Yusuf Hussain is a Tech Entrepreneur, angel investor, and tech enthusiast.
Startup Acceleration and Funding, Incubation, Public Policy, Offshore Services, IT-enabled Organization Transformation, Program Management, Legal Negotiations, Technology Sales, Executive Management
Recently NetMag got a chance to chat with Mr. Yusuf Hussain who is the CEO of IGNITE-National Technology Fund. Yusuf is a Tech Entrepreneur with international experience in startups, funding, offshore development, internet marketing and internet business models. As CEO of IGNITE (formerly known as National ICT R&D Fund), he has brought strategic shift in the direction of the fund, under the guidance of the Board and Ministry of IT, towards creating a knowledge economy by funding startups which can ignite innovation in the field of Artificial Intelligence, IoT, Big Data, Cloud, Robotics, Shared Economy, 3D/4D Printing etc.
Before joining IGNITE, he has worked as Managing Director of the Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB), where he introduced and executed a strategic vision incorporating IT Park development, Venture Capital promotion, and human capital development. He was also the co-founder of CresSoft, Inc., an eCommerce technology company with FORTUNE 500 and GLOBAL 2000 clients. He has served as a consultant to the World Bank, the WTO, and the United Nations. As technology adviser to Government of Pakistan, he helped formulate a National Technology Policy. He is also a founding charter member of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE) Islamabad.
- We would like to know the contribution of Ignite fund in the development and promoting ICT in the country?
Ignite is energizing the innovation value chain in Pakistan at a number of levels. We are funding STEM school projects, and exploring maker spaces that re-ignite curiosity and creativity at a school level. We are rolling out a network of high-end National Incubation Centers across the country. We are rolling out a major program to train one million people in the future of work. Ignite funds startups and innovative projects. We also engage in studies and collaborations that help the Government incentivize the innovation value chain. Finally, as per our mandate, we inform stakeholders like policymakers, media, academia, corporates and professionals about the importance of innovation and the threats and opportunities offered by the 4th Industrial Wave.
- How is Ignite supporting startups and what are your selection criteria?
Ignite funds startup and innovative projects that employ 4th Industrial Wave Tech like AI, Big Data, Robotics, Blockchain and IoT to solve local problems or target global opportunities in whatever verticals. Our focus is on those opportunities, which private sector investors abjure due to the technology risk. We address that technology risk so that follow up investors can address the market risk. It is important that applicants work out the business side well because we want the products we fund, when built, to have a broad and deep impact on society.
- How do you think Pakistan can transform into a leading IT country?
Energize the innovation value chain from schools, colleges, R&D, and startups, to incubators, funding, and IPO. Reduce regulatory footprint and burden, incentivize exports, build technology parks, create a better country brand, and most important prepare our people for the future of work.
- What’s your opinion on the Cybercrime bill and how effective is it? Do you not think it can negatively impact the common man in the social media world?
When the Cybercrime Bill was first published a couple of years back, I had posted on social media that it represented a necessary compromise between sometimes countervailing principles, that are also enshrined in the constitution, namely freedom of speech, preservation of human and institutional dignity, and prevention of crimes. The Bill is a framework, which has to be interpreted and fleshed out by courts of law. We also need increased capacity in law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to implement the provisions of the law fairly and quickly.
- Mobile banking has emerged as a commercially viable and customer friendly alternate distribution channel for financial services and had remained the hottest trend in last year. What developments, new trends and advancements you foresee in 2018?
Mobile bank accounts stand at between 5 and 6 million today and should rise to 50 – 100 million by 2020, as per SBP, and 100 million by 2025, as per a McKinsey forecast. One can expect this trajectory to continue given mobile broadband and smartphone penetration of 50 million and 70 million, respectively, and high growth. The major bottleneck would be the development of a human-centric user interface that can be employed by the semi and illiterate folk, particularly in rural areas, where training is not as easy to roll out. One expects that some startup or the other will solve this problem in 2018.
- How has the Technology revolutionized Pakistani landscape and what is ahead?
The deepest penetration of tech is through smartphones. In the future we can expect better health provision through telemedicine, financial inclusion through mobile bank accounts, a creation of a more digital, formal economy where corruption and leakages become much harder, more online freelance work where Pakistan is already a global leader, and startup solutions emerging for hunger and malnutrition.
- What were the biggest challenges for the ICT industry in 2017 and where are the opportunities in 2018
Some of the challenges are tax regulation, a supply of human resources with the right skills, offices rental rates, international branding, and international travel.
- What are your future plans?
We are launching a program to train one million people in the future of work, which will employ AI and seek a 10x ROI. Following operationalization of incubators in Islamabad, Lahore, and Peshawar, we plan to roll out incubators in Karachi and Quetta before mid-year. We hope to conduct studies to learn more about the innovation value chain in the country and help the Government to introduce additional incentives. Finally, we want to continue to improve our ability to select, fund and help startups