In early 1998 a few technology executives and entrepreneurs of Pakistani heritage in the greater Boston area discussed the idea, initiated by Imran Qidwai, of creating a networking organization to help each other in their business endeavors. This led to the founding meeting at Imran Khan’s house in Natick, MA on a Sunday morning in March 1998 with the following present:
- Iftikhar Ahmad, VP of Engineering, Viisage
- Hassan Ahmed, CTO, Cascade Communications
- Salman Akhtar, Co CEO, Techlogix
- Tahir Chaudhry, CEO, NeuroDyne Medical
- Imran Khan, CEO, Soft-Serv International
- Salahuddin Khan, VP of Marketing, CTO, Computervision
- Imran Qidwai, VP of Engineering, SoftLinx
The group decided to meet for a monthly Sunday Brunch over the next few months to discuss the objectives and to shape the organization, with subsequent meetings hosted by Imran Qidwai, Tahir Chaudhry, and Hassan Ahmed at their homes. Keeping to a monthly cadence, other founding members hosted the meetings at their homes or work places. Over the course of the first few meetings, the group formulated the goals & objectives, coined the name OPEN (Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of N. America) proposed by Tahir, adopted the logo created by Ifti’s son Feisal, and expanded its reach by inviting other tech executives and entrepreneurs to join.
Initially, the group was focused on helping and supporting each other, with a member requesting time on the agenda each month for a half hour discussion seeking counsel from the collective wisdom of others. The member described specific issues facing his business in the areas of strategy, funding/financing, personnel matters and/or partner relationships, and received peer advice in confidence.
During this time, the criteria for charter membership was a senior level executive position at a startup or established company, and over the next few months the group had expanded to include:
- Khurram Afridi, Co-CEO, Techlogix
- Omar Hussain, CEO, Anchorsilk
- Malik Zia Khan, CEO, Sitara Networks
- Mansoor Khan, CEO, KeyCommerce
- Imran Sayeed, CEO, NetNumina
- Jawed Wahid, CEO, Recognition Technologies
As the group generated buzz in the tech community around town during the early years of the Internet boom, there was strong interest from many others to participate. A legal framework was developed and OPEN Inc. was incorporated as a 501(c) non-profit in the summer of 2000, an important aspect being that other chapters could be operated and organized independently of the original chapter then called OPEN New England. OPEN’s mission was to promote entrepreneurship and leadership within the community, and the membership was open to anyone who could show an association with the stated OPEN mission. These seemingly simple steps at that time had a profound impact on the future of OPEN.
Thus, the foundation was laid for an organization that has thrived over the years in assisting entrepreneurs and professionals in numerous ways, and opening many doors for them. It’s events and activities have helped bring together entrepreneurs into teams that have started successful companies across the world; connected entrepreneurs with ideas, knowledge, investors, partners and customers; mentored newbie or existing entrepreneurs to greater successes; introduced professionals to new employment opportunities; and, significantly enhanced the collective wealth, prosperity and well-being of the community in many parts of the world.
Upon creating a legal structure and formulating its bylaws in 2000, OPEN New England instituted a formal board with Imran Khan as President, Tahir Chaudhry as Secretary, Iftikhar Ahmad as Treasurer and the remaining founders as part of the board of directors. Ifti, as the treasurer, processed the initial tax exempt status through IRS.
Legal formalities in place, the first big meeting of OPEN New England was organized at the Burlington Marriott in September 2000 that was open for anyone to attend with minimal registration charges. To the founders’ surprise about 130 people attended, with some flying in from as far away as San Francisco and Los Angeles. Reportedly, some people had traveled together on a bus from New York City, thanks to Imran Sayeed canvassing his professional network. Imran Khan described OPEN’s charter, Hassan Ahmed delivered the keynote and Tahir Chaudhry moderated the event. During the open Q&A after the formal agenda, representatives of New York and San Francisco expressed strong interest in forming chapters in their areas with visitors emphasizing that there was no Pakistani diaspora organization like OPEN in their regions focused on entrepreneurship.
It has been a subject of heated debates as to who was second and who was third, but suffice it to say that the New York and Silicon Valley chapters were neck and neck in their formation as the next two chapters of OPEN in early 2001. Imran Khan, as the first president of OPEN New England, spearheaded the effort to provide a robust legal framework for the continued success of OPEN beyond New England. Honorary legal counsel Arthur Anderson, introduced by Malik Khan, provided in-house legal services and was instrumental in the formation of OPEN Global as the shared platform for the collection of OPEN chapters.
During the course of 2001, OPEN New England hosted several public events on topics of interest to entrepreneurs and technologists, with typical attendance of around 100 people consisting of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, professionals, students, and those still considering to leap into the fray. One significant addition to the monthly board meetings was a segment where a startup would request time to present their pitch to get feedback and possible introductions to angel investors, VCs and/or business partners.
Despite the NASDAQ tech bust of 2000, startups were still the rage. Around Boston, the MIT 50k competition was the one to win for startups. Inspired by all this, in 2001 OPEN New England decided to organize a business plan competition under its own umbrella. With his strong network, Malik Khan easily raised the necessary funds with contributions from several VC firms and the first prize was established at $50k. Bilal Said, then a charter member, was the program coordinator with Ambereen Mirza a key volunteer. After a multi-stage selection process, with the first step being submission of written summary business plans, the final event was held at the Boston Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center in January 2002 with almost 200 attendees where Octanewave from Toronto walked away with the first prize.
Spreading the word through professional contacts in the Washington DC area, the fourth chapter OPEN DC was launched on Oct 2nd, 2004 with an event at the Ritz Carlton in McLean Virginia. This was followed by launch events at OPEN Houston (Dec 2, 2006) and OPEN Chicago (Jan 31, 2009), with chapters expanding across the US and other countries over the following decade. More information on all chapters is available at www.OpenGlobalWeb.Org.
Over the years, a critical component of OPEN’s activities has been the fostering of relationships between practitioners in the US and Pakistan, including financial and mentoring support for a business acceleration plan (BAP) competition in Pakistan. Further material support has been provided to the BAP competition winners during their US visits to connect them with investors, customers and partners.
The history of other chapters and OPEN’s impact on specific companies and individuals will be written by many scribes. The scope of successful businesses started or impacted by OPEN spans the areas of a variety of software & hardware products and services, IT services & outsourcing, business process outsourcing (BPO), call centers, networking & network security, telecommunications, financial services, life sciences, energy and many others.