Interviewed by Jess Erickson , Founder of Berlin Geekettes
What's your background?
I guess I am what pop culture references as a Third Culture Kid. My father is Pakistani and my mother is Bangladeshi - I was born in Dubai, and went to international schools in Dhaka and then Islamabad before moving to the United States for university when I was 18. I have a Bachelors in Foreign Affairs & Middle East Studies, and a Masters in International Affairs with a focus in Conflict Resolution. Currently, my work has little to do with what I studied - ah well!
You use to have your own successful blog CHUP, why did you make the switch and found Invest2Innovate?
It wasn't a 'switch' per se. I had been running CHUP on the side for about 4 years, while my day job was working in philanthropy - specifically, funding small innovative initiatives and social enterprises in the U.S. and Pakistan. I knew I wanted to start my own company that specifically addressed a huge need I saw - that young entrepreneurs often could not get the resources or capital to truly build their businesses in Pakistan, as well as newer markets around the world. It wasn't for a lack of potential or entrepreneurial energy; but these entrepreneurs lacked a significant support network (or 'ecosystem' if you will). I decided to take the plunge in 2011 and launch i2i to address that problem. CHUP unfortunately has fallen to the wayside since I work and travel 24/7 - nighttime blogging isn't as attractive as a few hours of sleep!
Please walk me through your day, what does the Founder of Invest2Innovate do?
We're very much a startup ourselves, so the short answer is I do anything and everything. Our entire team wears multiple hats. If I'm in DC (I split time between Pakistan and the U.S. right now), my day starts pretty early with calls, since that's early evening Pakistan team. We do a team call about once a day at this point on average. Regardless if I'm in Pakistan or DC, I'm generally in meetings or on calls with current or potential partners, talking to potential clients (we get hired to design curriculum for incubators, run entrepreneurship trainings, etc.) checking in with our entrepreneurs, catching up on emails, etc. We will be raising an investment round soon, so I will be dedicating more time to that. I tend to be on the road A LOT and I always feel like I'm running. Life at this point is both exhausting and exhilarating. It's great!
Can you tell me about some of the early stage social enterprises you work with?
Our current class (the 2nd i2i Accelerator) has 6 entrepreneurs. All of them have really high-potential & innovative businesses - for example, Oddjobber is using mobile technology to match rickshaw drivers with more rides (think Uber for rickshaws), Asli Goli leverages mobile tech to detect counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and Entaly is using gaming to supplement education in classrooms.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Build a business around what you love. Honestly - best advice ever. When you've been working insane hours, have been on the road for weeks on end, and you're away from your loved ones, you have to be genuinely passionate about what you do. The vision for i2i is bigger than myself, and it's a cause I feel so committed to that it makes all the sacrifice worth it.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned in the last year?
I've learned a lot about the kind of leader I am and who I want to be. There is a huge difference between being a natural leader and being a *good* leader. I've been very conscious of that nuance, and I've tried really hard to work on understanding my own flaws and shortcomings so that I can be better as a leader to my team. I've learned to trust my gut more, to embrace the fact that I'm more empathetic than hard as a boss, and that I can be overly honest about my own mistakes - I feel that introspection helps you grow as a person, an entrepreneur, and a leader. I don't want to be an entrepreneur who doesn't admit when they're wrong, who doesn't listen, or isn't collaborative.
And what are your plans for the future?
We're going to be raising a fund for i2i that would allow us to invest in the startups that enter our Accelerator. We've built credibility in two cycles of the program, and this is something we're very ready for.
If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?
I'd try to balance life and work much better. I'm always working on that. I often feel my personal life suffers due to working and traveling all the time. I'm newly married, so that balance is really key, but also it's important for your mental health as an entrepreneur to really balance life and work - you need to draw boundaries to maintain some semblance of sanity.
Any advice for women who are considering founding their own companies/organizations?
Be yourself. Women are told they shouldn't be "too soft" or "too empathetic" if they want to be successful. I truly believe innately female qualities - regardless if that is a stereotype (I happen to fit the stereotype in this case) - are our biggest strength as leaders. I've never felt held back because I am a woman - it's what has empowered me to have a seat at the table and advocate for what I believe in.