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Plan9: A Vision and A Will

“Roofi, in our meeting with Mian Shahbaz Sharif, it has been decided to set up a Government Technology Startup Incubator. Dr. Umar Saif has been asked to make a proposal regarding it.”  A friend informed me over a phone call when I was in Canada. He was amongst the people who attended the first public meeting of IT professionals with Punjab’s Chief Minister last fall at Arfa Software Technology Park. Though I am no longer an ardent fan of incubators after experiencing various startup ecosystems, but a country like Pakistan where there are no government grants and incentives, I thought it was a right move provided it being executed well. Some of us had seen the PSEB experiments in the past so my only concern was that they need right people in the team to make it a successful program. Therefore I immediately wrote a note to Dr. Saif with few suggestions and he was quite kind to reply promptly.

If there’s one industry in Pakistan where entrepreneurship is erupting nowadays, it would be none other than the technology sector. The low startup capital required for a technology company as well as the general appeal of computers to young minds make it the go-to industry for anyone hoping to make their mark on the entrepreneurship landscape. And in that sector, if there’s any one organization that has emerged as a hub for tech entrepreneurship, it would be Plan9 – PITB’s Tech Incubator 

Now after 10 months or so since its inception, on my visit to ASTP, I am sitting with this amazing young intern Samar Haider analysing the initiative and how it achieved success in a very short time.

A non-profit government program, Plan9 exists to nurture the best minds from across the country in a six-month incubation process wherein all those inducted into the program are provided with not only the workspace and tools to create their products, but also world class mentorship, linkage opportunities with enticing investment channels, and that vital exposure that makes an aspiring entrepreneur into a successful one. Plan9 has begun to gain immense popularity amongst bright students and now receives scores of applications from fresh graduates when its induction process begins. Currently, it is in the midst of its second incubation cycle, with fifteen energetic teams actively working on their products and prepping them for launch later this year.

But, Plan9 didn’t happen overnight. Much thought, planning and hard work went into establishing Plan9 into the icon it is today. It was Dr. Umar Saif, the chairman of Punjab Information Technology Board who along with other like-minded people around him came up with the idea for such a start-up incubator in Pakistan. A Cambridge and MIT educated Computer Scientist, he has authored several influential publications with his research being published in an array of popular media including New York Times, MIT Technology Review, CNN, and BBC, to name a few. Not content with excellence in academia alone, Umar has co-founded many a start-up himself and has worked tirelessly for the promotion of ICT in developing countries such as ours. It was this passion for bringing the wonders of technology to the underserved areas of the world that got him the title of Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, won him the MIT Technovator Award, and earned him a spot on TR35, MIT’s highly selective list of the top young innovators from across the globe.

When Dr. Saif was planning to setup Plan9, he went out in search for someone to help him structure and run what then seemed like quite a daunting project, someone who shared the same passion for entrepreneurship and wanted to make a difference back in their homeland. Dr. Umar’s search led him to Nabeel A. Qadeer, better known for his contribution towards numerous software automation initiatives within the SME sector of Pakistan. A Certified Project Manager by Profession, graduate of FAST-NU with a Master’s in Business & Management from Strathclyde Business School, Nabeel had experienced first-hand the rigours of founding a startup in the real world, Nabeel learned that he had a lot more in common with Umar than just their undergrad degree in Computer Science. Both these individuals wanted to see Pakistan become a hub for the booming technology sector, especially where entrepreneurship was concerned. It was this first contact that cemented a long-lasting bond between two technology futurists, a bond based on an idea which was Umar’s vision and Nabeel’s will.

Back in Pakistan, the two put together their very own A-Team of excelling individuals from diverse backgrounds, each bringing something unique to the table. Hafsa Shorish who overlooks the marketing and PR and is the reason Plan9 has been making waves in the media shared her experience saying “Plan9 has offered me a plethora of opportunities to learn and grow. Dr. Umar Saif’s unwavering belief and Nabeel’s utmost faith in me from the very beginning empowered me to take on all sorts of challenges”. Uzair Shahid has taken charge of end to end operations of Plan9 ensuring that all runs smoothly in the grand scheme of things. Mariam Shakir watches over the incubatees & alumni relations and is the one to go to if ever there arises the need for a brainy researcher. Sarah Tariq Gilani is the one with a knack for stringing words together into wonderful pieces of writing and also drives Plan9’s design strategy. Ahmad Farooq Malik comes in wherever the legalities are concerned, to ensure that the budding startups face no issues out there in the real world. And finally, Ebad Shah, their resident designer and animator, brings thoughts and expressions to life on a digital canvas to get ideas across in a symphony of shapes and colours.

Plan 9 Team

                                                                                  Plan 9 Team

Together, these people have transformed Plan9 from a mere thought into the country’s largest technology incubator. What was just carpeted office space a year ago is now a floor teeming with energetic engineers working on their renditions of the next big thing; Plan9 is doing a lot of things right; they’ve managed to bring together stakeholders from all across the Technology Industry under one roof with the desire to help young technology entrepreneurs make something out of nothing.

Their board of advisors is a reflection of the kind of capable people they have involved with this initiative. Amazing individuals from across the globe are now associated with Plan9, some as Mentors and others as Investors. One of their major milestones has been the creation of Pakistan’s first Angel Investors Club which is now working conscientiously towards building an ecosystem for local and foreign investors to put their time & money into young Pakistani entrepreneurs.

The graduates of Plan9’s very first incubation cycle went on to make headlines of their own, making achievements for which they credit the incubator as that key environment which helped them grow into successful entrepreneurs. Plan9, too, has benefited greatly from them, for it has been those very fresh incubatees who unknowingly helped mould it into the great facility that it is today.

Summing it up, Plan9 is a commendable initiative taken by the Government of Punjab for aspiring entrepreneurs. Those of us who have been out there struggling and did everything on our own know what an ideal resource it is where you don’t have to worry about utility bills, power outages or office space, and just concentrate on building the next big thing. Fabulous free resources coupled with valuable advice from local and world experts make it the place to be for young graduates. Kudos to Plan9 team especially Dr. Umar, Nabeel and Hafsa on a job very well done. Hope we’ll get to see many more success stories from Plan9 in the coming years. I can already see Pakistan’s name climbing up the ranking of best startup ecosystems.



One Response to “Plan9: A Vision and A Will”

  1. Arslan Asad says:

    Plan9 Efforts to thrive entrepreneurial ecosystem in Pakistan is definitely commendable. And we became more convicts of their efforts by attending the plan9 demo day arranged a few days ago. It was quite an exquisite experience. Commendable efforts by the incubatees on demonstrating their brainchilds there. And the success stories shared by entrepreneurs there were also truly inspiring. We’ve just chronicled them extensively here for anyone willing to gain inspiration leading to excellence in their lives:

    One can learn a lot from the experience of others. And we learned a lot too. And whats the use of learning if its not shared so this blogpost covers almost all aspects of the inspirations from the success stories of speakers there.

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