Having launched in May 2019, COLABS, an entrepreneurial coworking platform, founded by Omar Shah has been striving to innovate the local ecosystem by creating new work experiences. It has played a crucial part in both supporting and collaborating with young entrepreneurs in Pakistan’s burgeoning startup ecosystem.
Therefore, COLABS’ big idea and main driving mission is to redefine the future of work in Pakistan by creating avenues and opportunities for the country’s youth bulge (under 27-years of age) that makes up approximately 64% of the country’s population.
As the 4th largest freelancing community in the world, with a population of 220 million, and over 160 million people using mobile connections, Pakistan is a melting pot of budding talent and immense potential, primed for the next entrepreneurial boom.
Yet, in spite of its growth projections, Pakistan needs to overcome several hurdles before it can be called the next entrepreneurial hub. The raw nature of the Pakistani startup culture and the market dynamics create resistance around connecting international interest with local talent and opportunity. Without a proper business direction establishing a business becomes more challenging than it needs to be.
The resolve comes in the form of COLABS, which goes beyond just a seat and a desk. Through its productive spaces and an ecosystem of entrepreneurs and partners, COLABS facilitates its members to integrate and establish themselves in the Pakistani market.
Within its first two years alone, COLABS has already increased its capacity four-folds and with similar inertia, plans on adding 100,000 entrepreneurs to its community over the next five years.
The vision is to knit together Pakistan’s largest community of startups, founders and creators, all of whom will be housed within, and serviced by, COLABS.
Today, COLABS has over 1,500+ seats, 100+ companies and 100+ partners (universities, VC funds and corporates, including government and industry leaders) through its diverse system of freelancers, startups and enterprises.
Recently, on September 26 , xWave, the country’s first technology-driven flood relief initiative officially unveiled its plans to tackle the biggest humanitarian crisis to have hit Pakistan. Salahuddin Khawaja spoke at length with his team about how xWave plans to bring a tech-based approach to disaster relief to propel long-term impact.
“I think [xWave] has been years in the making,” stated Salahuddin, the founder of Hypermode (an NY-based crypto consulting firm) and the digital agency, Decklaration. “I helped build 3,000 shelters during the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, and this year, when the flood crisis hit, I wanted to give back again. I’ve had a passion for edtech for years and I’m hoping xWave helps unleash a wave of change, innovation, growth and economic activity in Pakistan. Today, more than ever, we need fresh ideas to create new avenues for the overlooked. xWave is a futuristic way of reimagining our communities that creates financial empowerment in the long-run.”
A community-driven initiative which currently has over 10 different organizations on board to drive its mission, such as; LUMS, Arbisoft, Code for Pakistan, COLABS, TABADLAB, KhudKaar and more, xWave’s goal is to bring a tech-based approach to disaster relief by not only rebuilding homes in Pakistan’s flood affected areas, but also by providing digital literacy to 300 families through Salahuddin’s passion project, the Institute of Emerging Careers (IEC).
“As part of xWave, we will be supporting families to upskill themselves as they learn digital skills,” said Bilal Tareen, part of the xWave and IEC team. “The IEC will be introducing courses and once the students are digitally equipped, they’ll be able to support their families and get back on their feet.”
Speaking at the event, Wardah Noor, a social activist and the founder of KhudKaar (a social enterprise working on poverty alleviation), said that xWave will prepare those who’ve been hit hardest by the crisis to become financially empowered and allow them to sustain themselves over the course of xWave’s 10-year plan.
“xWave is building a community which is not dependent on anyone if this crisis, God forbid, hits Pakistan again. I believe we can use technology to build those communities back up so that they can fight back and not ever be in a powerless position again,” she said.
“I think what really resonated with me is the fact that xWave is a very well-thought out process. It’s a process where all the stakeholders involved are approaching the flood crisis in a rational and methodical manner. That’s why I feel xWave is going to be successful…the partnerships are so critical and I’m happy to know that there are both academic institutions as well as companies that have real hands-on experience that are part of this,” said Qaiser Imam, a Senior Manager at IBM, who was part of the audience.
“I’m so proud that Salahuddin and his team are trying to pull this off,” stated Yasser Bashir, the CEO of Arbisoft. “The flood crisis is an unprecedented calamity that has hit us. I don’t think any other organisation in Pakistan is currently trying to create employment opportunities for the flood-affected areas, so that’s a unique aspect of xWave. I’m personally backing this initiative and I hope more people can join and support Salahuddin on his mission.”
Given this interconnected system, along with its entrepreneurial initiative, COGROW, COLABS enables local and international companies to enter, startup and accelerate growth in the Pakistani market. Under COGROW, COLABS has hosted over 250+ events (spanning across the sectors of technology, business, art and culture), which has garnered a footfall of over 200,000 visitors (and counting) since 2019.