I attended a start-up cup a few days ago representing ProperGaanda. The competition had about a dozen sponsors from different incubators and partner networks, and a main sponsor of the U.S Embassy. They even sent a “gora” to make it look legit. But in all fairness, that “Gora” was qualified, he had been a marketing director at TGIF and has his own successful restaurant. I have not been to many start-up competitions so I really can’t generalize but this I say in the most politest way: it was a Sunday Bazar more than anything else.
So the format was as follows, there were about 20 Mentors for 60 start-ups that were selected from about 600 start-ups, and this is just from Lahore. The team that could bring about 15 to 16 mentors to their station and have them rank you, made it through to the top 25 and would proceed further into the competition. Then those 25 start-ups would compete against each other for the top 12 slot in a month’s time. After that the top start-ups from those 12 will compete with the top 12 start-ups from otger cities. And finally, after this rigorous grind you earn a total of, wait for it, and just remember it’s never that big; 10,00,000 PKR a.k.a 10,000 Dollars!
Yup Uncle Sam and his mighty pockets, right?
But before we even touch the topic of funds, lets talk about the competition itself. It ran for two days in a 5 star hotel hall with some nice sandwiches served, probably the best thing about the competition, actually no that’s unfair, it was the fried roles that nailed the deal, and at the helm of it all a white dude from Silicon valley.
A Game of Cat and Mouse
Why couldn’t these mentors simply walk to every selected start-up stall and give them 5 minutes each to pitch their idea in a dignified way rather than start-up founders playing a game of cat and mouse with the mentors. What skills were they really testing? Though that too can be forgivable but who exactly were these mentors. Indeed some of them were extremely learned and had a plethora of experience to share and that was helpful to many start-ups there but they by no way represented the majority.
The Patrons of Mediocrity
A start-up is about innovation and creating a demand, and that’s how it is different from a business.
The problem with having inexperienced people as mentors is that they can have a negative effect on the start-up ecosystem. For example there will be a massive difference if Bill gates gave start-ups advice or the owner of a social media agency gave you advice. Please note that business advice and how to run a start-up are two different things. Start-ups are about aiming for the impossible rather than looking at the practicalities of things. A man from a purely business establishment will probably think eco-friendly socks are a load of crap though someone who has gone through the start-up grind and made it, will probably tell you how to make them even if there is no demand. And that difference sometimes is crucial for start-ups.
You deserve Better
Though the icing on the cake was the Prize Money. Let’s talk about that. Let me break it down for you. People driving an Uber in the states earn more than this in less then a month. True story. The biggest problem with Pakistan’s start-up culture is the shear lack of funds. Start-ups don’t need fancy halls in a 5 star hotel or free food, it’s nice but not needed. Though in honesty except the U.S no single country has a well oiled start-up culture but if you do want to give it a fighting chance you need to invest much more then a good Uber driver’s monthly salary.
We deserve better!
P.S. Also if you all are wondering, ProperGaanda did make it through to the next round. Though why does that matter. *