As the US venture capital investment activity in India and China races ahead, the VC investments in Pakistan are just beginning to show signs of life with two young Pakistani companies receiving funding in late 2006 and middle of 2007.
Venture capital investment in China was up to $719m across 39 deals during the first quarter of 2008 from $492m in the first quarter of 2007, with media and advertising companies accounting for the bulk of deal activity and investment, according to the China Quarterly Venture Capital Report released by Dow Jones VentureSource. China has seen some very high-profile IPOs and exits recently that have firmly established China's value to the US VCs as a desirable destination.
From 2006 to 2007, the number of VC and private equity deals in India increased from 299 to 387. The value of the deals increased from $7.5b to over $14b year-over-year, according to IVCA, the Indian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (IVCA) which has all the big-name Silicon Valley VCs represented in India. Only a quarter of the funds accounted for VC deals. In terms of exits, there were 65 M&As and 16 IPOs in 2007.
While China is flying about 5-10 years ahead of India which is gaining altitude in terms of venture capital investing with high-profile exits, Pakistan is just trying to get off the ground in this space.
Naseeb Networks, a Pakistani online recruitment, social networking, and classifieds company, has received an undisclosed amount of venture investment from two Silicon Valley VC firms, ePlanet Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Earlier in December, 2006, PixSense received $5.4 million in equity funding, led by ATA Ventures and Innovacom.
While there is a history of US VC investments in Silicon Valley technology companies founded by Pakistani founders, none of these VCs have previously funded companies such as Naseeb and PixSense who have significant R&D centers and operations in Pakistan.
At the OPEN Forum 2008 in Silicon Valley, Mike Moritz, Senior Partner at Sequoia Capital, said that Sequoia is currently not looking to go into another geography but it may consider other geographies such as Pakistan if their portfolio companies chose to open offices there. What took Sequoia to China, India and Israel were the founders of Silicon Valley companies who made a decision to locate R&D facilities in these geographies.
Speaking in a panel discussion at OPEN Forum 2008, Faraz Hoodbhoy, the CTO of PixSense, argued that Pakistani expatriates in Silicon Valley are the harshest critics of Pakistan. They are not immediately likely to ask US VCs to invest in Pakistan. However, Hoodbhoy's company PixSense has taken this path. PixSense currently has a sizable presence in Pakistan and prides itself in what Pakistani engineers have done for it to make it successful on very low budget. Naseeb.com, the only other Pakistani company to get US VC funding from Draper Fisher Jurvetson and ePlanet Ventures, accomplished it because its founders are from Silicon Valley who set up a development center in Pakistan that has produced great results.
Faruq Ahmed, a Pakistani-American VC in Silicon Valley, wrote recently: "In my field of expertise, venture capital, Pakistan's success is particularly hard to predict. My investment experience includes India and China, and I saw how long it took these countries to get to critical mass as attractive investment destinations for US institutional investors. Pakistan is assembling a $50 million fund to help kick-start venture capital support for local companies. How the government structures and selects managers for this fund will determine whether future funds attract institutional investors and sponsorship support from top Silicon Valley firms, assuming attractive deal flow."
A public-private partnership is working with US experts to develop venture capital and private equity sectors in Pakistan. Venture capital is being promoted by the Competitiveness Support Fund (CSF), a joint initiative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Ministry of Finance, Government of Pakistan which is working closely with the Pakistan Business Council (PBC). To support the innovation economy and spur entrepreneurial economic growth in Pakistan; CSF has a special window on business incubator/ venture capital for which CSF will be working closely with relevant stakeholders in the public and private sector along with the academia and the media. This facility will lead to the creation of business incubators and provide funding for them. Support for CSF is part of the US$ 1.5 billion in aid that the US Government is providing to Pakistan over five years to improve economic growth, education, health and governance.
While the efforts of the Pakistani government and CSF are laudable, the real impetus will come from the successful outcome of VC investments in the companies such as PixSense and Naseeb. The other factor that will influence US VCs to do deals in Pakistan is the willingness of Pakistani-American entrepreneurs in the US to set up presence in Pakistan and demonstrate the value of Pakistani talent to the Americans and the rest of the world. Events such as OPEN Forum 2008 will also help bring Pakistan as a VC destination into the consciousness of the US VCs.