The ICT division founded Startup Bangladesh-iDEA – a national entrepreneurship platform which would enable our country to innovate faster, create new opportunities, develop technical skills and help realize the vision of Digital Bangladesh. Recently, it hosted a round table discussion called Startup Circle with local entrepreneurs, startup community builders, telco, academias and development agencies that are actively working to promote entrepreneurship. Startup Dhaka was represented at the meeting with its management team, Mustafizur R Khan, Fayaz Taher and Samad Miraly.
Since many different organisations are working in many different levels to promote entrepreneurship, the discussion stirred towards how everyone can contribute to create a bigger impact.
The Honorable Minister of State Mr. Zunaid Ahmed Palak presided over the discussion and emphasised the importance of creating a startup culture in Bangladesh that is based on knowledge and mutual respect. He highlighted the fact that ICT ministry has developed Startup Bangladesh platform which will offer mentoring, funding, co-working spaces, marketing and legal support to our entrepreneurs to help realize their visions. He encouraged all the various partner organisations to come under the umbrella of Startup Bangladesh and work together to create a bigger impact.
Mr. Palak explained that to create a startup ecosystem, it requires many support programs, but it is also important to create the right kind of startup culture. While many people are working, he observed that not many people are working together and flow of information within the community is not encouraging. Perhaps Startup Bangladesh can become the catalyst or the facilitator for the entire Bangladesh startup community where everyone can come together to seek information, get support and funding. There are almost 22 organizations that are working in this space, and it’s about time that people starting working together with full support from ICT ministry.
ICT has 4 pillars for Startup Bangladesh namely connectivity, e-governance, human resource development, and ICT industry which it believes will help create a strong ICT sector in Bangladesh. Mr. Palak cited two business examples from Bangladesh, the financial sector and garments industry. While both had international players in the beginning, the banking industry is currently dominated by local players. He questioned if in the next decade will our local startups become flagship companies in technology business or we will depend on the Uber and AirBnb of the world. He went on further saying that though garments sector contributes significantly to our economy yet it failed to produce a single brand like H&M, Zara etc. The garments industry ended up being captive to the large brands and offered low price as competitive edge which in the long run is not sustainable.
He questioned everyone in the panel to answer the difficult question if we as a nation are fundamentally ready to face the future or we rather handover the billion dollar ICT industry in the making.
In India, Uber and Ola, the home grown company, is competing for market share in ride share so is Flipkart against Amazon in e-commerce space. We don’t have too many strong local tech companies to take the fight to the global tech giants.
So now is the time to build strong local brands while the market is smaller and may seem unattractive to international brands. He cited the example of Pathao the local ride sharing company that is giving run for their money to Uber who had to change their strategy. Now Uber offers motorbike ride sharing based on local market demand. Technically local entrepreneurs are more poised to win the local market as they have the advantage of knowing the home turf.
Mr. Palak reiterated that Bangladesh seeks to become an upper-middle–income country by 2021, which will ultimately create huge demand in the market for services. In order to take advantage of the upcoming demand, Startup Circle as a platform likes to bring like minded people together to foster innovation.
In this process government’s job is only to facilitate through funding and providing co-working space while local partners will provide access to mentors and coaching. The sole aim is to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and experience sharing through all these initiatives.
As Bangladesh moves towards middle income country, the reason for diversification of its economy is all the more important, Mr. Palak emphasized. As a country we must avoid that risk of not diversifying at all cost, so ICT is our next big economic diversification to ensure country’s continuous progress. ■