TNS looks at some of the most exciting recent startups and how they are revolutionising various spheres of life in Pakistan
A nano rural data centre
Agriculture Republic places AgriTech and the rural small farmer on the national startup scene in Pakistan. It’s a smart-farming AgriTech startup by Lahore-based public policy entrepreneur, Fouad Riaz Bajwa (CEO and co-founder), and Pakpattan-based progressive farmer, Aamer Hayat Bhandara (COO and co-founder).
Agriculture Republic emerged in 2021 as a food security public policy innovation space carrying out the much-needed dialogue addressing the gaps in the agriculture sector in Pakistan amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It has over 200 public, private, and civil society actors from across the country.
In October this year, Agriculture Republic launched Pakistan’s first smart village network called Digital Dera at Chak 26 Sp, in Pakpattan. It provides digital services to small farmers.
The startup is looking to launch more connected smart villages across the region in the next year. The Digital Deras will act as smart agriculture brains, connecting villages to the internet and offering digital services as part of the startups farming input services.
Technology helps in bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots but this gap can hinder access to and progress in the field of technology itself. Achieving technological advancements remains a challenge due to the affordability issue, because not everyone can have ease of access (to technology).
Agriculture, as we are aware of, is a major pillar of our economy. More than 65 percent of our population is associated with this sector. But the sector does not seem capable of handling weather fluctuations, lack of resources, ever-increasing population, and the unpredictable demand-supply curve. Going digital can help encounter some of these challenges, and provide solutions. Digital Dera is enabling the emergence of small farmers as digital kisaans by helping them gather information on weather, pricing, access to markets, and determining soil and moisture content etc, in order to make informed decisions with regard to sowing and irrigation etc.
Digital Dera gathers critical data and information about crops such as which crops are higher-yielding and in-demand, which fields are depleting their soil richness, how much area for crops is required, what are the temperature and weather conditions requirements for a crop, what time of the year is most suitable for that particular crop, what is the country’s demand for a particular crop, and so on. It acts as a nano rural data centre.
But data-gathering isn’t the only objective. The real questions are how can a small farmer benefit from it? How can progress be made? How can they be sure their efforts are not going to waste and will actually save precious time? How can they add value and achieve better utilisation? How can they increase profit margins with the use of technology?
Small-farmers are getting trained to deploy and use sensors and access laptops and tablets, gather data; compile, process and analyse data and make optimal use of technology.
Digital Dera equips agricultural stakeholders with technology and artificial intelligence advancements to improve the sector. In the initial stage, Internet Society, Accountability Lab Pakistan and PTCL played a pivotal role in providing the much needed connectivity infrastructure, internet access and digital capabilities to Digital Dera in Pakpattan, by setting up an Internet Tower in the region as internet availability is an issue in major agricultural zones of the country.
Small farmers have been provided dashboard access to the portal. Besides, they have been provided with tablets. Presently, volunteers called “champions” are providing training to these farmers.
An example of activities apart from the face-to-face training is a picture that can be taken of infestation of a crop by the farmer or champions. They can readily search online what is the problem and what is the solution for it, which fertiliser spray is required for their crop.
Digital Dera has also automated the region’s manual tube well system so that the water distribution to the crop fields has become automated. Next, the startup is going to use drone spray machines.
Digital Dera has become the go-to model for creating and scaling smart villages in the country.
— Nooria H Cheema
Airlift-ing the economy
No startup story about Pakistan would be complete without mentioning Airlift, a mass transit turned online shopping delivery platform. This brainchild of Usman Gul, a former employee of MasterCard and DoorDash, set a record with an early $10 million investment for their mobile app-based mass transit network.
The service, which quickly caught on for its affordability among students and the public at large, was suspended as Covid-19 hit the country. However, where Pakistan was in lockdown, Airlift was not; soon the company re-emerged from the shadows, initially as a grocery delivery setup, promising to have products at your doorstep in 45 minutes (or less).
After establishing multiple warehouses using the hub-and-spoke model, Airlift is now a formidable online shopping space with services in eight major cities: Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Hyderabad, Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, Sialkot, and of course its hometown Lahore.
In August this year, the company raised $85 million in the country’s largest single funding round. The company now plans to expand abroad, to South Africa and other promising markets.
