The emergence of incubators in Pakistan is a recent development that has taken the startup sector by storm. Over the last few years, young and capable students, graduates, and experienced professionals have proven the depth of entrepreneurial ability that exists in the country by setting up several successful business ventures. With such ventures, especially in the technology sector, it is not uncommon for startups to be acquired by the big players in the market. Others who retain their ownership are provided with guidance and facilities to grow into profitable businesses. With expensive degrees far out of reach for many aspiring entrepreneurs, scores of students and graduates aspire to learn valuable skills and get mentoring from experienced professionals, provided free of cost by incubators. With a significant part of the country’s population being young, Pakistan has over 50 million individuals within the age bracket of 18-29 years. By attracting their attention towards a medium that not only furthers their professional aspirations, but also contributes greatly to job creation, sophistication of markets and innovation, incubators are doing more for the business world than meets the eye.

The idea of innovating and creating one’s own business was once limited to individuals who not only had entrepreneurial abilities, but to those who had access to willing investors, and sufficient capital to set up a place of operations and carry out R&D activities. The channels of networking and mentoring are not accessible to all aspiring entrepreneurs; this situation created a serious dearth of willing and able individuals investing their time and hard work in startups. With finances being a major cause for concern among entrepreneurs, one of the major reasons for the failure (and lack) of startups in the country is quite possibly the fact that the time taken up by administrative tasks leaves less time for product development, research and innovation. Building one’s own network is hard, especially in a society where stratification runs deep. Moreover, the lack of a basic business infrastructure affects the financial viability of any business in its infancy. This is where incubators step in and fill the gaps in an entrepreneur’s journey to establishing and running a business successfully. After a rigorous selection process, the teams chosen for mentoring are provided assistance from idea development to interaction with prospective markets. The mere fact that an incubator can provide entrepreneurs with a free working space, utilities and guidance through the set up stage, makes the idea of a startup more appealing and brings to the forefront the positive challenges of this journey in a constructive environment. It comes as no surprise that incubators in Pakistan have found immense success in terms of finding marketable ideas as well as investors willing to bear the financial costs of setting up. Be it a tech start up or a social enterprise, the markets are hungry for new and innovative ideas. This facilitation of all actors in the market is a valuable service provided by incubators, one that is likely to amount to significant contributions in job creation, stimulation of market activity and business activity. Naming a few, startup incubators such as Plan 9 and the LUMS Centre for Entrepreneurship have contributed to the formation of Patari, Maroo Tandoors, Bookme.pk, and several other startups. Although the contribution to the national economy is currently minimal, the significance of the work done by startups has set in motion the creation of a positive culture that promotes entrepreneurial activity. The creation of a healthy infrastructure that helps the evolution of ideas into prosperous business ventures is a step in the right direction.

Similarly, organisations facilitating the workings of existing startups, aptly termed accelerators, take startups and provide them with the necessary guidance to survive in the market and quite literally accelerate their pace to success. Plan X, a state financed accelerator, was set up in 2014 and has since accelerated 27 existing startups and created over 400 jobs. Leading educational institutions have set up successful incubators, which also double as accelerators, with LUMS in particular having created more than 1000 jobs through the startups they have incubated. At a cursory glance, these figures may seem negligible, but the bigger picture is much more positive than it appears. Startup incubation is almost essential to encourage people to take healthy risks and go after their entrepreneurial aims; something can do wonders for an economy where domestic investment needs to be encouraged.

An encouraging fact is the recent increase in desirability of social enterprises in startups. Incubators do not only encourage profitable business ideas to apply for guidance, but also social enterprises that can better the workings of less advantaged sectors. Profits are not the only aim for such ventures, and the slightest social change is encouraged and valued.

Finally, it is important to note that although state-run as well as private initiatives to promote the working of incubators are doing well, there could be some negative outcomes. The Higher Education Commission encourages higher education institutions to set up their own startup incubators in order to facilitate more students in creating successful businesses. However, this may not have the desired positive impact. Universities that lack in provision of quality education could start setting up incubators with the sole aim of attaining HEC funding, without actually investing in the provision of entrepreneurial guidance, financial assistance or basic infrastructure. But this is not something that cannot be remedied with proper regulation and quality checks. With the right balance, a healthy environment for startups to set up and operate can be cultivated on a national scale, making entrepreneurship more viable for the wider public.