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The future of Uzbekistan’s tech scene

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

It’s one of the moments socially-aware VCs want to be part of at some point.

We were invited to attend a demo day at Uzbekistan’s Westminster University tech lab (lead by resourceful Aziz Ochilov). A choreography of eclectic projects unfolded in front of us, all in various stages of sophistication. This was a marathon and fatigue started showing at some point.

Then came this young man. Tall and lacking confidence. His deep baritone voice contrasted with a seemingly young face. Awkwardness and discomfort finally betrayed he was just a juvenile. The more he realized he attracted the audience’s attention, the shyer he got, and the more he lowered his tone, which mechanically brought the audience to listen more attentively. This continued until total silence ruled over the room, except for his voice. We were all absorbed by what he had to say.

Olim (alias to protect identity) is a barely-20-year-old student who came up with a tech solution he designed out of a tragic personal event. His mum suffers from a late-stage terminal disease and needs constant care. One night, her condition worsened and became critical. She needed critical injections she would usually get during the day at the nearby hospital. But none in the house were versatile enough to perform this simple medical act. Neither doctors nor any nurses responded to their urgent calls. Eventually, they took a chance, instead of waiting for the worst to happen: they called a taxi and headed to the hospital. She got the injection and made it, barely. It was a close call. Despair covered Olim’s face as he relived the tragedy in front of us.

His questions were simple: how can a family face a potentially fatal outcome just because it was impossible to reach out to a nurse in downtown Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital? How to solve the problem of making available nurses at any time to any patient, especially those in critical need? We often say the devil is in the details. Should such “trivial” medical acts become the preserve of the devil, just because it was a nighttime in this case?

Happiness suddenly lit Olim’s face when he started explaining his solution to the problem. He is building an app mimicking UBER to locate nearby qualified nurses and call them to come and provide medical care at home. This is a paid service with links to local doctors across Tashkent. The project was then still embryonic, but he had designed the basis of an app. Local judges on the panel all felt this idea fills a significant gap in the Uzbek medical system, which, they indicated, is being revamped and liberalized. Although in an early stage, the project seemed to have a strong potential.

The kind of Hollywoodian “some-day-I-will-save-mum” look was all over his face as he heard positive feedback. But he didn’t have confidence in his ability to simultaneously conduct this project, care for his mum and go to school. All in the room vividly encouraged this young entrepreneurial spirit to continue his pursuit, whether or not this particular product would be materialized.

What matters here is that this “kid” who was neither a geek nor a techie. No business school, no tailored pitch nor any PowerPoint slide. No incubator exposure. Still underage. Just a sheer and raw drive to come up with a solution to an everyday problem. The true spirit of entrepreneurship and the essence of the problem-solution paradigm we adore in the VC space.

Weeks later, we tried following up and assisting Olim, but we learned he had paused the project for obvious reasons. It is not sure he will pursue his project and we didn’t want to derange him. It is strange to realize that what he came up with would have, coincidentally, made so much different now that there is a global lockdown and many probably need nursing services at home.

In a country like Uzbekistan with 64% of the population is under 35, youngsters are symptomatic of the potential and future quality of the tech sector. If Olim is just an example, then Uzbekistan is due to produce excellent vintages within years.

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