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Tech Guru Sabeen Mahmud: 'Fear Is Just a Line in Your Head'

The founder of Pakistan's first hackathon boldly goes where few women have gone before.

Sabeen Mahmud could easily fall into the Silicon Valley stereotype. But the entrepreneur lives and works in Karachi, Pakistan, a region more commonly associated with violence and a struggle for women's rights.

The hackathon Mahmud launched in her Second Floor Café in 2006 was Pakistan's first, though bringing something new to this ancient city wasn't easy. Mahmud had no money, no experience, and zero market research. She was also disillusioned with "mainstream politics," and was living with her mother and grandmother. None of this detered her. 

“Fear is just a line in your head," she told Wired this week. "You can choose what side of that line you want to be on." 

For Mahmud, who fell "passionately in love" with the first Mac she saw in 1992, the decision was simple.  

Using word-of-mouth, the hackathon drew over 120 applicants and welcomed a government representative--an especially bold move considering two of apps proposed to address government inefficiencies. 

“I felt we needed to not create a competitive environment,” Mahmud said, “and as a result the collaboration was incredible.” 

Last updated: May 15, 2013


Julie Strickland covers start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurial endeavors of all kinds for Inc. Her work has been published in Brooklyn Based and City Limits in New York, the Free Times in Columbia, SC, Real Travel Magazine in London, and Daegu Pockets in South Korea. She lives in New York City.

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