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Open Forum 2018: Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs Summit in Silicon Valley

Hundreds of Pakistanis and Pakistani-Americans converged on Santa Clara Convention Center in Silicon Valley on Saturday May 12, 2018 for Open Forum 2018.  The attendees included entrepreneurs, technologists, business executives, investors, lawyers, accountants and others.What was different this year was the presence of an unusually large number of attendees from Pakistan, including dozens of Fulbright scholars studying in the United States,  entrepreneurs from Pakistan, and Husain Dawood of Dawood Group of Companies, the second largest business group in terms of market cap of the companies listed on the Karachi Stock Exchange. Driverless vehicle tech and leading-edge brain research were among the new research and technology topics discussed at the Forum.

L to R: Imran Qureshi, Nazim Kareemi, Husain Dawood, Riaz Haq, Faruk Ahmad at Open Forum 2018

Husain Dawood Keynote:

The morning keynote by Husain Dawood of Dawood Group was in the form of an on-stage interview of the visitor by Imran Sayeed. Sayeed is part of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation faculty at the MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

L to R: OPEN President Mobashar Yazdani, Imran Sayeed, Husain Dawood. Photo: Zain Jeewanji

Talking about ups and down of his business that reflect Pakistan's history, Husain Dawood said his father Seth Ahmad Dawood started in the textile business in undivided India and lost everything when he moved to Pakistan in 1947. He rebuilt the business from the scratch starting in 1947 but then suffered a major setback again in 1971 when the eastern wing of the county broke away. The family lost half its business in what became Bangladesh and the other half of its business was nationalized in what was left of Pakistan led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They were forced to start all over again.

Husain Dawood took over the leadership of the group in 2002 when Ahmad Dawood passed away. Helped by President Musharraf's pro-business policies, Dawood diversified from textile into other businesses such as fertilizer, food, energy and communications.  The group took on a lot of debt to expand. Dawood invested nearly a billion dollars and built one of the world's largest fertilizer plants on government's commitment to supply gas to the plant. Then came the PPP government that went back on the commitment and plant ground to halt. The group was able to get it working again when Nawaz Sharif government took power in 2013 and restored gas supply to the plant. Dawood group also invested in the power sector upon Nawaz Sharif's urging to help deal with the energy crisis.

Karachi School of Business Leadership (KSBL):

After the keynote, I asked Husain Dawood why do the family owned business conglomerates and seth culture have such a strangle-hold in Pakistan. He said he's been working to change it to put professional managers in charge of the companies owned by his group. He cited his support for the setting up of Karachi School of Business Leadership (KSBL) a top private business school in Karachi.  KSBL was launched in collaboration with the UK's Cambridge University's Judge School of Business. KSBL faculty includes former professors at top US business schools like Wharton and Sloane.  Dawood said he is now working on creating a Business Leadership Institute at KSBL in collaboration with leading business schools and management consultancies.  McKinsey and Company is among the consultancies he's working with.

Dr. Maheen Adamson's Keynote. Photo Courtesy Ali Hasan Cemendtaur

Dr. Maheen Adamson Keynote:

The afternoon keynote speakers was Dr. Maheen Mausoof Adamson, a Pakistani-American professor at Stanford School of Medicine. She is engaged in leading-edge research and development for treating a variety of brain impairments such as Alzheimer's and brain injuries in sports and on the battlefields.

She spoke directly to the young women in the audience to inspire them to set and achieve ambitious goals as women, particular Muslim women of color with immigrant parents.

Dr. Adamson is working on translational neuroscience methodologies for diagnostic and therapeutic treatments (mainly repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) in mild and moderate Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), including structural and functional changes in the brain in both Veteran, active military and civilian population.

One particular kind of brain injury she described is "blast wave injury" that results from just being near a blast that generates fast moving high energy waves. These waves cause serious physical and structural damage to the brain.

She said her research is in early stages and a lot more work is required to fully understand and treat brain impairments and injuries.

Self-Driving Cars:

I was not able to attend the driverless car panel discussion at Open Forum but I spoke with its moderator Shoeib Yunus. Shoeib said there are many Pakistanis working on driverless car technology in the global auto industry.

In particular, Shoeib mentioned two names: Sajjad Khan and Zaki Fasihuddin.

Sajjad Khan is the head of Mercedes Digital Car Division.  As Vice President - Digital Vehicle and Mobility at Mercedes Benz Cars, he is based in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Sajjad has about 300 engineers working for him at Mercedes Research and Development Center in Silicon Valley, CA.  Prior to coming to Mercedes, Sajjad worked for BMW in Munich, Germany.

Zaki Fasihuddin is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships in the Volvo Cars Silicon Valley Technology Center, and CEO of the Volvo Cars Tech Fund focused on funding research in driverless cars.

Social Entrepreneurship Panel: 

It was an all-women panel with two of the three panelists coming from Pakistan to participate in the conference. It was moderated by Shahab Riazi. The companies represented at this company were: Komal Ahmad of Copia, Shameela Ismael of Ghar Par and Maryam Arshad of Impact. They head for-profit startups with the motto: Do good and do well.

Komal Ahmad of Copia described how her company is helping solve hunger by reducing waste of millions of tons of perfectly good, healthy and edible surplus food. Her company's smartphone app matches those with excess food with those in need of food. The idea was born when  Komal saw University of California at Berkeley's cafeteria regularly throwing away un-eaten food. It took her a couple of hours to persuade the cafeteria director to donate the food instead of throwing it away. His main concern was liability if someone ate the food and got sick and sued the university. Komal explained to him that a good samaritan law protects donors from liability in such cases. That was the key to getting him to agree to begin donating surplus food to charity.

Komal's business helps donors, recipients and Copia as the match-maker. Donors get tax deduction for the in-kind donation, the hungry get fed and Copia receives a commission for their work.  Cpoia is a Y Combinator company. It received its seed funding from Pakistani-American Amar Hanafi, a charter member of OPEN, Organization of Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs.

Lahore-based Ghar Par has a similar business model for matching beauticians with customers. It provides employment for women looking for work and generates fees for Ghar Par as a match-maker.


Organization of Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs (OPEN) held its annual forum in Silicon Valley on Saturday, May 12, 2018 at Santa Clara Convention Center. It drew hundreds of attendees including entrepreneurs, technologists, business executives, investors, lawyers, accountants and others. There were a large number of attendees from Pakistan, including dozens of Fulbright scholars studying in the United States, entrepreneurs from Pakistan and Husain Dawood of Dawood Group of Companies, the second largest business group in terms of market cap of the companies listed on the Karachi Stock Exchange. Driverless vehicle tech and leading-edge brain research were among the new research and technologies discussed at the Forum.

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