| The ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship with Tina Jabeen |

In conservation with Tina Jabeen. Deputy Project Director, ICT Innovation, talking about the ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship in Bangladesh and how start-ups can contribute to a larger system change.

(The interview has been edited for clarity)

In conversation with Tina Jabeen

Interviewer: What is your take on the broader ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship?

Ms. Jabeen: Startup Bangladesh started almost two years ago, and have been very active for the last one year. I had the opportunity to both see this project through from the beginning to what it is now, and the ecosystem in general transforming all around the country. There has been a lot of activities countrywide around innovation and entrepreneurship. Every telecom company has some sort of an entrepreneurial program, every university is running entrepreneurial competition, even some of the banks have entrepreneurial programs these days and this has really picked up since January. Startup Bangladesh’s perspective along with the government’s visible buy in, is inspiring the entire ecosystem and multiple spheres of the ecosystem, the players who were already there and new players who are being inspired.

Interviewer: Can you tell us why you are so keen on mobilizing the youth in this effort?

Ms. Jabeen: At Startup Bangladesh we always talk about the young population. We are the youngest nation where more than 50% of our population is under 30. So that’s a demographic dividend that we have and they are talented. We also have many technological schools and the youth are learning and growing. We have to utilize this energy and the potential of this youth – these very bright talented and motivated individuals. So how do we do that? We do that by encouraging them to focus on businesses that use technology, innovation and with that we also increase the economic buying power of the country as a whole. Because of these reasons, it is imperative that we work with our youth, invest in them while ensuring there is gender parity. I mention gender parity because currently 90 million IT related jobs are left unfilled and one of the main reasons behind this is that girls and women are not encouraged enough to explore this field which leads to a shortage. So, to be able to keep up with the global market not only do we need to mobilize youth, we need gender parity in the IT sector.

How can the dynamics of startups contribute to larger system change?

Ms. Jabeen: Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is very important for a country to keep improving its economic position, especially for South Asian countries like Bangladesh, India, and so forth. Two months ago, Flipcart, an Indian startup, was sold to a non-Indian company for 16 billion dollars. This money directly came back to India as FDI. When a foreign company acquires a local company, the foreign currency entering the country can be used to develop our infrastructure and achieving other development goals. In Bangladesh we get around 2-3 billion dollars of FDI annually. However, if we need to maintain that 8% economic growth, we need to get around 25-30 billion dollars of FDI every year injecting in our economy. How do we do that? We do that through acquisitions: high-tech startups getting acquired by foreign company. Akij Biri is a very good example of such an acquisition: we received up to 1.5 billion dollars by a Japanese tobacco company for Akij Biri. Therefore, startups are important because it injects money into the economy and that is where the profit is. It comes with high risk but also with a very high return and through that you get market share and can provide better customer service as your profit line gets increased. For all these reasons, there’s no other way than investing in Startups.

An article published by The Daily Star said that in the Global Innovation Index 2018, Bangladesh ranked as the least innovative country and Singapore the most, in Asia. Knowing that innovation is the at the heart of entrepreneurship, how can we catalyze this innovation ecosystem to create a better enterprise system?

Ms. Jabeen: To talk about catalyzing innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem we have to look at the broader picture. There are several ways we can do this and one of the pertinent reasons is that we will reach the middle-income country status by 2021. The challenge then will be to maintain and sustain that status. Bangladesh has been enjoying more than 7% GDP growth rate for quite a few years, and had plenty of opportunities to grow but once you reach the peak, the growth will plateau. In order to sustain that growth, we need at least an 8% GDP growth rate which is even more than before. How can we do that? The way to it is to work on our infrastructure, our industry, manufacturing, garments but a big chunk should be on IT. The world is moving at a fast pace as Toru Institute says, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will soon make lot of current jobs redundant and technology is everywhere. We even order everything online through technology – from clothes to food to transport using apps, and if we cannot take advantage of this technological boom, I don’t think that we can sustain this growth only through infrastructural development or other type of manufacturing industries. Therefore, we need to catalyze innovation and entrepreneurship for sustainable growth by investing more and supporting more tech-savvy startups.

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