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Articles

Electric Flowers Growing in a Tech Wilderness

Meet the Pakistani youth who have won worldwide renown on the power of their sheer grit and inventiveness.

Inventiveness springs eternal in the human psyche. We can safely say the Sumerian potters who first invented the wheel were by no means the first humans to show inventiveness  – nor will Steve Jobs or Elon Musk be the last.

On the other hand, inventions and innovations seem to require an ecosystem. This is precisely why the great majority of modern day inventions and innovations come from free-market democracies. Socioeconomic milieu and market conditions encourage and incentivize and promote innovation by rewarding inventors in a variety of ways. Universities and labs and corporate R&D facilities empower and enable them to translate their novel ideas to life.

Yet, the original spark for an innovation must come from the human genius – which is Pakistan’s ticket to the club. While our universities continue to lead the world in their stellar ability to churn out plagiarised papers and corporates show little interest in underwriting R&D, our young men and women continue to do us proud by awe-inspiring inventions and innovations on the power of their raw genius.

Take Remotebase for example: About 10-month old as of now, this Pakistani startup helps connect high-performing engineering teams with US companies. Recently it clinched USD 1.4 million in a seed funding round. The company has operations both in Pakistan and Silicon Valley and has raised the money to scale its operations by the end of 2021.

Then there is Aqsa Ajmal, an industrial design graduate from the NUST School of Art, Design & Architecture (SADA) made headlines early last year when she was named one of six global finalists for the prestigious Lexus Design Award.

With her novel project Pursewit, a sewing machine for the visually impaired, she has gained the distinction of becoming the first Pakistani to achieve the milestone. In the last week of January, Lexus named the finalists for the 2020 edition, who were chosen from a record-breaking 2042 entries from 79 countries.

A more recent revelation in this tradition is Syed Nabeel Haider, a 15-year old boy from Karachi who has developed an instant messaging app like telegram with features such as voice calling, community formation, channel creation, and features for the visually impaired.

Haider says the software is much more advanced than WhatsApp, and it took him three years to complete. The app also has a hidden talk feature, similar to WhatsApp that allows users to set chats to auto-delete and encrypt them. According to his family’s recommendations, the boy called the software FF Meeting (family & friends meeting).

The teen innovator says the software creation took him longer due to the poor performance of his laptop, which he

purchased for PKR 10,000. “My father worked very hard to save money for me to buy the laptop, but its inefficiency lengthened the time to develop the app”, he was reported as saying.

The case of Farhan Masood is even more interesting, a college dropout who hated mathematics but was passionate about his work. As a result of his diligence, he was able to incorporate Urdu, Arabic and Persian characters in Windows back in 1997.

He is rightly recognized as a pioneer in bringing these languages to the internet but this achievement was just the beginning of the journey for Farhan Masood. For the past seventeen years, he has worked with high profile clients, using his creativity and innovation to build a name for himself in the industry.

Farhan’s biggest and most noteworthy project, however, is Solo Tech Corp, a company that is responsible for developing face recog- nition and retina or iris recognition as well as walkthrough scanners for security.

SoloMetric, another subsidiary of Solo Smart specializes in human recognition thereby attempting to provide smarter and more reliable security solutions. SoloSmart’s product SMARTXS went on to win the MIT Enterprise Forum Business Acceleration Plan Contest. Among the 165 participants from all over the world, SoloSmart’s product won and Farhan went on to complete a course at MIT.

PakWheels owner Raza Saeed is another your innovator from Pakistan. A LUMS graduate, he entered an international competi- tion organized by IEEE along with his friends in his sophomore year. The product they propounded offered automating the meter reading process and having wireless meters that could communi- cate with central hub.

In 2002, the market needed this innovation so CONFIZ attracted clients and by 2005 the company was founded. Now it employs over 120 people and has a local and international client base.

But Raza’s entrepreneurial journey was only beginning. He acquired the PakWheels website which generated a great response. Today, the website is one of the largest internet portals in Pakistan with more than 45 million users and deals with the online buying and selling of cars.

Saeed has also launched NaiTazi.com, a portal website that will serve the purpose of yellow pages in Pakistan. Raza is a great exam- ple of people who invest time and energy to bring innovation to the table.

Remote work platform Convo founder Faizan Buzdar – the Pakistani prodigy who merited a mention by President Obama – needs no introduction. Although it was already garnering world- wide attention, Convo has risen in relevance following the outbreak of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Convo enables business professionals to share documents, images and convey meaning. All of this happens in an environment where there is no need to log in and out of email or use one of the prime social media sites. It allows for campaigns and drives and thus far it is being used by 5,000 companies in some 156 countries.

Another noteworthy Pakistani startup is Pring, a social network that can be used even without internet connectivity via the SMS protocol. This is an important feature especially for our country where internet connectivity is far from universally accessible.

Pring has grown tremendously over the past two years, expanding more than 18 percent with almost four users joining the network every minute.

This list of Pakistani innovators is by no means definitive. There are many others who have made it big on their sheer grit and talent and indeed many more who are working their hearts out to bootstrap awe-inspiring solutions even as you read this.

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