July 2019 saw the return of the world’s largest women and tech start-up competition to Pakistan. The third edition of She Loves Tech was organised by CIRCLE, a social enterprise focused on women’s economic empowerment and inclusion, in partnership with UNDP, Interloop and HBL.  She Loves Tech provides start-ups—especially those led by women entrepreneurs—an excellent opportunity to pitch their innovative ideas in front of an audience, which includes investors, mentors and industry experts.  This platform provides women-centric start-ups with an avenue to rise in a field traditionally dominated by men. It is open to any start-up with a wide women consumer base and products aimed at positively impacting women. This year, She Loves Tech was held in more than twenty countries, with the finals in Beijing, China, in September.

Team CIRCLE travelling on train from Karachi to Lahore

CIRCLE’s team travelled by train from Karachi to Lahore and then to Islamabad, Abbottabad and Peshawar for the She Loves Tech 2019 regional rounds. 

UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, Naoko Takasu, delivering the keynote speech at the She Loves Tech event at the NIC Islamabad on the 5th of July 2019.

The Islamabad round was held at the National Incubation Centre (NIC) and saw a great variety of women entrepreneurs. The keynote speech was delivered by the Deputy Representative of UNDP, Naoko Takasu. Ms. Takasu stated,

“In the era of the 4th industrial revolution and potential impact it will have on the advancement of women, we cannot stress enough about the importance of technology for women. It is changing fast and opening up avenues and opportunities for women alongside men. Women need to be a part of this growth and not miss out on an invaluable opportunity.”

The Islamabad Round of the She Loves Tech event was held at the National Incubation Centre (NIC) in H-9

Out of six pitches from the best start-ups in the region, two winners emerged from the Islamabad round: Awaaz Al and Xylexa; both went on to compete in the national finals held in Karachi.

 In conversation with Dr. Seemab Latif, founder of Awaaz AI,  she shared her experience of being a woman entrepreneur in Pakistan:

“My experience as a woman in tech is very happening, like a roller coaster ride where learning is exponential.  I have discovered a “new me”. As women, we always underestimate ourselves by not believing in ourselves. This was the first barrier I faced when I thought about starting a start-up.”

Team Awaaz AI. Awaaz AI has developed an application that allows intellectually disadvantaged children to communicate effectively

This was further reiterated by Sadaffe Abid, founder of CIRCLE, who shared—at the She Loves Tech 2019 final held at the Karachi Arts Council—that proven research shows that women tend to under-estimate themselves more than men. This means that they are less likely to bring their ideas to centre-stage, since they tend to believe they “won’t be good enough”. This highlights the importance for events such as She Loves Tech, aimed at boosting the confidence of female entrepreneurs.

This year, in Pakistan, She Loves Tech expanded to two new cities: Peshawar and Abbottabad. The top three winners at the Pakistan final competition received cash prizes.

Winners of the She Loves Tech 2019 regional rounds
Fatima Ahmed, UNDP Policy and Advocacy Officer delivering the keynote speech at She Loves Tech

The Peshawar round of the She Loves Tech event was held at the NIC Peshawar where Policy and Advocacy officer, Ms. Fatima Ahmed delivered the keynote speech.  She spoke about UNDP’s Kamyab Jawan programme and its mission to support youth, especially women, to increase their engagement and employment opportunities in Pakistan.

Participants from the Peshawar round of She Loves Tech

The final round of She Loves Tech was held on 3rd August, at the Arts Council, Karachi; the twelve regional winners participated. It was an exciting day full of entertainment with great pitches by some of the best women-led start-ups from across Pakistan. 

Shamshad Akhtar, ex-Governor State Bank, delivering Keynote speech at the She Loves Tech 2019 Final

The final winner from Pakistan turned out to be DOT-Mind Unlocked. DOT-Mind Unlocked is a tech-centric start-up that has invented a headset along with an app that can accurately diagnose mental health disorders in patients within minutes. Second place went to Pakistan Space Science Education Centre (PSSEC), a start-up aimed at promoting space education in Pakistan and in third place were Madhatters, a website that promotes tourism in Pakistan. 

Team picture of the Pakistan Space Science Education Centre (PSSEC)

Speaking on her experience as a woman entrepreneur in Pakistan, CEO and Co-founder of PSSEC, Ms. Zartaj Waseem, said,

 “As a woman entrepreneur it is refreshing to work for ideologies and ideas that I'm passionate about. In the past I've been in male-dominated educational fields and professional workspaces for fifteen plus years; therefore, as a woman, I have learned to overcome and avoid such gender-specific obstacles and aim for the stars, literally.”

Dot-Mind Unlocked sharing their 3-minute pitch at the She Loves Tech 2019 final

DOT-Mind Unlocked was  flown to Beijing for the Global Finals to compete against 20+ start-ups from around the globe. They got an opportunity to attend high-level boot camps, visit the leading tech company Baidu, and interact with international investors and mentors. An Amazon Web Services Activate Package worth $15,000  was given to each national winner at the Beijing finals. 

Yishel Khan, CEO & Founder of DOT-Mind Unlocked, demonstrating to an audience member at the SLT final how the prototype works.

While the DOT-Mind Unlocked team did not win at the She Loves Tech Final at Beijing, this week, they sure made their country and its women proud.

All in all, the monsoons in Pakistan have been a good season for innovation and a great season for women!

Author:

Yumna Usmani is a development practitioner working as the Young Professional Officer in the Kamyab Jawan: Youth Empowerment Programme of UNDP Pakistan. You can follow her on twitter at @Ymusmani

UNDP Around the world