Kalsoom Lakhani’s Invest2Innovate Invests in Pakistan’s Future


By: Hyacinth Mascarenhas

With a passion for innovation, entrepreneurship and culture, Founder and CEO of Invest2Innovate, Kalsoom Lakhani is committed to supporting social entrepreneurship in new and untapped markets. She also launched the blog CHUP or Changing Up Pakistan in January 2008, which aims to “provide a more nuanced perspective of Pakistan in the news media.” She has also written for publications such as Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, Dawn Newspaper and NextBillion.

Lakhani has a B.A. in Foreign Affairs & Middle East Studies from The University of Virginia, and an M.A. in International Affairs/Conflict Resolution from The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. We got a chance to speak to her about her company’s initiatives.

Elan: You’ve recently founded Invest2Innovate.  Tell us about it.

Kalsoom Lakhani: I previously worked in philanthropy, and was increasingly interested in supporting more innovative & sustainable initiatives versus more traditional charities and non-profit organizations. Because of my job as well as my blog CHUP, I was constantly meeting young entrepreneurs in Pakistan with incredible ideas, but who couldn’t get the resources or capital to really build these businesses. In the social impact space, we often allude to the $1 trillion investment opportunity that exists globally – and yet capital is more often than not deployed to businesses when they’re ready to scale, but not when they’re ready to start. In Pakistan, we see a lack of deal flow (i.e., businesses that are not yet ready to receive scale-up funding) because there are few organizations willing to take the risk to support them at their earlier stages. Also, because of the more volatile environment in Pakistan, the investment climate is tepid, to say the least.

Elan: A lot of your projects have focused on Pakistani youth, why is that?  What do you find inspiring about them?

KL: 2/3 of Pakistan’s population is under 30 years old. And while I don’t want to make a sweeping generalization about Pakistan’s “youth,” the numbers of change-makers, students, and young professionals I’ve met over the past few years who want to change the environment around them is inspiring. Their energy is palpable – you can feel it. As a young Pakistani myself, I have felt there is so much potential that lies behind that energy – but it needs to be channeled in concrete ways towards tangible impact. That is one reason we decided to launch Invest2Innovate, to support young and innovative entrepreneurs and help turn their ideas into viable businesses.

Invest2Innovate, or i2i, launched in September 2011, and are an intermediary organization that supports seed-stage enterprises in new & untapped markets, beginning in Pakistan. We identify, vet & select social enterprises through local partnerships (like university incubators, social innovation funds, business plan competitions, etc.) and provide support to grow these businesses and connect them to seed capital. We recently completed the first class of the i2i Accelerator, a four-month program in which selected enterprises met for monthly two-day workshops geared towards growing & developing their businesses with topics ranging from human governance and operations to financial modeling and marketing. In January, our five selected enterprises pitched for funding to a group of investors in Lahore, marking the end of our first i2i Accelerator and the beginning of future Accelerators to come. The i2i Investor Gathering also marked the first of many investor events we aim to have as we build i2i Angels, a community of investors in and outside of Pakistan committed to supporting and helping us build this movement.

i2i’s vision, ultimately, is to support the broader environment for entrepreneurship by engaging stakeholders, working with likeminded organizations and funds, and empowering amazing entrepreneurs.

Elan: What has been your experience so far?  What has been your greatest challenge? KL: The i2i experience has been humbling, exhilarating, scary and fun. As with any start-up, there are lots of highs and lows, but if you build a company around what you’re passionate about and what you believe in, there are no regrets. We have an incredible team who are driven and passionate about our mission, and are working with amazing partners and incredible enterprises in Pakistan. There is an interesting and exciting window of opportunity in Pakistan – the problems facing the country mean there is also tremendous potential for change. We are excited to be a part of that. However, Pakistan’s investor environment is opaque and tricky to navigate. It has been vital for us to build trust & transparency into very part of our business in order to inspire confidence in both our investors and entrepreneurs – from our application, due diligence and selection process to what happens after a business receives investment.

Elan: If there’s one thing that you could communicate to Pakistan youth, what would it be?

KL: The only thing that stands between you and starting something that could change the world is yourself. The number one advice I give people is to just start. If you make mistakes or fail, it’s okay. It’s all part of learning. Get up, dust yourself off, and try again.

Elan: Are there any future projects/plans that we should know of?

KL: We recently completed our first i2i Accelerator, and are excited to learn from our successes and failures for the next class. Our application process for the next i2i Accelerator will start in June 2013, and the program will begin in September 2013 in Pakistan, so stay tuned. We’re also so excited to build this angel investor community both in Pakistan and in the Diapsora, and engage individuals looking to invest in Pakistani start-ups but want to be part of a credible and collaborative community. Our team is also excited for a number of consulting projects supporting the entrepreneurship environment, as well as plans to scale our work to other countries. Stay tuned!




  1. Good and inspiring one. great to learn that muslim woman are learning and being part of main stream society. will you join our organisation as board member?

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