i2i Ventures: a thriving early-stage VC fund despite a challenging context

Pakistan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, while relatively nascent, presents an immense investment opportunity, especially in the startup stage. Nevertheless, the country is still lagging in terms of attracting investments when compared to some other regions. Therefore, in 2019, DGGF – Financing local SMEs started investing in i2i Ventures. With the support of our Seed Capital and Business Development Facility (SC&BD), i2i Ventures developed into a first-time fund manager and the country’s only women-led early-stage venture capital fund. The company successfully raised a total of USD 7 million by March 2022, with continued commitments amounting to over USD 8.5 million.

Image: ©Daftarkhwan

Successful collaboration and talent development

To successfully transform into an early-stage VC fund, co-founders Kalsoom Lakhani and Misbah Naqvi formed a complementary business partnership. Their different approaches and viewpoints proved to be a strength, enabling thorough startup evaluations and enhancing decision-making. Mutual respect for each other's expertise and dedication was fundamental to establishing i2i Ventures. They worked hard to create a collaborative partnership and sought the assistance of a shared coach to foster understanding, enhance collaboration, and refine communication skills. Furthermore, they adopted a rule of shared decision-making, requiring both co-founders to be fully on board with a deal before proceeding.

Besides, i2i Ventures distinguishes itself through its unique and hands-on approach to supporting and nurturing talent within its portfolio companies. To do so, i2i Ventures has adopted more of a VC Platform model, providing insights, talent support, access to experts, and network connections to assist their investee companies. Moreover, it offers a freely accessible library of documentation to empower investees with resources and knowledge. The fund also specifically focuses on talent development and hiring assistance, addressing a significant challenge in the Pakistani market. Therefore, i2i Ventures has partnered with Atomic Talent to offer services like the Predictive Index, providing hiring ability assessments, personality tests, and job modeling for talent optimization.

Image: ©i2i Ventures

Overcoming challenges in fundraising

During the last years, fundraising has become progressively more demanding as macroeconomic conditions in Pakistan have worsened. In addition to this, i2i Ventures is led by first-time fund managers who also happen to be women. As a result, i2i Ventures has encountered biases during its own fundraising efforts, despite its founders’ unparalleled experience in investment in the Pakistan market and the development of the startup ecosystem. Overcoming this required exceptional tenacity and determination from its founders.

For example, the co-founders of i2i Ventures recognized the importance of partnerships and the need for players in the ecosystem to collaborate and jointly advocate for the likes of more favorable regulations. To this end, they have taken the initiative to revive the mostly dormant Venture Capital Association of Pakistan. This organization has now been rejuvenated and is in the process of a dynamic relaunch. In this way, i2i Ventures is also committed to the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country.

Image: ©Muneer Ahmed

Inspiring similar first-time early-stage funds

Since i2i Ventures is a bright example of a thriving capital fund despite a challenging context, DGGF decided to dedicate a knowledge paper to it. The paper centers on identifying the primary success drivers of i2i Ventures and how the fund’s strategies can inspire similar first-time early-stage venture capital funds in different countries or regions. Please find the paper here.