— Ahmed Ahsan
Eland of opportunities
Eland is a PropTech startup by Raza Afzal. It’s a first-of-its-kind digital property management platform in the country. Its software and app allow businesses to create and send invoices, receive payments, maintain ledgers and automated reports, track real-time payments and much more.
Eland also has a communication dashboard for businesses to handle customer complaints and communicate with them. The startup aims to bridge all the businesses that lack online payment capabilities for their customers. Its app is built on a vision to enable businesses to communicate with their customers seamlessly, allow customers to pay faster through online payments, and resolve their complaints with real-time complaint tracking solution.
In this era of cut-throat competition, the success of any business lies in building a strong relation with its customers. A company’s biggest nightmare is trying to find out the reason of customer turnover. The medium through which customers can communicate and transact with businesses is either disrupted or inconvenient. To seamlessly connect with customers is every business’s dream, but most of them fail to do so.
— Fouad Riaz Bajwa
Playing to the Bagallery
Bagallery is a prominent, lifestyle, e-commerce startup, founded by Salman Sattar and Mina Salman. The husband and wife duo are on a mission to reinvent how people shop for beauty and fashion products online. Bagallery provides its online shoppers with a wide range of products spanning across the categories of skincare, makeup, fragrance, handbags, watches and clothing. It claims to be serving more than 2,700,000 visitors per month and boasts over 500,000 satisfied customers across the country.
The founders’ mantra is simple: Everyone wants to look good. Their stated mission is to offer affordable fashion and beauty products to each and every segment of the population.
Globally, fashion and beauty are the biggest categories for e-commerce. Plans are afoot for Bagallery’s mega expansion which entails acquiring more fashion brands and expanding to other locations. They are partnering with both local and global brands, and planning exclusive launches.
Bagallery is also launching new projects in ’22. These include a first-of-its-kind influencers’ platform that will allow the customers and influencers in the beauty and fashion industry to connect through the Bagallery website. Salman and Mina’s vision is to “democratise online beauty and fashion with best-in-class customer service, and an unmatched variety.”
The startup is currently in the process of making ASOS/ Nykaa of Pakistan and believes if they continue to do the right things they can reach a unicorn status within the next five years.
— Fouad Riaz Bajwa
For shippers and truckers
Karachi-based Truck It In is an online platform connecting shippers and truckers in Pakistan with the aim to “simplify road freight” in the country. Founded by Muhammad Sarmad Farooq, Raza Afzal and Haider Naveed in 2020, the company has already started making an impact in the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector, agriculture supply chain, steel and construction industry, and even oil transportation. Using the online platform, vehicle owners can easily register and get assured loads with round trips, thus cutting down on costs and having a reliable roster for some time. Shippers, on the other hand, can easily book 4-, 6-, 10-, 14-, or 22-wheeler vehicles capable of hauling from 1 to 60 tonnes of cargo. For shippers, the platform isn’t just about simplifying transport bookings, but also having access to a large, reliable fleet of vehicles, live tracking, and insightful analytics.
— Ahmed Ahsan
Connecting Tazah producers and suppliers
Another entrant in the business-to-business (B2B) sector is Lahore-based Tazah which, as the name suggests, connects buyers with fresh produce suppliers.
Founded by former Careemers Abrar Bajwah and Mohsin Zaka early this year, the platform connects small fruit and vegetable sellers with farmers. Fresh produce is categorised and sorted based on the end user: home, restaurant or industry. The produce procured by the company is sent to a warehouse and onwards to a network of smaller centres to move as fast as possible. An efficient, last-mile delivery model assures that the best produce reaches consumers as early as possible.
The service currently operates in Lahore and Karachi. It’s the first dedicated effort in the country’s agricultural supply chain which is rife with inefficiencies including fragmentation, geographical dispersion, and lack of perishable management practices leading to an estimated 30 percent wastage of fresh produce.
Tazah seeks to not just transform the way we procure and consume produce, but also reduce food insecurity by considerably reducing wastage. With agriculture contributing around 24 percent of Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), this app has the potential to unleash exponential growth — and investors are capitalising on that. On December 21, 2021, the company announced raising $4.5 million, bringing its pre-seed capital to $6.5 million — another record for Pakistan.
