Ismaili entrepreneurs and investors from nine countries gathered in California’s Silicon Valley last month to pitch ideas, share knowledge and network with one another as part of IPN LaunchPad.
Held from 11 – 13 November and organised by the Ismaili Professionals Network (IPN), the event was a chance for budding companies to access new sources of capital and connect with mentors and experts.
“IPN LaunchPad is a great forum to bring together serious startup investors and founders,” says Zubair Talib, Chairman of IPN USA. Attendees from across the United States and around the world exchanged best practices that could be applied to their own businesses, as investors scoured for opportunities to put capital to work. The event buzzed with innovative product ideas — from educational toys, to solar energy, to entertainment devices.
Among the speakers were Razor Suleman, Partner at international alternative investment management firm Alignvest, and founder of several startups including Achievers, I Love Rewards and Snap Inc; serial tech entrepreneur Shaherose Charania, who is a co-founder of Women 2.0; and Azim Premji, Chairman of India’s Wipro Limited, whose keynote was delivered via remote video.
“Beyond the educational sessions and amazing speakers, it’s a wonderful way to share ideas, best practices, and network openly amongst peers,” added Talib. Noted entrepreneurs took part in panel discussions that focused on specific topics, and “Startup Alley” gave founders like Sahar Meghani and Alim Ladha a chance to pitch and demonstrate their products to investors, who provided feedback.
Meghani, who hopes to “inspire the next generation of makers, inventors, and scientists” is the CEO of London-based Trunkaroo, which designs and packages hands-on art and science projects for children aged 3 – 8. She explained that she started the business out of frustration at “the lack of educational toys that stimulate interests in art and STEM” — a reference to the frequently-used acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Each project is boxed in a “trunk” and delivered through a monthly subscription.
Ladha attended IPN LaunchPad “to learn as much as I can from those around me, and soak up the buzz and energy.” The founder of South Africa-based Instill Education, which aims to transform the way teachers are trained across Africa, had pitched his business many times in the past, but he had never done so on a stage before professional venture capital investors in such a formal setting. He “appreciated the feedback from the investors and the general validation about the business idea” that the opportunity provided.
“Not long ago, children aspired to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers — often at their parents’ insistence,” said Dr Barkat Fazal, President of the Ismaili Council for the USA. “Today, they want to become entrepreneurs.”
Naveed Lalani, the National Program Manager for IPN's Professional Ventures Program and the driver behind IPN LaunchPad, enthusiastically embodies the entrepreneurial spirit. “Nine out of ten new jobs in this country are created by new businesses and startups,” says Lalani. An entrepreneur himself, he notes that “many of our forefathers were business people and it’s natural for us to want to create new enterprises and thrive in business.”
He points out that today’s entrepreneurs often look beyond their professional fields, assembling great teams to build great companies and marshal resources towards potentially disrupting the status quo, or even to create entire new industries.
“By gathering a curated group of high performing founders and investors,” he says, “we believe we can create an environment to share intimate knowledge and details of the challenges and successes of growing or investing in an entrepreneurial venture.”
The concentration of creative talent and entrepreneurship presented a welcome opportunity for investors, says Rahil Jafry, a board member of the American Ismaili Chamber of Commerce.
“I saw investors getting excited about ventures focused on consumer and data-focused technologies,” recalls Jafry. “You would pass by groups of investors huddled together in highly engaged conversations, comparing best practices on performing due diligence and discussing the merits of the different deal terms that they are seeing in the market."
“Overall, LaunchPad served as a valuable platform where investors met entrepreneurs and explored how value was being created through different business models,” he noted.
Whether starting a business, selling surround-sound earbuds, or creating a platform where multiple family caregivers can coordinate to care for a loved one, IPN LaunchPad provided founders a unique global platform to showcase their innovations and make valuable connections.
Hussain Ahmad travelled from France, where he has a hardware startup called MainTool. At IPN LaunchPad he met Aamir Virani, a hardware expert who founded DropCam (which was sold to Google).
Ahmad says he gained “valuable insights from [Virani] on fundraising as a hardware startup, and how VCs are looking at this space.” He also met experts in marketing who were willing to help him access crowdfunding. Ahmad said that before IPN LaunchPad, he “didn’t realise our community was so involved in this ecosystem.”
Experiences like Ahmad’s were replayed over and over again, says Talib. “Several attendees shared that they enjoyed learning from their international counterparts and seeing what’s taking place elsewhere.”
“For them,” he says, “IPN LaunchPad has become a must-attend event.”