between them, or what resources are right for them. And that is where KITE comes in.
8. Please tell us about some of the successful tech-enabled startups you helped set up in the country.
a. Exponential Energy
Pakistan’s problem doesn’t lie in the fact that it doesn’t have the capacity to produce electricity, its rather the cost at which it can produce electricity. With a country rich in natural resources like coal and natural gas, we need efficient solutions to generate energy. KITE’s Technology incubation center has already incubated a project (Exponential Energy) which is planning to introduce a chemical which will improve the coal combustion value by 40%. Having huge coal resources at our disposal coupled with major power plants already on coal, this project has the potential to revolutionize the energy sector in the years to come.
b. Robotics Labs
Robotics Labs was the first project supported by us which actually was a result of our love for science. It is a high tech initiative targeted towards the younger lot in Pakistan who want to truly set themselves apart from the factory-type learning by building a passion for Science. It gives young guns the opportunity to learn cutting edge technologies in Robotics, 3D Modeling, 3D Simulation, Movie Making, Game Applications and many more through interesting workshops held throughout the year.
c. Automatic papers
Founded by one of our students, automatic papers is an electronic solution for examination preparations targeted towards GCE (O Levels/ A Levels) students. The web portal provides a complete archive of past years exam papers which are searchable using a variety of queries. Any registered user can also monitor his/her progress over the course of his/her preparation period.
9. What message would you give to the youth and what are your expectations from them?
To Dream, To Innovate, To Create. I would tell the youth of our country to let their passion drive them regardless of what field they are in. There are no shortcuts in life and a professional career is no exception. The means to achieving an end are as important as the end itself and therefore, there should be no compromise on ethics whilst struggling to achieve a goal.
I expect all students to be honest hard-working citizens who are willing to put in their best to achieve their dreams while also making an effort to contribute to our society in whatever way they can. Going through a formal education system is not just about learning to develop web applications or understanding economic theories; it is about realizing the responsibility and accountability that lies with each individual and acting accordingly. Students need to move past material goals and achieve self-actualization to truly feel successful and content.