Kalsoom Lakhani is very much in the news these days for providing entrepreneurs with a platform that mentors and funds young startups. Invest2Innovate (i2i) offers resources and supports young entrepreneurs to help them reach the highest mark and achieve a self-sustaining business status, which otherwise is very tough for many talented enthusiasts. Majority of entrepreneurs face challenges in terms of investment even with great ideas in hand.
Kalsoom Lakhani talks about how she came up with Invest2Innovate, for helping Pakistani entrepreneurs. i2i provides business enthusiasts with professional assistance as well as investment opportunities for kick-starting new creative ventures. The company started in Pakistan in 2011 and now plans to extend its network in other countries.
Young entrepreneurs have the power to change the world
Invest2Innovate is a vision that believes young entrepreneurs have the power to change the world. And we are making that change possible by supporting young entrepreneurs in developing markets. We identify early stage entrepreneurs and provide them with resources and support that is required to get their businesses off the ground. We connect them to mentors and business support for e-capital by putting them through our Invest2Innovate accelerator – a four-month program that enhances business vision to foresee future investments. Moreover, we also connect them to our angel investment community called i2i Angel. It involves our local investors in Pakistan that are passionate about supporting young entrepreneurs in the country.
What inspired you to setup this platform?
I was working in Social Vision, the venture philanthropy arm of ML Resources, LLC, a couple of years ago. And at the same time I was also running a successful blog on Pakistan through which I came across numerous interesting initiatives underground. I met young Pakistanis – over and over again – who had great ideas that changed the environment around. The biggest problem they faced was capital and resources needed to translate these ideas into reality.
In the meantime, I was also meeting with some successful entrepreneurs who wanted to invest in young startups but they were unable to find ideas worthy enough. There are lots of investors who are investing in companies that are ready to scale, but not when the companies are just starting. In Pakistan, when it comes to startups, there is a huge deal of issues to deal with. Therefore, we decided to bridge the gap between entrepreneurs and investors and now we work with entrepreneurs in really early stages when they have attractive and powerful ideas which really need support for the execution of these businesses.
i2i Accelerator and i2i Angel programs for young entrepreneurs
i2i Accelerator is an annual four-month program that starts in September each year lasting till January next year. Over the course of the summer, we have an application process where we select amazing entrepreneurs that are creating businesses to change the environment around them. There are six companies in our credit class which just finished and graduated. One of these companies is basically using mobile technology to help pharmaceuticals in buy medicine that is real and not fake, as there are ¼ chances that when you go to a pharmacy in Pakistan, your medication is fake. Others are doing variety of things from creating application games on tablets to curating education technology content for Pakistan. There are many entrepreneurs with brilliantly high potential ideas to change the world around and they are becoming a part of our programs.
i2i is partnered with well-known companies and institutes including DotZero, P@SHA, Code4 Pakistan, LUMS and NUST. Over the course of four months, entrepreneurs get virtual business support for over six weekends. There are forty top entrepreneurs and industry experts as mentors in i2i programs. These experts mentor and organize sessions on everything related to sales and customer acquisitions as well as operations, branding, marketing and financial investments.
Connecting entrepreneurs and investors
At the end of our programs, our entrepreneurs pitch at our annual investors gathering, which tends to be populated by our angel investor networks and they are really passionate about investing in Pakistan. These investors are also a part of our application process in terms of selecting and judging the applications for their mentor’s trainer program. The relationship between both investors and entrepreneurs is very creative because there are several entrepreneurs who are ready to pitch for investments.
Tech element in new startups
Our entrepreneurs are very tech-oriented because technology is the driving force behind every business today. Out of six entrepreneurs that we just had in our current program, four had a technology component to their projects. We are looking forward to companies which see technology as a means to create a social impact. And that is exactly what we want to achieve.