| Understanding the Bangladeshi Startup Ecosystem and Your Startup’s Role in It |

You have an idea, about a new product or a line of service that provides a solution to a problem that consumers are facing. But unlike most other people, you decide to actually go the extra mile and try to bring your ideas to fruition.
Congratulations! You’re an entrepreneur and are now part of the Bangladeshi startup ecosystem!

Entrepreneurship has become especially popular in recent years, but as sad as it may sound, most startups are doomed to failure, a fate brought on by a myriad of variables, including mistakes like a poor offering that ignores the needs and wants of the consumer and lacks human-centered. It is perilously easy to lose your way in an ever-changing market, as you find every step riddled with obstacles, particularly when your startup is in its infancy. It is thus crucial to have an understanding of the startup ecosystem you’ll be a part of, and how it affects you and your startup.

What does the Bangladeshi startup ecosystem look like?

Techinasia estimates put the number of startups in Bangladesh at about 280, an overwhelming majority of which are Dhaka-based. There is a predominance of software development and ecommerce startups, the former reinforced by the popularity of engineering degrees in the country, and the drive towards ICT and greater digitization in the form of the highly publicized projects like Digital Bangladesh. Consumer base in the country comprises of a growing middle class and a demographic that prefers the convenience of online shopping, explaining the popularity of ecommerce startups.

Despite the glut of the above mentioned startups, there are also more innovative ones with interesting offerings. Examples include startups like Maya Apa, a service that aims to provide accessible healthcare information to women, and 10 Minute School, an online education platform that is providing free classes on subjects ranging from standard 1 to University to anyone with an internet connection.

The novelty of the idea of a startup community in Bangladesh means that the ecosystem has not yet developed into the more complex symbiotic inter-web that more evolved startup ecosystems have. There are, however, quite a few mentors and experts currently operating in the community. There is also a growing network of venture capitalist firms, and accelerator programs to support startups. The government has also launched initiatives like the Digital World in 2014, which aims to facilitate economic growth through technology, and the iDEA Project, that provides working space and other forms of assistance to selected startups.

Challenges in the ecosystem

As with all new communities, the startup community of Bangladesh has quite a few challenges to deal with. The following among them stand out:

  • Lack of Innovation: There is a conspicuous lack of useful innovations as most startups tend to mimic successful foreign startups without taking into consideration the differences in market dynamics. There is a tendency to replicate successful ideas instead of culturing an innovator’s mindset.
  • Knowledge gap: The education system is not built on greater analytical process, multidisciplinary thinking and creative methods of problem solving. Furthermore, potential innovators often lack technical expertise, knowledge of product development and multidisciplinary business approach. Participants in many accelerator programs have also complained about how the programs suffer from a lack of proper organization, procedural inefficiency and a lack of variety in the activities they run.
  • Information gap: There exists a lack of access to information at market access levels and a lack of linkage between academia and industry. An absence of network immersion into the problems faced by communities and testing prototypes result in unrealistic innovations.
  • Infrastructure gap: There is an absence of an integrated support system stemming from the lack of incubation and coordination between stakeholders in the ecosystem. There are also bureaucratic difficulties that often hinder proper execution of plans and thus fail to achieve the goals of the startup.
  • Financial gap: There is no financial support for testing ideas (early stage grants) and negligible access to seed, angel, and other investment support.
  • Stakeholder gap: While many institution and organizations are keen on supporting social innovations, they often operate in silos.
  • Leadership and cultural gap: The lack of empathetic role models and a cultural mindset that leans heavily towards the conventional, risk-averse careers discourage youth to pursue social entrepreneurship.
  • Mindset gap: What is often forgotten is that innovation is not only about doing something different; it also has to be scalable to have an actual impact. Most startups fail primarily because of how they don’t pay enough attention to this crucial aspect and quickly run out of resources. Hence, a number of short-term solutions exist but tangible growth remains invisible.

How can you contribute to the ecosystem?

Being a part of the community as an entrepreneur means that your responsibility is to contribute to the growth of a robust ecosystem that will in turn benefit all. The idea is that the whole ecosystem is always more than the sum of its individual parts, and the stronger it is, the more everyone gains.

Entrepreneurs should also be educators to effect the sort of cultural change that creates change-makers, and for this, they themselves must possess an innovator’s mindset. In his book about the Innovator’s mindset, George Couros lays out 8 salient traits, including being empathetic and reflective, that are important to excel as educators and innovators.

As most high-achievers in universities aim to work at MNCs or high paying jobs, partnerships with universities can be formed to groom and attract young talents who can address this recruitment issue that most Bangladeshi startups face.

The way forward for Bangladeshi startups and the ecosystem

The modern world is changing fast, and is experiencing what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a massive paradigm shift in the way technology and innovation affect human lives. While this has affected the way economies in the developed world are evolving, the effects of this revolution are perhaps yet to be felt in Bangladesh. Nevertheless, it is possible to create a platform to drive the sort of disruptive and technology-led change that will usher in the new industrial revolution and let everyone in the country reap its benefits. And it is important that the Bangladeshi startup ecosystem as a whole contributes holistically to achieve these changes, and subsequently, the next great leap.









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