Nº 3 2013 > Young Innovators
Interview with Iram Tariq Bhatti
Virtual science laboratory for secondary schools
Iram Tariq Bhatti holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics Engineering from the National University of Sciences and Technology in Pakistan. Her idea of a virtual science laboratory for secondary schools — LabMagic — made her one of the winners of the ITU Young Innovators Competition at Telecom World 2012. She is the founder and CEO of LabMagic.
What motivated you to enter the ITU Young Innovators Competition at Telecom World 2012? And what advice would you offer young women who hope to become innovators?
Iram Tariq Bhatti: I come from a developing country, Pakistan, where we face many challenges. Among these challenges, education raises serious concerns because of the limited resources that the Government of Pakistan has at its disposal to provide funding for secondary schooling. I started thinking about ways to fill this gap and came up with the idea of LabMagic. This is a virtual science laboratory for schools where students can perform lab experiments in a safe, cost-effective and fun-filled environment. One of the great benefits of a virtual system is that students can repeat practicals a countless number of times, enabling them to gain a better understanding of the subject.
To take this idea forward I needed resources. As a way of seeking support, I decided to participate in business plan competitions. While searching for competitions to enter, I came across the ITU Young Innovators Competition. It was an amazing moment when I first saw my name on the list of finalists. I decided to work even harder to turn my dream into reality and the result was that my project was chosen as one of the winning entries to this competition. My excitement increased when I learned that I would not only be provided with seed money but also with a one-year fellowship. As a young innovator, I am finding it a really awesome experience to work with ITU and develop my professional network.
I would say to all female participants “It is YOU who has the potential, not the idea”. My advice would be just to think out of the box and come up with ideas that can solve social problems. No one knows how important your small contribution will be in overcoming a social problem faced by society. Don’t be afraid of failure. People most often do not succeed in their first plan. Instead, failures pave the path for their future successes.
How has winning this competition contributed to the development of your LabMagic project?
ITB: Everyone loves to win, and I do too. Winning the competition was the first step in achieving my goals in life. It gave me confidence that the idea of LabMagic has the potential to contribute to a social cause, namely to support education. The seed money I received from ITU is being used to build the team and take the idea forward. The platform provided by ITU opens up opportunities for a young innovator like me, leading to collaborations, funding, and of course mentoring.
Is the business environment in Pakistan conducive to your project and activities — especially as a female innovator?
ITB: No, in general there are a lot of cultural barriers that prevent females from pursuing their ambitions in entrepreneurship in Pakistan. That is the reason why there are not many success stories of female entrepreneurs from Pakistan.
Pakistan, however, is transforming at a rapid pace, and females are contributing greatly on the economic, social and political fronts. As in other domains, positive trends have been found in female entrepreneurship. Pakistan’s National University of Sciences and Technology is also contributing a lot in this respect through its technology incubation programme. Several other forums are also promoting the entrepreneurial culture in the country.
What are the next steps for your project?
ITB: It is good to dream and have lots of ideas. But ideas have no significance until the time we validate their impact in reality. Now I am working towards getting my idea recognized at global level, so that my dream of empowering secondary school students through technology may come true.
Who or what inspired you to study electronics engineering?
ITB: I have always loved to play with numbers, and during my childhood I was awarded several certificates and shields for my performance in mathematics exams. My parents used to hide electronic toys from me, because instead of playing with them, I used to take them apart as I was much more interested in knowing how they worked. This gave my parents a hint that I should pursue a career in electronics engineering.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to succeed academically?
ITB: In Pakistan, females with technical ability are generally expected to train as medical doctors. A very few pursue engineering as a career. I was the first female in my family to opt for engineering as a career. Out of a class of 80 students, just seven of us were women. We had to work very hard indeed to pass our examinations and hold our own against the men in the highly technical subjects.