| A Detailed Walkthrough into ‘Unveiling Toru Chhaya’ |
Building an inclusive Bangladesh through locally developed innovations has been the core purpose of Toru Institute of Inclusive Innovation. And such systemic change will be brought by thinkers, learners, and innovators. To bring them to one platform where they can share ideas and collaborate, Toru Chhaya was formed. Taking the momentum a bit further, on March 2nd & 3rd, Toru organized ‘Unveiling Toru Chhaya’, a two-day long session where the various entrepreneurs under Toru’s mentorship – the ‘Impactpreneurs’, as they are called– shared their journeys and displayed the wonders of their work. Here is a detailed description of the experience written by an attendee:
Catch a quick glimpse of the event here:
‘Unveiling Toru Chhaya’ took place in Toru’s office located in Banani. Walking into the main space, one would be quite surprised by seeing a live ‘Bhelpuri’ stand, a ‘Tong’ (traditional Bangladeshi tea stall), where a local tea vendor AKA ‘Cha-wala Mama’ was busy serving everyone with tea and biscuits, and even a flute artist who enhanced the ambiance of the entire place with his music. Adorned with the eclectic library and unusually arranged seats, the entire office space seemed prepared to host two spectacular days of ideas, transformation, and creativity.
The first day of Unveiling Toru Chhaya started at around 4 pm, with Mr. Saif Kamal sitting at the center stage. With an ever-friendly smile and a curious set of eyes, the founder of Toru welcomed everyone into the event. He discussed the frameworks of Toru, its core purpose, and aspirations. He went on to intricately explain how everyone aspires to become entrepreneurs but do not end up being one in many cases, and how Toru helps to enable individuals in becoming fully-nurtured entrepreneurs. He shared his agitation regarding how the average Bangladeshi population is not technically equipped to tackle the challenges of the 4th Industrial Revolution – an era when almost every aspect of our lives is being facilitated by machines and robots. Hence, he stressed the importance for us to attain true ‘human’ skills that are beyond the reach of machines – empathy, innovation, and a risk-taking attitude. He then went on to describe the entire work process at Toru, ranging from how budding entrepreneurs join in the first phase and go through a few rigorous sets of assessment in order to graduate as fully-groomed Impactpreneurs. In a very casual tone, he went on to explain how Toru nurtures cognitive thinking, creativity, collaboration, cognitive flexibility and empathy in all of its innovators and is actively collaborating with various stakeholders to transform Bangladesh into a land of endless innovation.
With the end of the first session, people were free to roam around and look into the various stalls of the startups being incubated at Toru. The very first stall was of Sheba.xyz – Bangladesh’s biggest service platform. Mr. Mehad greeted us at the stall and went on to tell us about Sheba’s initial challenges of digitizing a handful of traditional industries and how Toru has played a vital role in helping them refurbish their business model. He told us about their plans of venturing into Myanmar, Indonesia and across the South Asian subcontinent and how he believes their company is affecting the lives of millions. Right next to Sheba’s stall was the dazzling arrangement of 10 Minute School. There we came across Shawon, who took us into the wonderful world of educational videos, infographics and other contents of 10 Minute School. Shawon went on to tell us about the online school’s inception, the various challenges that they have faced, the shared passion that keeps such a young workforce going and of course, his admiration about Ayman Sadiq – the startup’s founder. The young attendant enthusiastically displayed 10 Minute School’s latest Augmented Reality app and how they plan to spread it across almost every school in the country.
Moving slightly away from the world of service and education, we then strolled into a stall that was displaying a model of an everyday street in Dhaka. The name on the stall board read “Error Lab”. The carefully designed model indeed replicated a Dhaka street and Error Lab, an open-ended R&D facility, was coming up with a sensor-based traffic management solution for the roads of the capital city. Error Lab went on to explain that they received numerous user feedbacks from Toru Chhaya that would help in fine-tuning their algorithm and how Toru has helped them to leverage their structural thinking capacity and provide them with a holistic guidance for growth. We then went to Deligram’s booth where we were handed out beautifully designed leaflets outlining Deligram’s core features. And even before we could take a look at it, a bell started to ring – indicating that the second session is about to start, and that too, of Deligram! Such a coincidence.
Waiz Rahim, the founder of Deligram, took the center stage. He began his session by recollecting his previous experiences of working at Amazon and getting to know all about warehouses, inventory, and logistics. The talented engineer then shared his personal stories of all the changes that he saw in Bangladesh upon returning home and how this sparked the concept of revolutionizing the country’s retail ecosystem. “I could see people living in ‘Chawr’ areas using smartphones”, Mr. Waiz noted. “Surely they had the buying power. But the availability of products? Now that’s a tough catch!” he asserted. And that served as the ‘Eureka moment’ for Deligram – the country’s first omnichannel retail platform. The founder of Deligram went on to explain how having an omnipresence can allow the rural population a better access to retail products at a fair price. Through a flawless synchronization of online and offline mediums. Mr. Waiz humbly noted Toru’s seamless contribution in helping out Deligram to find its core proposition and add more to its business infrastructure.
