Guest Post by Yusuf Husain
The mandate of Ignite, formerly National ICT R&D Fund, a Government owned non profit company, affiliated with the Ministry of IT, Government of Pakistan, is to fund innovative projects that solve local problems or target global opportunities. Since early 2017 we are focusing on startups based on 4th Industrial Wave technology – like AI, IoT, Robotics and AR – whose technology risk is beyond the appetite of private sector investors, with the expectation that investors and corporates will participate in subsequent rounds or else purchase or license the technology. With about ten deals a quarter, with average size of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, we also fund academia and industry projects with strong, well-articulated commercial potential and intent. This year projects include a smart stent, which detects slippage, clotting and re-stenosis, an IoT based water management system that detects moisture in the air and fluid in the ground, an AR remedial system that improves motor, cognitive and functional skills in neurologically challenged children, and AI based bovine disease diagnostic that improves dairy production and life of cows.
Startups are the building blocks of the knowledge economy, and Ignite is funding world-class incubators across the country. National Incubators in Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawer are operational, with Karachi and Quetta expected to launch in early 2018. Together, these incubators will cover a hundred thousand feet, including Makerspaces and design labs, and incubate a couple of hundred startups every year. Human resource development is the key driver of economic and job growth. Ignite will be launching an ambitious plan to train one million people in marketable digital skills, also in early 2018. Designed like a startup, and driven by data based AI decision-making, the program is expected to iterate to match supply with demand and achieve high completion rates on training courses. Included is a learn-by-doing soft skills component that will develop aptitude in communication, meeting commitments, initiative, and perseverance.
Many countries in the world from USA and UK to Israel and India support innovation and entrepreneurship through the award of Government projects, funding, incubators, and incentives. Agile regulation and targeted incentives are essential to unleashing the power of innovation and entrepreneurship. Through studies and engagement with experts in industry and academia, Ignite seeks to develop the thought leadership required to support the Government in designing such regulation and incentive packages. A three-year tax break and credit for Startups was introduced last year. More incentives for startups, incubators, VC, Angels and Corporate Innovation are on the anvil.
Waves of innovation have changed the course of history, elevating innovative societies and marginalizing laggards. Through its outreach program, Ignite seeks to inform key stakeholders and change agents in media, government, academia, corporates, the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the professional community about Ignite initiatives, and the opportunities, threats and tradeoffs offered by the 4th Industrial Wave innovation.