3 Pakistani startups had the chance to shine in an international arena this week as part of ICESCO’s Grand finals in Rabat, Morocco.
What is ICESCO?
The Islamic World Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ICESCO) is a specialized institution that operates under the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). It focuses on promoting the fields of education, science, culture, and communication in Islamic countries.
Their initiative, A-Hub is a global accelerator that aims to support 150+ technologically innovative companies in member states by the end of 2025. For the Pakistan chapter, ICESCO, in partnership with New Space Innovation appointed Katalyst Labs as the National Lead.
As part of the A-Hub program, Katalyst Labs conducted a rigorous 6-week program aiming to help startups kick-start their entrepreneurial journey, achieve growth, and scale up. The program consisted of boot camps, one-on-one mentorship sessions, and several modules.
The winners of the A-Hub National Pitchfest held earlier this month in Karachi were Porter Pakistan, AirNex, and Chiragh Education Technologies. The Pakistani startups then competed in Morocco for the Grand finals with startups from Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Nigeria.
And the winner is…
Chiragh Education Technologies won first place and $10,000 at A-Hub’s first-ever Grand Finals, surpassing 17 other startups!
To remove language barriers for Pakistani students, Chiragh Education Technologies offers gamified and video-based learning. It includes the curriculum from kindergarten through grade five in English and native Pakistani languages such as Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Pashto, Balochi, and Saraiki.
The Founder & CEO of Chiragh, Maira Siddiqui has been a part of Katalyst Labs’ accelerator program since Chiragh’s nascent stages.
Maira spoke of her journey with the Katalyst Labs team in detail. The founder outlined the trials and tribulations of being an early-stage startup founder in Pakistan.
What has your general experience with the A-Hub program been like?
Katalyst Labs has always believed in us and has been on our side. When we got into the Acceleration Program we were told that Chiragh is a little young for it. However, the team at KL, especially Jehan Ara, Kashaf, and Maha have been very helpful and encouraging from the start. Katalyst Labs feels like home. Whenever I had their sessions I would feel like I’m in a safe space and that’s important if you’re an early-stage startup.
When you’re a child you need an adult to make you feel safe. My startup is a child and that emotional safety that KL provided for me was what I really needed. KL didn’t ask for unrealistic assignments or homework; from the start, they were keen to help us grow our startup. The team at KL introduced us to relevant speakers and mentors, some of whom later went on to become our advisors, there was lots of growth! 2 months ago when we started the A-Hub program our Pitchdeck was so different in comparison to what it was when we pitched in the Grand Final – Jawwad Farid played a huge role in that.
Overall, we are incredibly happy with Katalyst Labs and how invested they were in Chiragh. It feels like ye sirf mera nahi balke doosron ka bhi he.
What was the road to victory like for you?
The road to victory has been tough and disappointing at points. Initially, when we started at the beginning of this year no one was believing in Chiragh – it was just the two of us, me and Khushal. We used to pitch in Pitch Competitions and no one would get our idea. The judges were from the corporate world and were used to following the status quo. I was telling the status quo they were wrong and that wasn’t working for us. We won one really small grant and that too came with a lot of strings attached for us.
It is sad to see we have less of a chance of winning in the Pakistani startup ecosystem versus an international one.
What’s next for Chiragh?
An international stamp adds validity, Pakistanis koi international cheez he to behtar samjhtay hein so we are planning on leveraging this to get more funding locally. We are also working on launching our app very soon on the Google Play store. It’s in close testing for now but it will help us launch our app and monetize faster.
We also have a partnership in the works which we can’t reveal at the moment but we’re excited about it!
Other Pakistani Startups at ICESCO
We also had a chat with the founders of AirNex and Porter Pakistan whom we’re incredibly proud of for coming so far.
AirNex is an agritech that aims to optimize the productivity of farms, corporations, and governments. This is done through the application of drones, satellites, GIS, Remote Sensing and IT infrastructure. Ali Zaidi, the Co-Founder travelled to Morocco to participate in the Grand Final and shared some of his thoughts with us regarding the program.
Ali was grateful for the opportunity to represent Pakistani startups on an international stage and show them the immense potential our country holds in creating impactful solutions.
What has AirNex’s journey been like?
AirNex’s journey has been nothing short of an adventurous voyage of amazing discoveries. Working in the agri-sector involves a lot of travel to rural areas. Subsequently providing insights into how economic development in these areas is the backbone of our economy.
What has your general experience with the A-Hub Program been like?
The experience of the program has two dimensions. One was with Katalyst Labs which did a fantastic job in connecting us with mentors, especially Mr Jawwad Farid. It’s people like him and Ms Jehan Ara that need to enjoy celebrity status in our part of the world. We need to have heroes like them to build a strong foundation of a correct start-up ecosystem under their patronage.
The other dimension was that of the international A-Hub community which needs more interactions like these. These start-ups can often help out each other. Times have changed. It is the era of combined growth and where quick extraordinary measures are required to solve global problems. This can only be managed through a consolidated effort, mentored by the right people, and initiated by the right teams for the right target markets.
Porter Pakistan is a one-stop travel solution, with 600+ vendors on board. The Pakistani startup has the vision to become the most trusted online platform for travel & tourism in the country.
Founder & CEO, Aurangzaib Alamgir spoke to the team at Katalyst Labs about his learnings from the program and what’s next for the startup.
How did it feel pitching to an International audience for the first time?
A huge confidence booster! It’s a lot more exciting to have people from different nationalities and cultures see Pakistani startups as a whole different brand. The praise and encouragement we received at the event indicate that opportunities like this help rebrand Pakistan as a center of innovation and talent.
Porter Pakistan has been trained by the very best in the business since its inception and we’re proud to have delivered our first global pitch in Jehan Ara’s presence.
What has Porter Pakistan’s journey been like?
2 and a half years in business and 1000+ customers later. We believe that we’re through the hard climb and only looking towards broader horizons and bigger milestones. We’re about to launch our mobile app and we’re working hard to digitise the supply market in Pakistan’s travel industry. We believe these are the most exciting times to do innovative things with tech and digitise our tourism landscape.
What has your general experience with the A-Hub Program been like?
Extensive learning and matchless facilitation, Katalyst Team gets the first credit. This was a truly helpful learning program followed by tremendous support towards the national and global finale. The ICESCO team’s hospitality and organization of the event are also commendable. We’re definitely moving on from this experience as a better team.