— Ahmed Ahsan
The jewellery-buying experience at Khaatim
Khaatim is a lifestyle jewellery startup which attempts to establish a brand that could not only stand out in terms of the jewellery they offer but also shine with impeccable customer service and creative packaging.
Khaatim was founded by Hussain Ahmed Mahdavi who identified a gap in the jewellery market of Pakistan. With gold prices skyrocketing, and silver jewellery not being presented in a fashionable way, Khaatim emerged on the horizon to fill the gap. It claims to serve high-quality silver jewellery, which is also tarnish-resistant and chic.
Khaatim’s skilled craftsmen make products with imaginative designs and precious gemstones combining tradition and modernism, so their customers come away satisfied.
Khaatim also claims that their product packaging is a delight in itself — they place gifts in random orders just to make someone’s day.
Khaatim was launched on June 30 this year. It quickly gained success in the country. Today, the founder has set his eyes on capturing the Middle East market. Their silver jewellery is already being manufactured in Pakistan to boost the silver trade that should have a positive impact on the country’s economy.
The startup faced several initial setbacks in terms of finance, low expectations for sales because of the pandemic, and its impact on incomes. However, they were committed to launching something that would leave an impact on their customers.
Khaatim’s young team ensures that their website is top-notch and customer-friendly.
— Fouad Riaz Bajwa
One of the biggest challenges to education in Pakistan is the number of out-of-school children, the second highest in the world. An estimated 22.5 million kids do not attend school, and of those who do, nearly half are unable to read in Urdu. Between primary and secondary schools, a whopping 66 percent drop out with the major challenge being access to school. Founded by education expert Haroon Yasin, the Orenda project was launched in 2015 to provide engaging education to all children in Pakistan. This was achieved through a digital curriculum and an online platform called Taleemabad, targeting out-of-school children.
Taleemabad makes education engaging by using cartoon characters, animations, and practice lessons that reinforce concepts through smart learning on mobile phones or computers.
Last year, the mobile and web application served nearly a quarter of a million children. During Covid-19, the Federal Ministry of Education broadcast Orenda’s content as part of the national televised schooling programme. The project is also providing tablets to students in order to improve technology access, besides digitising classrooms in local schools to enhance the learning experience and retain young learners.
Yasin was recognised for his efforts with a Queen’s Young Leaders Award and the Malala Fund Education Champion award. In 2021, Taleembad was chosen as one of the eight WISE award winners by the Qatar Foundation, for tackling a major education challenge with groundbreaking innovation. — Ahmed Ahsan
A Bazaar for stores
Hamza Jawaid and Saad Jangda, the young trailblazers from McKinsey and Careem, got together in 2020 and founded Bazaar Technologies, a B2B marketplace for grocery stores, known to be the largest platform for small merchants in Pakistan.
The duo was smart enough to tap into the massive opportunity in supplying hundreds of thousands of small shops all over the country. In August this year, the company raised $30 million in the biggest Series A funding in Pakistan ever. It has rapidly grown to become the main supply partner for over 750,000 merchants in more than 400 cities and towns across Pakistan, a major achievement in consolidating supply chain management and transforming brand presence around the country.
That’s not all. Bazaar’s application includes a digital ledger with simple, book-keeping functions — another untapped opportunity for smaller shopkeepers, and one that has earned them many loyal customers. — Ahmed Ahsan
Perfect Nooks in the city
Nooks.pk is a property management startup, catering to the B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) markets. It seeks to revolutionise the short-term and monthly rental accommodation sector on a large scale. Their motto is to provide the best quality living services to the residents, as the startup envisions building a community of residents, renters, and landlords through their mobile apps.
Starting from bed spaces and small rental units, Nooks.pk deals in all kinds of spaces. The startup was founded by Sana Hussain Khan and Shahan Sarwar. The husband-wife duo with their diverse backgrounds are a perfect fit to run the startup.
One interesting fact about Nooks.pk is that their co-founders are all engineers. Consider, for instance, Ahmed Imran Ul Haq. Their game plan is to use reverse engineering to grab the market to eventually integrate technology in the property sector in such a way that all residential
units become smart housing and are automated (where houses will speak for
— Fouad Riaz Bajwa