he fifth batch of women entrepreneurs is under training in the basement of a bustling commercial building on MM Alam Road, Lahore. The place, called Women Resource Centre and Incubators (WRCI), mentors women startups with original ideas.
The venture is a partnership between the Industries Department, Women Chambers of Commerce and Industry (WCCI) and regional public and private higher educational institutions. The batch graduates in October.
While most startups we hear about these days are associated with technology, the WRCI has an open policy: it encourages both tech- and non-tech startups, says Sohaib Zafar, the project director.
Erum Ansari is one such alumnus of the WRCI. An art teacher, she says she was introduced to the WRCI by chance: “Amid pandemic, I came across a few women artisans who were facing financial crisis because of lockdown and low business activity,” Ansari tells TNS. “To support them, I started working on art boxes and kits at a small scale. Later, I joined the WRCI where I learnt digital marketing techniques, business planning and financing that gave a boost to my business. Today, I am the chief executive officer of my venture, called Erum Artbox.”
Natasha Oliver Daas is another entrepreneur pursing a unique startup. “We cook homemade desi food and present it in the yummiest possible way,” she says.
“See, the kids want to have fast food, while their parents want them to have home-cooked food. We offer the best solution that satisfies both the parties.”
The goal behind establishing a women-only incubation centre, as explained by Zafar, is to assist the women it mentors in navigating bureaucratic hurdles. The centre does not provide funds, but it provides connections with the right people, both nationally and internationally.
The trainees “learn how to create business models, sell products, develop businesses, establish brands and improve both themselves and their businesses,” he says, adding that the centre does not prefer one trainee over the other on the basis of their educational qualifications and/ or computer skills. “We value business ideas more than prior business expertise,” he declares. “Besides, we have rigorous admission requirements to test business concepts.”
The goal behind establishing a women-only incubation centre is to assist the women it mentors in navigating bureaucratic hurdles. The centre does not provide funds, but it provides connections with the right people, both nationally and internationally.
A committee consisting of representatives from the WCCI and the WRCI, an instructor, and a few additional members, looks after the admissions.
Since it was established last year, the WRCI has provided guidance and support to numerous startups. One of its many accomplished alumni Fauzia Badar says her journey into the world of culinary entrepreneurship wasn’t planned. But she had a passion for food, which eventually led her to establish a cuisine company in Lahore about two and a half years ago.
She explains, “My entry into entrepreneurship was driven by challenging financial circumstances. During a period when job opportunities were scarce, my husband lost his job, pushing me to explore ideas for starting my own business.”
Badar’s research revealed that Pakistani spices faced challenges in international markets because they didn’t meet the international lab test standards. This was primarily because of inefficient drying methods and hot and humid storage conditions that encourage fungal growth and the production of aflatoxins in food products. She was motivated to address this issue by supplying people with dehydrated spices.
Acknowledging the role of the WRCI in refining her business skills and connecting her with the right individuals, she says she has since built a strong network of food providers, enthusiasts, growers and consumers.
Dr Shehla Javed Akram, the founding president of the WCCI, closely monitors the establishment, growth and challenges of the WRCI. She expresses her pride in the WRCI and its role in empowering businesswomen, which was inspired by incubator programmes in public universities. Initially, her attempts to admit working women to the LUMS incubator were unsuccessful. It took three years to transform her vision into reality when she presented the WRCI plan before the Punjab government.
She says, “Selecting the right instructors, developing an effective curriculum and identifying suitable candidates for the inaugural batch were formidable tasks. Fortunately, the WRCI graduates have achieved an impressive success rate of 64 percent.”
The writer is a media veteran interested inpolitics, consumer rights and entrepreneurship