ISLAMABAD: The top US diplomat in Pakistan emphasized the use of innovation and technology on Saturday while discussing how the South Asian nation could increase global competitiveness and drive economic growth in the coming years.
Addressing a two-day United States-Pakistan Innovation Expo, Ambassador Donald Blome said the event provided a platform to local startups to share their business ideas and prototypes with American and Pakistani venture capitalists to attract further investment.
“Pakistan has historically relied on traditional industries like textiles and agriculture to drive its economy, but the country needs innovation and technology to become globally competitive, and fostering entrepreneurship is key to driving economic growth and job creation for Pakistan,” he said.
The US envoy added promoting inclusive economic growth and increasing trade and investment between the US and Pakistan were among the top priorities of his government.
“One of our most important initiatives is the recently launched US-Pakistan green alliance framework which fosters sustainable economic growth through renewable energy, agriculture, trade and expanded commerce between our countries,” he continued while pointing out the US was already Pakistan’s largest export market.
“Pakistan’s immense potential is clear to everyone, as you have a young and educated population and a location that connects you to some of the most dynamic and rapidly growing markets in the world,” he added.
The US ambassador said it was exciting to see that Pakistan was embracing its entrepreneurs, though he maintained this support must be paired with policies that provide access to capital, mentorship, training and working opportunities.
“Pakistan must remove barriers and make it easier for startups to get off the ground,” he said, adding the US embassy had funded over 181 entrepreneurship-related projects valued at $14.7 million since 2012, and the ongoing innovation expo was also a step to deepen bonds between the Pakistani and US private sectors.
Parvez Abbasi, project director at the National Incubation Center, said the event demonstrated the power of collaboration and the endless possibilities that emerged when talent and resources were combined.
“I am grateful to all the participants and organizers who have made this expo a success and look forward to seeing the incredible innovations that will come out of this partnership,” he said.
Asim S. Hussain, chief executive officer of the national technology fund, IGNITE, said foreign investors could help enhance the future potential of Pakistani startups. He also said his organization was ready to collaborate with the US embassy to boost the startup ecosystem in Pakistan.
“There are some opportunities for collaborations, such as launching our national startup portal later this year, working on a center of excellence in animation in Karachi, and also launching an acceleration program where we will provide funding to around 30 top startups every year,” he added.
Participating startups appreciated the opportunity provided to them by the organizers of the event to explore ways of consolidating their operations through international collaborations and funding.
Azeema Dhanji, co-founder of Connect, a startup that works for the deaf community in Pakistan, said the main aim of participating in the expo was to interact with people and explore ways to build a more inclusive world.
“We are building affordable technology for the deaf community in Pakistan by helping them with their communication and information needs,” she told Arab News. “Now, we are building a sign language recognition artificial intelligence that can help people learn sign language through AI technology.”
Naveera Waheed, CEO of Orbit, said the exhibition provided a platform to local entrepreneurs to meet potential partners and clients for their program.
“Through our startup, we are trying to improve the communication skills of employees through our artificial intelligence engine, which calculates their score on confidence, cohesiveness, and other factors like that,” Waheed told Arab News.
She explained that the program used both web and virtual reality (VR) to improve the communication skills of individuals.
“Our journey started in 2015 from a US State Department-sponsored program under which I visited the USA and cracked my first multimillion-dollar deal to implement this idea,” she added.