Pakistan Celebrates Its Women Entrepreneurs

By Syeda Shehrbano Kazim Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan / Asia News Network.

ISLAMBAD

The WeCreate Pakistan Centre held the graduation ceremony of StartUp Academy Flight I to celebrate the efforts of young aspiring Pakistani female entrepreneurs.

The event marked the completion of a 15-week programme that takes aspiring female entrepreneurs from business idea to business implementation.

Murtaza Zaidi, executive director of TiE Islamabad, said WeCreate Pakistan started three years ago.

He said: "When we were holding our StartUp Cup, it was our largest competition, but we realised that less than 10 per cent of the startups were women managed. Then we realised the need for an empowering space."

Mavra Bari, marketing and communications manager at WeCreate, said: "The 13 women who have completed the course came to the Academy with an idea and a vision and today they have much more than that. Today their journey starts. Each story, each concept is unique."

Michael Patrick Foley, CEO of Telenor Pakistan, in his commencement address, said: "There are few things more difficult than coming into a room and sitting down at a desk (if you have a desk) and facing a blank sheet of paper, and creating something.

That is what entrepreneurs do. The entrepreneurship process is a lonely one and a difficult one. To create value that someone else will buy is difficult and it becomes that much harder if you don't have the opportunities others have."

He added: "Women lack the opportunities of mentorship, facilities, financing, and support. It is essential to level the playing field by providing special facilities to women. This is not about favoritism because clients are very darwinistic and so the idea has to be good to survive."

There were many women entrepreneurs who came to support the graduates and shared their stories.

Among them was Zeenat Ayesha, the owner of Papasalli's restaurant.

She said: "I graduated from Kinnaird College, Lahore and wanted to go abroad to study. When my father said that he didn't have the money, I tried to make food to sell and then signed on at Avon in Saudi Arabia as the zonal manager. I worked for them for a year and a half and then went to the University of Houston because my sister was settled there. There I discovered the hotel management school, studied restaurant management and fell in love with Italian food."

She shared the obstacles she had when setting up her business.

"When I came back, I got shops in what was then a failing market -- Jinnah Super, in F-7. No bank would lend a young person a loan -- they all wanted collateral. I took a loan from my father and bought the cheapest things and made my own oven. On the first day there were two people and then one weekend there were people fighting for tables and there has been no looking back."

She added, "It was a lot of hard work. But I was fortunate, unlike a lot of people I came from an educational background where I knew how to run the business."

Some of the 13 graduates shared their stories and their inspirations as well.

Saadia Bashir, one of the young graduates, has started a video game development academy.

She said: "This is new concept in Pakistan so the execution was difficult. When I was a student in my last year and making a game for my final year project I had no one to go to for guidance. This is the second-largest industry in the world and there is a lot of potential for this industry in Pakistan."

Hira Batool Rizvi, another graduate, has started She'Kab, the first safe taxi service for women in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

She said: "Working with the existing taxicab infrastructure in the cities, we offer affordable rates with safe and reliable service by conducting complete background checks on the taxi drivers who register with us."

The young graduates were given certificates and the mentors who had guided them through the 15-week course received mementos.

The WeCreate Pakistan Centre, the first incubator in Pakistan designed specifically for female entrepreneurs, is sponsored by the US Department of State in partnership with StartUp Cup INC, The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) Islamabad, Change Mechanics and the Hashoo Foundation.

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