OPEN Forum 2008: Pakistani Entrepreneurs Conference

On June 14, the SAP campus in Palo Alto was the venue for OPEN Forum 2008, probably the world's largest gathering of Pakistani entrepreneurs outside of Pakistan with over 500 attendees. Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs (OPEN) describes itself as "a voluntary, not-for profit organization dedicated to the promotion of entrepreneurship and leadership in the Pakistani-American business community". Only a stone-throw away from Sandhill Road, the home of the big Silicon Valley venture capitalists, and located next to the legendary Xerox PARC, OPEN Forum this year naturally brought together a large number of VCs, high-tech executives, technologists, political leaders, diplomats, recruiters and the media.

The conference was opened by Dilawar Syed, the current president of OPEN, who welcomed the attendees and explained what OPEN Silicon Valley is about.

It was immediately followed by Adam Lashinsky of Fortune Magazine in conversation with Mike Moritz, Manging Director of Sequoia Capital, who came in via live satellite link from his hotel room in Beijing, China. It was 2AM Beijing time and Moritz confessed he was dressed only from the waist up.


Mike Moritz, a prominent partner at Sequoia Capital,made a keynote speech at OPEN Forum 2008. Mike Moritz discussed Sequoia's investment strategy and key areas such as information technology, clean technology, energy being targeted by the biggest VC partnership known for its successful investments in Yahoo, Google, PayPal, Apple Computer, Cisco, and YouTube. In terms of its international investments, Moritz said the Sequoia started investing in Israel, India and China when the founders of their portfolio companies opened R&D facilities there. Although Sequoia is currently not looking to go into another geography, it may consider other geographies such as Pakistan if their portfolio companies chose to open offices there. It should be noted that Sequoia has invested in several Silicon Valley startups with Pakistani-American founders. The chances of that happening are fairly low unless the Pakistani expatriates in the valley make a case for it.

In one of several panel discussions that followed Moritz at OPEN Forum 2008, Faraz Hoodbhoy, the CEO 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. PixSense currently has a big presence in Pakistan and prides itself in what Pakistani engineers have done for it to make it successful at a very low budget. Naseeb.com, the only 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. Please read this post for more on venture investments in Pakistan.

It was heartening to see that three of the five participants in the entrepreneurs panel on "Secrets of Success" were fellow NEDians, alumni of Karachi's NED University now settled in Silicon Valley. Naveed Sherwani is the founder and CEO of OpenSilicon funded by Sequoia Capital, Raghib Husain is the founder and CTO of Cavium, a VC funded company with over $1 billion valuation, that had a successful IPO on NASDAQ last year and Safwan Shah, the CEO of Infonox, which he bootstrapped into a successful, private held business. While the secrets each shared varied, the common themes were risk-taking, burning desire, serendipity, perseverance and good preparation to seize the opportunities.

The conference was an all day affair capped by an evening keynote by Howard Dean, the Chairman of the National Democratic Party. Howard Dean was clearly upbeat about the Democrats' prospects in November elections and talked about the recent successes in congressional elections where Republicans have been defeated in traditionally Republicans district. He highlighted a 50-state strategy to make gains for Democrats in all parts of the country from coast to coast.

Dilawar Syed and his team deserve a lot of credit for pulling off a very successful OPEN Forum 2008, an event that will bring positive focus on the Pakistani expatriate community in the United States and present a side of Pakistan that is too often ignored by the US and Pakistani media. If OPEN Silicon Valley continues to showcase Pakistani expats in the same way as TIE presents Indians, it is quite possible, even probable that, in the foreseeable future, we can develop Pakistan as a great brand name destination that attracts business and investment to Pakistan and helps its people become part of the modern, successful and globalized world at par with India and China and other emerging economies of the world.

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