Do you remember the first time you played Super Mario Bros.? Sadia Bashir does. It’s what sparked her love of video games and eventually led her to open Pakistan’s first video game design institute.

As a young child, Bashir didn’t have a TV or any other entertainment. It wasn’t until she visited a family friend later in her youth that she got to see a computer — and play a video game — for the first time. “After that, it became my routine and my passion,” she says of gaming.

Sadia Bashir, founder of PixelArt Games Academy (Courtesy photo)
Sadia Bashir, founder of PixelArt Games Academy (Courtesy photo)

Computer programming was the closest to a gaming degree Bashir could get. “There is a huge gap in our education,” she explains. “Even though it’s the second-largest industry in the world, we don’t have any institute that would provide proper education and training for beginners … because of the lack of resources in Pakistan.”

Frustrated by the lagging development of the Pakistani gaming industry, Bashir had a solution: open her own institute. And so she did in fall 2015. PixelArt Games Academy (PGA) aims to give young game makers in the country the chance to learn from experienced professionals.

In addition to offering hands-on workshops, PGA hosts a research and development center. It also connects its students with gaming companies looking to hire.

“It’s still a very new concept, and our industry is not that mature yet, but I am sure if we provide a proper foundation to our new generation [of game makers], we can increase our progress in no time,” Bashir says. She is confident that through the academy, students “will be able to get jobs or create their own games or studios.”

Advancing to the next level

Starting a business can be stressful, as Bashir discovered. She says she used to be worried about finances all the time. But as part of a training program at the WECREATE/Pakistan center for women’s entrepreneurship, in partnership with the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council, she learned that you don’t need funding to start a business, just a good business model.

“I started my business with zero [financial] investment,” she explains. “I invested my own skills and help from friends and family.” In fact, Bashir advises, startups shouldn’t focus on funding “until they are mature enough to understand their business and effectively able to spend the funding money.”

Bashir also credits her mentors, whom she met at the WECREATE/Pakistan center, for providing valuable guidance. “Whenever I felt like I was stuck in a situation … I shared my thoughts and ideas with them and took their advice. I also took their criticism as well, and it helped me to correct my mistakes and be prepared.”

As a result of that preparation, Bashir has been able to get PGA off the ground. She already has hired eight people as part of the managerial team and another six as trainers.

But that’s not her biggest achievement: “I am the first woman in my family to [earn a degree], and the idea of starting my own business wasn’t that acceptable for them. … But on the graduation day of WECREATE, I brought my parents, and they were very proud of me and very supportive for my venture.”

Ready to choose your own adventure?

Thinking about starting your own business? Bashir shares these tips for success:

  • Don’t worry about the finances right off the bat. All you need is a good business model and a bootstrap approach.
  • Implement, learn and evolve. Your business idea will not not remain static; you may have to evolve to meet market and customer requirements.
  • Never give up, even if you’re worried about failing. Stay focused and keep going.