i2i: Lessons from Pakistan’s first startup accelerator

“I really hate seeing good companies die, because they’ve taken bad money,” says Kalsoom Lakhani – founder and CEO of Invest2Innovate, which helps explain the recent launch of i2i Ventures, a $15 million-dollar seed fund designed to unlock the potential of young Pakistani entrepreneurs by investing in early-stage startups.

As an accelerator, i2i has graduated 41 startups since its first cohort in 2012, which have gone on to raise about $6 million in capital, creating over a thousand jobs. The company works closely with other players in Pakistan’s startup ecosystem, and has a network of mentors and partner organizations, including the NIC and The Nest i/o.

Watch this interview with Kalsoom to hear her thoughts on women in the startup space (01:59), qualities they seek in startup founders (00:19), launching Pakistan’s first accelerator (03:15), what’s needed for the ecosystem to grow (04:17), i2i’s new role as an investor (05:45), and the buzz around younger entrepreneurs (06:12).

Kalsoom considers herself a ‘third-culture kid’, having spent her early years across 4 countries. Born in Dubai, raised in Dhaka, Kalsoom then moved to Islamabad before graduating from high school and moving to the United States for college. She is an alumna of Virginia and George Washington universities, and started her career as a political analyst at the Lincoln Group covering the War on Terror, before moving on to social-impact entrepreneurship, and founding Invest2Innovate in 2011.

On identifying as a female entrepreneur, the 36-year-old says “I’m an entrepreneur who just happens to be a woman.” An advocate for designing for inclusion, where women are able to compete alongside their male counterparts, she believes an individual’s performance, and not gender, defines them. Out of i2i’s successful graduates, a large majority have been women-led companies.

When asked what’s the single most pressing concern for the startup ecosystem in Pakistan, Kalsoom could not stress enough on how crucial the government’s role is.

“Regulations, regulations, regulations – it’s the proverbial ceiling in our industry.”

Apart from her work at i2i, Kalsoom is recognized as a public speaker – having been featured on prestigious international platforms such as the World Economic Forum, the US State Department, the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and the Aspen Ideas Festival.

As an avid traveler, she tries to go off the beaten path in exploring the places she visits, and shares those experiences on her travel blog, ‘Local/e’.

Kalsoom Lakhani’s current read: There There by Tommy Orange.