The Punjab government is committed to bringing transparency, efficiency and accountability through the use of ICT interventions and e-Governance. The Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), led by Dr. Umar Saif, is at the forefront of efforts by the Punjab government to help citizens gain access to technology as well as to interact with the government in a more transparent and accessible manner. The Punjab E-gateway Project, planned and executed by the PITB, has a clear and defined vision to “develop Punjab as a hub of IT activity and innovation and to utilize IT in order to improve delivery of public services to citizens.”
PITB’s flagship projects to promote technological innovation and entrepreneurship take the form of two start up incubators – Plan 9 which was launched in 2009 and the Plan X which was kicked off in 2014 are note-worthy. Plan 9 has incubated over 60 start ups thus far, including success stories such as Bookme.pk, Markhor, and Eyedeus Labs, which have pitched their products to global audiences.
Plan X is less of an early-stage incubator and more of an accelerator, helping start ups expand their customer base and gain access to funding opportunities. Start ups such as X-Gear, Travly and Baby Planet have received mentor ship from Plan X and are now looking to grow their established businesses.
A spokesperson of PITB told PAGE that Plan9 is Pakistan’s largest technology incubator that aims to facilitate technological entrepreneurship in the country by providing a nurturing ecosystem for the sustainable growth of product based early stage start ups. Housed on the 9th floor of the Arfa Software Technology Park, Plan9 inducts teams bi-annually, making each incubation cycle of 6 months.
Services such as free office space, legal advisory, marketing and monthly stipends are funded by the Government of the Punjab. “Our incubation program is giving a new meaning to the business culture of Pakistan. Running a business is no longer a surreal wish – aspiring entrepreneurs as young as fresh college graduates can now setup their own business with the help of Plan9. Plan9 helps entrepreneurs in the early days of their journey and hatches successful and sustainable startups from mere business ideas in a period of just 6 months,” the spokesperson adds.
According to him, the incubation model adopted by Plan9 is one of a kind, a tailor-designed process that is aimed at fostering startups alone. Unlike other incubators, it takes absolutely no equity. “We accept teams that are well integrated and working on a tech based product. Young, fresh and inventive entrepreneurs fall back in developing the right connections, industrial know-how and gaining attention. At Plan9, we provide an environment conducive to the success of a start up that resolves all adore-mentioned predicaments,” he said.
He further said the incubated teams are placed at Level 9 of ASTP where besides developing their products, they are rigorously engaged in trainings, mentoring and product review sessions. The exposure to the industry and opportunity to create a professional network is uncommon and second to none within the country. Guidance is given in the areas of product development, business development, financial planning, pitch training, marketing and PR, corporate communication, customer acquisition, internal operations and legal concerns.
The PlanX spokesperson described the company as a technology accelerator for mid-stage start-ups. During the 6-month acceleration cycle, selected tech-start ups are empowered by providing access to multiple funding channels, specialized network of mentors and global exposure. At the end of the cycle, they operate as high impact businesses.
As the Province’s technology spearhead, the Punjab Information Technology Board, which is an autonomous body set by Government of the Punjab, provides the foundation for Punjab’s innovation economy. PITB is responsible for maintaining the foundational IT infrastructure and system of Punjab i.e., a data center for hosting along with managing official email identities. Our organization has provided systems and solutions that have positively impacted the Health, Education and Law & Order sectors of the province.
Moreover, PITB’s immense efforts towards better and transparent mobile governance reforms have been acknowledged globally as well, for instance recently the World Bank’s President appreciated our mobile governance reforms at the World Bank’s Daylight Dialogue’ 2014 in Philippines. Additionally, PITB is striving to promote entrepreneurship culture in the country along with capacity building of both professionals (public and private sector) and students from across Pakistan.
Credit for achievements in PITB goes to Dr Umar Saif and his team. Dr Saif has co-founded several start ups at his incubator SCI. Two of his start ups have played an important role in supporting civil society during political turbulence and natural disasters in Pakistan. Dr. Saif is also the co-founder of SMSall.pk, Pakistan’s first mobile social network. SMSall is one of the fastest growing SMS networks in Pakistan, used by hundreds of thousands of people to stay in touch, coordinate relief efforts and enable mobile communities. Over 4 billion SMS have been sent using SMSall in Pakistan. Dr. Umar Saif has written about his start ups in Washington Post. He is also famous for his work for Dengue Fever.
During his tenure as Chairman of the Punjab IT Board, Dr. Saif launched several initiatives aimed at improving citizen services for police, high-courts, city district government and health. He also led the development of Punjab Innovation Policy in collaboration with Google Inc and launched Plan9, Pakistan’s first public-sector start up incubator. Under his leadership, PITB designed the smartphone-based early epidemic warning system that played a central role in fighting the Dengue epidemic in Punjab in 2012, and developed an innovative model for fighting corruption using technology. PITB also led the deployment of the first Automatic Fare Collection system for mass transit in Pakistan and automated the operations of the first Lahore Metro Bus System. In 2014, Dr Saif was conferred upon Sitara-i-Imtiaz (Star of Excellence), one of the highest civilian Awards in Pakistan, by the Government of Pakistan in recognition for his services to the country.
The country needs more people like Dr. Umar Saif who through innovation and ground realities in our system can give solution to manifold issues posed to the country.