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Challenges of Bio-Entrepreneurship In Pakistan

There are various opportunities of business that can arise in developing countries like Pakistan by simple applications of emerging sciences like Biotechnology. As a former lab researcher I felt that there was immense scope for indigenous production of antibodies and enzymes used in research. Motivated by peer talk, many of my colleagues attempted cloning essentially required enzymes, which otherwise have put research to a standstill. Although during my brief Masters tenure no one accomplished a successful replication, but some of the attempts were quite close. Despite the fact that production of routinely used enzymes and antibodies is not very tedious, so far as the crude concept is concerned, however, there has been negligible effort put-in, to seize the opportunity by any entrepreneur.

Startups require incubation, either in the form of financial support by venture capital or other forms of technical support. The sustainability of any emerging entrepreneurial idea hangs in suspicion unless it is backed by a credible agency till the time it is ready to face the shear in the market.

StartX is a non-profit business incubator associated with Stanford University which raises over $700M  per year with a $3M+  average per company funding rate coming from leading investors in the US. This kind of incubation is unparalleled with any form of support provided the developing world particularly among the new incubators springing at universities in Pakistan.

However the least that can be done to aid new bio-entrepreneurs is to out-source them a portion of total purchases of a university’s enzymes for a certain period in order to make their enterprises sustainable. This can be accomplished only if there is a will at the level of Deans of Science as well as University administration. Once the process is repetitively accomplished at an enterprise, then there are infinite possibilities to produce all sorts of new bio-molecules indigenously and purify them for specialized use. The resulting applications range from use in diagnostics to research and therapeutic uses. This in the long run will not only help save the flight on the exchequer but also help in build the level and quality of local research.

Recently several ideas won entrepreneurship competitions for indigenously producing therapeutic proteins with higher efficiency. However none of the winning ideas made it to actual manufacturing of marketable product. This was partly owing to the fact that despite the seriousness of the entrepreneurs, the documentation and processing is too complicated at the level of our ministries. Pakistan is simply not prepared to proactively challenge the conventional norms in the wake of opportunities arising from small entrepreneurs. At this point, moving into production of therapeutics may certainly be too ambitious, but there is immense scope for production of diagnostic related and research related bio-active proteins.

We frequently advocate the missing link between academia and industry and there is no doubt that an effective innovation system can only be made up by creating linkages between institutions in the public- and private-sectors , whose activities and interactions initiate, import, modify and diffuse new technologies.

The government in the west has largely a role of a facilitator, but in our context, the government is a key player in the innovation system as it is the prime contributor to the higher education and research sectors. Therefore the government cannot shy away from its prime role in promoting a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in the country. In recent years the government has taken several steps to encourage industry to innovate but this has not been impactful in terms of competitiveness of any of the already produced products. Industries are increasingly turning to progressive universities like and engaging on forums of Academia & Industry exchange, of which one example is the Corporate Advisory Council (CAC), formed at NUST. This is encouraging for developing confidence between the industry and academia but is certainly not enough. The hope for the Innovation sector is small enterprise and given our immense potential in the biosciences, bio-entrepreneurship needs to move forward.

However there are messages for all players in the innovation cycle in order to promote sustainable bio-entrepreneurship. The government must invest more in biotechnology research, and revive the National Biotechnology Commission to a functional level, with vibrant and dynamic leadership. Universities must uncompromisingly focus on quality of learning and teaching methodology, build practical and entrepreneurial curricula and not only support but also participate in the ideas hung in their incubation centers. In fact being the center stage of the innovation regime, universities must also build linkages, which are practical and active, with other universities and engage the industry at various fora. While young entrepreneurs should look onto building partnerships, creating employment and seeking from all other players while working collaboratively with the media to educate the masses. An inculcation of uncompromising quality among all stakeholders is an essential factor which will be detrimental for the future of small enterprise in Pakistan

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About the author

Abdul Majid Qureshi

Abdul Majid Qureshi is a Research Scholar at the Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS). He is a Pharmacist, and a member of the Young Pakistani Thinkers, and advocates “Science for Development”. He tweets @amqureshi83.