Here’s the entire speech:
With that, the Deligram session came to a conclusion. The visitors huddled in front of the Bhelpuri stands as well as the Tong, waiting to savor their taste buds with a refreshing evening snack. Rejuvenated with a perfect ‘Malai Cha’ (tea with milk), our explorations of the stalls continued.
Plexus D was our next pick. Rizvee, one of the co-founders, welcomed us to the display booth and gave us a holistic overview. He shared a very detailed story about the various problems that a patient has to go through while in pursuit of the perfect health care. From appointment to prescription to getting medical reports, the entire journey seems strenuous and full of setbacks. Hence, their healthcare startup Plexus D has set to revolutionize the industry using Artificial Intelligence and Cloud-driven solutions. With the founders being university undergraduates, we asked them how crucial Toru’s involvement was in helping them out with their concept. “As students, we were not sure whether we are the right bunch of people to be solving the country’s healthcare problem. We were not sure about our availability of resources and what the future holds for us”, said one of the co-founders. “But as soon as we went on board with Toru, things started to change. While prototyping, we had to go through design thinking, question mapping, shadow research and a handful of other assessments that are slowly giving us the confidence that we needed to solidify the concept”.
We were intrigued by Toru’s ability to nurture and shape such young, talented minds when the sound of a bell interrupted our thoughts. The third session was about to begin!
In the third session, Mr. Saif Kamal gave us a complete picture of what it takes to become a part of Toru. He focused on the fact that “Even chaos needs order” and why every idea needs to be molded by a subject matter expert, why it has to undergo continuous prototyping in a span of 6 to 8 months and how the entire process needs to be carefully curated in order to shape it to reality. His discussion then led to the breakdown of the entire journey of an entrepreneur at Toru. At first, every applicant has to go through a 5-5-5 model. First comes 5 hours, where every applicant is tested and his/her ‘human’ skills such as empathy, resilience, willingness to learn and commitment are examined. Then comes 5 days, where the Toru team analyses the product being incubated, checks its feasibility, and studies market realities. And then come the 5 weeks, where the applicant is given 200 questions regarding the product/service and this dialogue continues back and forth until many of the core issues get solved. Once these are solved, the applicant has to move to the Design Lab, where he/she has to undergo multiple design thinking workshops in order to build and prototype the solution. Innovators graduating from the Design Lab receive Business Incubation support and are equipped with immense knowledge surrounding Organizational Leadership, Business Model Canvas and Investment Readiness. If the startup is in need of funding, Toru then links it to various local and global investors. With the fund and mentorship in place, the startup is ready to be fully launched into the market and the entrepreneur graduates from Toru by becoming an Impactpreneur.
While Mr. Saif Kamal was giving his concluding remarks, a familiar figure appeared. Adorned in a plain white Punjabi and with a signature smile, it was none other than Ayman Sadiq – the founder of 10 Minute School and one of Toru’s most highly celebrated Impactpreneurs. And soon enough he inaugurated Toru Chhaya’s 4th session.
Ayman Sadiq started off his session by sharing a few anecdotes and setting up a very cheerful atmosphere. He recalled his days of how teaching at Mentor’s made him realize the struggles of students, especially the ones who are coming from other cities in Bangladesh to sit for university admission exams. Young and equipped with endless determination, Mr. Ayman badly wanted to make a difference in the education system of Bangladesh. Juggling a diverse set of skills and a dose of inspiration from Coursera and Khan Academy, he then went ahead to create a platform that served the educational needs of every Bangladeshi, in every discipline. “But the road was not that smooth”, he mentioned. “I had to go to numerous Web Development firms and they turned me down due to my limited budget. At one point, I had no other choice but to learn to create a website and launch 10 Minute School on my own”, the passionate entrepreneur recalled. And the struggles did not go in vain. Today, Ayman Sadiq’s brainchild stands at the forefront of revolutionizing the country’s education system and boasts of having more video contents than the trailblazing Khan Academy! He then talked about his mentor-mentee relationship with Mr. Saif Kamal and how Toru has helped shape him from being a novice entrepreneur to what he is today. “I had an array of plans regarding 10 Minute School, but I was completely clueless about how these activities added up. It was at Toru that I first learned to love the problem rather than the solution itself”, he admitted with a grin. Some of the curious attendants of the session asked a few questions about 10 Minute School’s growth, took key advice from Mr. Ayman and thus, the 4th session came to an end with a huge round of applause.
Here’s the entire speech:
At 7:30 pm, the first day of Unveiling Toru Chhaya drew its curtains. The visitors strolled to the booths, talked to the Impactpreneurs, gained insights, took photos and what not! The energy was radiating all across the room and we were quite certain that Day 2 of Unveiling Toru Chhaya had more in store for us.
