Young engineers on a mission to tackle refugee housing
Published on: September 3, 2018
“A lot of people find it hard to believe … that we can make you a flat pack house that you can set up yourself in 3 hours. And it would be resilient to earthquakes and cyclones,” says Nabeel Siddiqui, CEO and co-founder of Modulus Tech, a ‘nestling’ startup constructing shelters for displaced people and other purposes.
“Nestlings” are those startups that get incubated at The Nest I/O in Karachi. Setup in 2015, the incubator was launched by P@SHA with global partners Google for Entrepreneurs and Samsung, and through a supporting grant from the US State Department.
Siddiqui, along with the other two co-founders, Yaseen Khalid and Mohammad Saquib (serving as COO and CTO, respectively), represents some of the best of Pakistan’s young entrepreneurs: creating jobs locally, winning competitions globally, and actively competing with established industry titans the likes of IKEA. Although, as they would tell you, their product is cheaper, offers better facilities, and is more sustainable.
Watch this video to learn why they founded Modulus Tech (00:09); the scope of their business (00:40); what keeps them motivated (01:01); working with friends (02:00); challenges faced as a hardware startup (03:10); the role of Nest I/O (04:10); lessons learnt (04:52); and their competition (05:40).
The trio got the idea for making affordable flat packed homes when the Syrian refugee crisis was at its peak, leaving millions of people displaced and in need of shelter. But the use of their products extends far beyond disaster relief applications and can be used to quickly set up residences at worksites, tourist camps, and so on.
The camaraderie between the three is an essential part of what’s kept them going – they are good friends who share the same passion. They were classmates at NED University of Engineering and Technology in Karachi when they first came up with the idea for Modulus Tech.
“We don’t fight over business decisions, we fight over FIFA,” Khalid says.
As a hardware startup, their cost requirements are comparatively higher as opposed to tech startups. They have to source, construct, and deliver tangible products – a problem exacerbated by constraints on cash flow, as general business practices encourage payments on credit, and the delay can at times be unaffordable.
The three co-founders credit the incubator, Nest I/O, for enabling their successes in a major way, coaching them through difficult times and helping them make the right decisions. Jehan Ara, who nestlings refer to as Big Bird, heads the incubator and has played the crucial role of mentor to these young entrepreneurs.
The office space, the exposure to experienced investors, and the atmosphere of shared motivation keep them going.
As does the confidence they get from traveling to multiple countries representing Pakistan, competing with global startups, and receiving acclaim for their efforts. A list of Modulus Tech’s accolades goes as follows; ‘United Nations: Cleantech Innovation Award‘; First place at Momentum 2018; ‘Hashoo Youth Innovation Award‘; ‘Asia Low Carbon Lifestyle Challenge‘.
Apart from their shared vision of Modulus Tech, the trio is unanimous in citing a lack of innovation as their single most pressing concern for Pakistan in the years to come.
What the Modulus Tech team is reading currently:
Nabeel: Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari
Yaseen: Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak
Saquib: Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia, by Hussain Zaidi