Umar Saif gives us an insight into his activities on ITLoW
Dr. Umar Saif is someone that many of us have been impressed with for quite a while. He is the epitomy of the kind of people we need in our universities. He is a mentor to the young people who are entrusted in his care. He is a teacher, a researcher, a counselor and a friend – someone the kids can look up to, someone with achievements who is there to help them become achievers, who is there to hold their hands when they need it, to pat them on the back when they have done well, to motivate them and brainstorm with them when they are stuck, to work with them to find solutions, to provide a nurturing environment for the talent that is in abundance in this country. For those who don’t know him, Dr. Umar Saif is an Associate Professor Computer Science Department at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. But he is so much more than that. He is also a Researcher and a serial entrepreneur.
A graduate of the University of Cambridge, Umar spent almost four years as part of the Oxygen core team at MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). At MIT Umar also helped start and manage the multi-million dollar Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI) collaboration on Pervasive Computing. He is still a part of the O2S group at CSAIL.
At LUMS he is also leading the Dritte initiative and was recently involved in running the University of Washington, Microsoft Research (Redmond) and LUMS collaborative distance learning course on “Computing for the Developing-world”. Some of the initiatives under Dritte include:
Dr. Umar Saif is the Founder of 3 startups at LUMS- BumpIn.com, ChOpaal.pk and SeeNreport.com. These are the first 3 citizens of his dream incubator that he has finally been able to set up in Lahore – S.C.I. (Saif Center of Innovation).
Another venture that Umar and his team have started is called findalong.com. Umar refers to it as Google Docs or Google Search on Steroids. It allows users to search collaboratively online, to store stacks of research collaboratively so that each person doesn’t have to replicate what someone else has already researched on the same subjet. Perhaps I am not really doing a good job of explaining the strengths of Findalong.com but why should I even try when there is a video that does it so well.
- the MIT Global Indus Technovator Award for the grassroots work that he is involved in
- Two of his startups — ChOpaal.pk and SeeNreport.com won the Annual P@SHA ICT Awards in 2008
- Umar was awarded the CIO Pakistan IDG Technology Pioneer Award
- The Poor Man’s broadband system for the developing-world was featured in the New Scientist and the MIT Technology Review. Their paper was selected to appear in a compendium of best papers from ICTD’07 in a special issue of the ITID Journal.
Umar Saif says that whatever he has achieved to-date has been possible because he has been fortunate enough to find and work with a brilliant group of people who are excited by what they do. He said this interview was not about him but about the bright minds that work with him, the ones who have burnt their boats and are creating businesses that will eventually be multi-million dollar successful businesses.
I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Umar Saif and some of the young people who are part and parcel of the startups that he has founded – Sharjeel Ahmed Qureshi, CEO of SeenReport, Adil Saleem, Yasir Awan and Asim Fayyaz who is CEO of Chopaal.
It was one of the most delightful interviews I have conducted to date. In fact it was truly inspiring.
Here was a young man who had been an undergrad student himself just over 10 years ago. He had consciously made a decision to return to Pakistan because he believed that they would have a better life here, that he would be able to contribute to the development of this country as well as do the kind of work that he loved.
And there were these young people who had sensed that this man was someone they should latch onto because he would bring out the best in them and, together with the passion for technology that they all shared, they would innovate and build sustainable businesses.
Sharjeel Ahmed Qureshi who is the CEO of SeenReport told me that he didn’t realize all the other work that was involved in running a business – like opening a bank account, making a business plan, worrying about operational costs and procedures.
Up until recently all three startups were bootstrapped with money coming from wherever it needed to – mostly Umar Saif’s salary from LUMS. This last mongh Sharjeel had thought he would have to sell the tyres of his car to meet expenses but they were fortunate.
Umar Saif and his team have found a Venture Capitalist or has the VC found them? So now all three businesses have their initial round of funding. The VC is apparently a blessing in disguise because he is very hands-on and is working with them to help open markets and by providing financial planning expertise.
Anyway, I am not going to give the whole show away. This episode starts off with Umar Saif giving us an overview and then we meet and talk with Sharjeel, Adil, Yasir and Asim. Enjoy the show! I certainly enjoyed putting it together.
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