Remarks at the StartUp Cup

Marriott Hotel, Islamabad | January 27, 2016

Assalamu Alaikum.

It’s great to be here on such a beautiful day. Thank you Murtaza.

It is an honor to be here this afternoon to recognize the outstanding contributions of everyone who participated in Pakistan’s second annual StartUp Cup competition. Congratulations to those of you who competed this year. Today marks the culmination of a long and cumulative process.

Over the last ten months, you have taken part in countless hours of training, business development instruction, and pitch presentations. With the support of StartUp Cup, and with the guidance of skilled and generous mentors in Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi, and Islamabad, you have turned your ideas into viable business plans.

As President Obama recently said to a gathering of global entrepreneurs in Washington, DC, and I quote him, “I believe that entrepreneurs like you can make the world a better place, one idea at a time.”

President Obama’s words ring true here in Pakistan. Competitions like StartUp Cup help ensure that you, the entrepreneurs, are pushed and supported to create the best solutions possible to some of the world’s toughest problems.

While only one team will be chosen as the “winner” today, the videos we just watched showcase your talent and dedication, as well as the far-reaching impact of your efforts in your communities. As competitors in StartUp Cup, you follow in the footsteps of great Pakistani entrepreneurs. In 2014 Dr. Zeeshan Usmani won Pakistan’s first StartUp Cup and went on to win $200,000 in the World StartUp Cup competition. He has since successfully launched a new data analysis business, “PredictifyMe.” With the support of StartUp Cup, Usmani uses data to improve security at Pakistani schools, and has expanded his business as far as the United States.

I am sure all of you have learned new skills and strategies from your mentors, to help you expand your own businesses and the entire entrepreneurial culture here in Pakistan. You are in a position to create new jobs and businesses, new ways to deliver basic services, and new ways of seeing the world. You will make a difference in Pakistan’s future.

From promoting clean energy to combatting violent extremism, you have tremendous potential to help solve the big challenges in your communities.

I want to thank the mentors, who are extraordinary businesspeople, teachers and coaches. Thank you for taking the time to guide Pakistan’s next generation of entrepreneurs. The connections between mentors and competitors will ensure that all of you will continue to have opportunities to help your businesses grow and thrive.

This year, StartUp Cup worked with several incubators to help sustain the momentum built during the 2015 competition. LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship, the Nest I/O, Plan 9, and the WECREATE Center have all agreed to give preferential treatment to StartUp finalists in their incubation centers. I encourage you to take advantage of these and other programs around Pakistan. They offer the kind of sustained support and mentoring that can help newly established businesses flourish.

For the many up-and-coming women entrepreneurs who are here today, I urge you to continue to use WECREATE’s services. With the support of the American Embassy, they were designed specifically to help female entrepreneurs. Earlier this month, we celebrated WECREATE’s handover from the Embassy and the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council to the Islamabad chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs. Now a self-sustaining organization, WECREATE can provide a flexible workspace for female business owners or those looking for a community of likeminded entrepreneurs. America invests in these programs because we know that successful women entrepreneurs are key to driving economic growth and investing more into their families and communities. No country can get ahead if it leaves half its population behind.

I encourage all of you to give back to your communities by continuing to share what you learned through StartUp Cup with other entrepreneurs. Connect with organizations like TiE, which organized StartUp Cup, and Sha’oor Foundation. With the support of the American Embassy, Sha’oor is providing fundamental entrepreneurship skills to students at women’s universities and seminaries around the country.

In addition to seeking opportunities at home, I hope you will expand your network to America. Several Pakistani entrepreneurs who have traveled on U.S. government exchange programs have seen their businesses thrive upon return to Pakistan. For example, Navera Waheed pitched her product to investors during a short professional exchange. She received funding in the United States, and her company, Cygnus Solutions, is now taking off here in Pakistan.

So congratulations on your successful participation in StartUp Cup 2015, and best wishes as you continue to turn your ideas into viable, thriving businesses.

Thank you for your attention.