Encouraging Pakistani Entrepreneurs: Sofizar Wins MITCEF-OPEN Business Acceleration Plan

Posted on January 30, 2008
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, Society
Total Views: 109027

Adil Najam

SofizarSofizar, which works on “click fraud” and “web analytics Solutions” (maybe we at ATP should be talking to them!) describes itself as “a Carlsbad, CA based internet marketing company with development and operations based out of Lahore” won the 2007 MITCEF-OPEN Business Acceleration Plan (BAP).

MITCEFZafar Khan, the CEO of Sofizar, along with others from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America (OPEN) will speak at an event on “Pakistan: The Untold Story of Entrepreneurship and Technology” on February 2 at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the event is co-sponsored by the New England Chapter of OPEN.

The contest, which its organizers hope will become a yearly event, focuses on existing Pakistani technology companies (instead of start-ups) who are asked to prepare plans for how they intend for their business to “accelerate” towards future growth and expansion. The idea for the contest came from OPEN and the MIT Club of Pakistan Enterprise Forum (MITCEF) and was co-sponsored by P@SHA (PASHA: The Pakistan Software Houses Association) and the Pakistan Software Export Board (PESB). The MIT Entrepreneurship Development Program was actively involved in the contest including in the judging.

According to the contest’s original explanation:

BAP aims to help accelerate some of the participating IT/ITES companies to the next level by putting these companies through a mentoring/coaching program. The final outcome of the program would be a Business Acceleration Plan (BP) which would be ranked by experts. Two members of the top team would be sponsored to attend the MIT EDP (Entrepreneurship Development Program) at MIT in Cambridge, USA. The top ranking BPs would also be presented to VCs who may offer “Term Sheets” to these companies. OPEN members offer to be on the BOD of the top companies. The top teams would also be given shields. Certificates will be provided to all participating companies.

Now that I have that alphabet soup of acronyms out of the way, it strikes me that this is very useful way of identifying and supporting emerging Pakistani talent. We have written before about the talent and achievements of Pakistanis in the technology space (here, here, here, etc.) and finding concrete and real ways of encouraging the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit is an idea that needs to be supported.

Reports of the contest (here and here) suggest that there was a level of enthusiasm amongst all – this is not surprising and, for exactly that reason, it is an enthusiasm that should be encouraged to spread. The runner-up in the contest, for example, is a company called Alchemy which describes itself as “a boutique actuarial, risk management and human capital solutions firm working with customers in Asia and the Middle East.” The other three finalists were Autosoft, Softech and Tohfay (one of our regular advertisers here at ATP).

While I am always intrigued by the names of IT companies – where else would you name your enterprise “small and weak”; as an Microsoft – the point here is really about ways to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit. Not only for economic growth or for “image building” but as a real and honest desire to create peace and harmony through prosperity. Enterprise and homegrown initiative does many things for a society that go well beyond just economic growth and pride of ownership; they provide constructive distraction to the energies of the young away from the more violent and destructive acts that we, unfortunately, write about on this blog so often. They encourage not just role models but constructive competition and the sense that “if they can do this, then so can I.” Nurturing such a spirit has, therefore, far greater benefits for society as a whole.

I hope the event this week will also explore these and such dimensions, even as it celebrates the achievement of Sofizar. The speakers list is an enticing one and includes: Ken Morse, MD of the MIT Entrepreneurial Center; Bill Aulet, Entrepreneur in Residence, MIT; Arthur Anderson, Fish and Richardson; Imran Sayeed, Keane; and Zafar Khan, Sofizar.

17 responses to “Encouraging Pakistani Entrepreneurs: Sofizar Wins MITCEF-OPEN Business Acceleration Plan”

  1. Jawwad says:

    The MIT CEF BAP was also covered widely at Babar’s Telecom PK (telecompk.net), The green and white blog (greenwhite.org) , and the Alchemy blog (link above)

    The part which has not been highlighted and should be is that Ken Morse and Bill Aulet from MIT have now been coming to Pakistan for two consecutive years, teaching and mentoring large players as well as small companies.

    The actual judging event took place on 6th November 2007 when the entire country was locked down and Ken and Bill specifically came down to Karachi to make a point. When asked Ken just said “Friends come”.

    I don’t think we would be who we are today if we hadn’t met this team from MIT 2 years ago. We owe them the fact that we are still hungry and still foolish (in a good sense).

    It was partly this inspiration that led to the Startup Insider Initative (also covered by the same blogs) that has now run 2 events each in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad in two months.

  2. Zafar Khan says:

    Dear All,
    I just wanted to make a correction and a comment:

    We do not focus on click fraud detection any more. Instead we won on the basis of our B2C E-Commerce model which allowed us to do over $10 million in sales last year and inshallah will allow us over $25 million in ’08. (Yes, we are too lazy to change the website content…)

    I will be promoting BAP2008 by talking about my experience while writing the plan, as well as my experience in MIT. Finally, I will also talk about the other good things that have happened(thanks to Imran Sayeed and Ken Morse). They are an amazing resource, and are extremely connected.

    Zafar Khan
    Sofizar (Private) Limited.
    ( http://www.ticketnest.com )

  3. Mehdi says:

    Dr Najam

    This is indeed a great effort on your part to highlight anotrher great effort on part of OPEN and MITCEF. Representing Tohfay.com we got a chance to experience the Business Acceleration Project. Tohfay was able to secure one of the five finalist positions (the winner was ultimately Sofizar as noted in your post). The whole process was an amazing journey & experience that allowed us to look at our own business, aspirations, strategies and potential in 100 new ways. Throught the process we got so many great tips, guidelines and ideas on how to structrure our business plan and business itself. OPEN and MITCEF are one of the best plate form available to Pakistani entreprenuers to get mentoring and feebdcak on their small businesses. The quality and knowl3edge of mentors and team members are simply excellent. Mentors are practical field managers, executives and faculty and are in tune with the current day market dynamics, atleast that is what we realized through the process. One of our partner Shahzad Qureshi who is looking after the Pakistan end of our project participated in the final presentation seminar in Karachi in Nov and that provided the oppurtunity to pitch our proposal to potential investing leads as well. I think there is a need to publicize this forum (OPEN, MITCEF) and others like “Koshish.org” to the entreprenuers from Pakistan who are deperate for such help. Myself and my other partners in US are looking forward to attending the event on Feb 2nd in MIT as the journey continues.

  4. Babar says:

    Great to see a positive story .. this series of success stories needs to be kept alive. By the way your take on “IT wallas” always makes me chuckle!

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