Blackbox Connect is the Silicon Valley immersion program that’s dedicated to overseas entrepreneurs. It has already hosted startups from 25 countries. The aim of Blackbox, says founder Fadi Bishara, is to inspire confidence in people and “to show they’re up there with Silicon Valley startups.”
Over the weekend, Fadi Bishara (pictured below) was in Pakistan to check out the nation’s burgeoning tech ecosystem. For Bishara, who’s originally from Syria, it was his first time to explore Pakistan. He was guided around by Nabeel A. Qadeer’s team at Plan9, the Lahore-based startup incubator that’s backed by government funds.
While there, Bishara signed an agreement with Plan9 that it will shepherd two Pakistani startups each year into the Blackbox Connect program in California. Blackbox runs about four or five such two-week programs each year. It seems like a good match for both organizations, Bishara says, as the startups coming out of Plan9 are already at a formed stage, and it’ll help the Silicon Valley VC to connect with the best that’s coming out of Pakistan.
Signs of potential
“Diversity is key to success,” says Bishara – both in terms of Blackbox, and tech ecosystems as a whole. Speaking to Tech in Asia via Skype from Lahore, he explained that a wide spread of nationalities at the Blackbox program fosters cooperation and cuts down on petty rivalry.
Blackbox has hosted two Pakistani startups previously. Last summer, Groopic and Tunacode were invited over. Regular readers might recall that Groopic is the amazing photo app that stitches the photographer into a photo.
During his trip, Bishara says he was most impressed with the strength of Pakistan’s technical talent, especially in science and engineering. That’s backed up by good English skills. The basis for that is a good education system, he says, despite the many other infrastructure issues and areas of instability in the country. He explains:
Tech startups in Pakistan are really hardcore technology – even more so than in Silicon Valley.
While UNESCO paints a different picture of the overall education scenario in Pakistan – particularly in rural areas, and especially for girls who are often denied a chance to study – it is indeed the case that some urban schools are doing well with their technical education, something that has helped produce the nation’s businesspeople in the enterprise IT services and business outsourcing (BPO) industries. The growing number of incubators in Pakistan are geared towards turning that talent into startup entrepreneurs in newer tech areas.
Pakistan has already produced a few young startups that have gone global, such as Groopic and the enterprise collaboration tool Convo. Bishara encourages more Pakistani entrepreneurs to aim at worldwide markets: “If you solve issues in Pakistan, that could be a solution in Peru as well.” But, he adds, it’s still good to focus on solving local issues, and the home market can be used to validate startup concepts.
Blackbox is not scouring Pakistan with funding in mind, says Bishara. He’s happy to share knowledge, talk about Silicon Valley, and help local tech entrepreneurs “become better role models at home” to both fellow startup folks and the nation’s children. He believes that people should be using the web to add value around the world, adding:
Having lived in Syria and seen how ugly wars and conflicts are, entrepreneurship is a way out.
(Editing by Paul Bischoff)