The gates opened for the second day of Unveiling Toru Chhaya at 4 pm, with Mr. Adnan Imtiaz Halim, CEO of Sheba.xyz, taking the center stage. Mr. Adnan is the highly reputed CEO of Sheba.xyz, Bangladesh’s largest service platform. He took us all back to the days when he initially started his career in another company and how he was amazed to witness 16 promotions within a span of 12 years. “I had a spectacular career back then, but the frustration was always there. There was always this latent desire to do something for the betterment of the society,” he told the audience. “I decided to leave my job just when I was about to be the CTO at Qubee. By then I have already worked as the Head of Business Development and had a fair amount of idea about the challenges that an entrepreneur has to go through”, he added. And with a laugh, he continued, “But I was half-cooked by the time I formed Sheba. We had to alter the business model a number of times and then it all gained momentum after we got to pitch at GP Accelerator.”
Here’s the entire speech:
As Mr. Adnan left the stage amidst a deafening applause, Ms. Zara Mahbub, the Chairperson of Toru, was asked to come to the stage and share her thoughts about the event. With a friendly and charismatic smile, she went to tell us how Mr. Saif Kamal’s vision has led Toru to become what it is today. “We should strive to spread the ideology of Toru not only in Bangladesh but across the entire world,” she added.
After the session, the audience strolled around the booths of the startups that Toru nurtures. We walked into the stall of iFarmer – a tech startup that has developed an innovative online platform that enables anyone anywhere to easily invest in farming and livestock in Bangladesh. The stall was adorned with a replica of a firm and how the entire idea is executed. Their Business Development Manager, Mr. Tahmid explained the business model. The investors get to select the crop/project to invest in and make the payment through the iFarmer platform. iFarmer sets up the firm and pays regular visit to ensure the maintenance, giving investors occasional updates. And once the life cycle of the crop ends, the investor gets the gains. “Toru has significantly helped us with developing our business model and to undertake the prototype”, he remarked.
Our next visit was into the stall of Club GIS. This startup uses remote sensing for precision farming and agricultural finance. The co-founder of the explained how they are striving to improve the food security and economic security by applying remote sensing and geospatial knowledge. Till now, they have conducted a pilot study in the Ulipur Upazila of Kurigram district and plan to iterate their business model under Toru’s incubation program. The ringing of a bell interrupted our conversation. It was time for the next session of Mr. Saif Kamal. This time he shared with the audience how Toru is on a mission to grow the next Sir Fazle Abeds and Rokeya Afzals of Bangladesh. “From artists to musicians to even businessman – we need the cross-pollination of ideas. We have fours Ps revolving our lives – Person, Problem, Product, and Prospect. The Person relates to an individual’s empathy. The Problem stresses on what pains we are solving. The Product is where the innovation lies and lastly, the Prospect tells you about the business feasibility, geographical expansion, and level of impact”. The founder of Toru further expressed his opinions about celebrating excellence and how we can all change the country through collaborative efforts.
We then went to visit the stall at the farthest end of the office –ME SOLShare’s booth. Mr. Daniel Ciganovic and the rest of the team members gave us a warm welcome and demonstrated the services that SOLshare offers. After having a detailed conversation regarding SOLShare’s business model and the impact it has made, Mr. Daniel gave a VR headset to wear and we could see how they connected their devices in a remote Jhalokathi village and made solar power accessible to many. It was then time for the last session of the event. And Daniel took the center stage.
The tall, friendly German grasped the imagination of the entire audience and created an ambiance with his amiable tone. He introduced SOLshare as a Bangladeshi ICT company that brings affordable solar electricity to everyone through its peer-to-peer solar energy trading platforms. This allows the users to monetize the excess solar energy – creating a sustainable value chain. Mr. Daniel continued his speech emphasizing the immense potential that Bangladesh has and how access to energy can help us unleash the possibilities. He also took a moment to add how Toru has helped SOLshare along the way. “So it has definitely not been easy for us to come and start a company in Bangladesh. There are cultural differences, Bangladeshi methods of doing a business and of course, our German tendency of being perfectionists”, Daniel exclaimed. “But Toru helped us acclimatize with this country’s situations; from getting us into talks with the ICT ministry to helping us with the daily operations – Toru has been a constant friend to us”.
Here’s the entire speech:
After the speech, everyone resumed their conversation and the curious ones went back to learn about the Impactpreneurs and the mentees and their works. Eventually, the event came to an end. ‘Unveiling Toru Chhaya’ was an event that celebrated nurturing how to think, learn, and innovate. From looking into Bangladesh’s most promising startups to the ones that have already won numerous accolades, we could clearly see the immense potential that the innovators and change-makers in Bangladesh have. It is about time we hone our collaborative strengths and transform this country an innovative nation that we have always dreamt of: a nation where ideas not only turn into reality; but a nation where innovative ideas are cultivated inside the minds of millions.