The Media Lab, Pakistan’s first digital media startup incubator and accelerator launched

ISLAMABAD: The Media Lab – a first-of-its-kind initiative to identify, support, and accelerate media start-ups in Pakistan – was launched in Islamabad on Wednesday.

An initiative of Media Matters for Democracy, the Media Lab will help refine and develop innovative start-up ideas for digital media and journalism in the country.

The Media Lab will offer incubation services including a dedicated workspace for media start-ups in Islamabad, access to state-of-the-art equipment, a fast-track skill development program and networking opportunities with the movers and shakers of the digital media industry. The start-ups will also receive “acceleration” in the form of mentorship from tech and journalism industry professionals, hands-on support in business modelling, potential seed funding, access to an international exchange program, and linking with investment opportunities.

Founder of the Media Lab Asad Baig said the initiative intended to promote digital media innovation.

“Our main objective is to contribute to the creation of an ecosystem that encourages digital media content monetisation in Pakistan, especially for small-scale content producers and media innovators,” Mr Baig said.

He said the Media Lab would help fresh graduates of mass communication and young media professionals explore the new possibilities of the digital media industry and create sustainable media enterprises.

The initiative’s co-founder Sadaf Khan said the Media Lab would be a collaborative attempt to support media start-ups.

“We plan to bring together the media industry, academia, the private technology sector, and government to support media start-ups,” Ms Khan said. “The government can play the role of a facilitator in encouraging digital media innovation.”

She also said that digital media could prove to be an excellent tool and a great ally in not only reporting on but also achieving the sustainable development goals.

Speaking on the occasion, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry congratulated The Media Lab team for taking an important and necessary step towards media innovation.

The minister said that the technology was changing rapidly and Pakistan could not afford to ignore these changes in its media policy.

“The media industry is in a crisis but this crisis is not about the economy it is related to technology,” Mr Chaudhry said. “Solid research is necessary to understand how media can adapt to these new challenges.”

Ingrid Johansson, the Ambassador of Sweden in Pakistan, said in her keynote address that Sweden’s experience could offer some lessons for digital innovation for Pakistan.

She said Sweden was one of the top countries with $1 billion start-ups per capita. It was due to a public welfare system that provided a safety net for entrepreneurs, and the use of the “triple helix” model that built collaborations among government, the private sector, and academia for innovation, Ms. Johansson said. She said the triple helix model could prove useful in Pakistan.

“You need long term policies to enable innovation and digitalisation, and agreements across the board with analysis of what is useful for the country,” Ms. Johansson said. “The ‘triple helix’ model should be brought forward (in Pakistan) from government to government, year to year, over a long period of time.”

Dr. Jens Jokisch, the Deputy Head of the German Mission in Pakistan, said Pakistan inherited a lively newspaper landscape but digital media had also taken off. He said the local media entrepreneurs should look for innovative solutions to exploit digital opportunities.

The growth and potential of digital media in Pakistan was discussed during a panel discussion at the launch event. The panelists included Executive Director News of Express News Fahd Husain, UNDP Pakistan’s Beenisch Tahir, the Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation to Pakistan Anne Marchal, Chief Corporate Officer Jazz Digital Syed Ali Naseer, and media strategist Sahar Habib Ghazi.

Waqas Naeem is a program manager at Media Matters for Democracy, which runs the Digital Rights Monitor website.

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