Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) Bangladesh is led by Asif Iqbal. We caught up with Iqbal on Bangladesh's mentality and mindset regarding entrepreneurship, their exponential growth over the last decade and how this year's GEW will be bigger and better than ever before.
This article is part of a series highlighting successful GEW hosts from around the world.
ABOUT YOUR COUNTRY’S STARTUP ECOSYSTEM
GEN: Tell us about the startup ecosystem in your country. What are its main characteristics? If you could change one thing to make it better, what would it be? Who are the stars of your country’s ecosystem?
Iqbal: Bangladesh has had a remarkable growth over the last decade. Our entrepreneurship ecosystem is at an inflection point with an excess of $200 million in international investments from big-name corporate investors and venture capitals; and they are investing in industries like FinTech and Logistics. The emergence of active Angel Investment Networks, Impact Investing, host of local and international operating accelerators / incubators propelled 1,000+ active startups, generating 1.5 million+ employment-embracing startups as part of the country’s everyday life.
Additionally, Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission has approved small-cap stock exchange guidelines, which is a big step towards providing investors with startup exits. Government policies and projects from the ICT Ministry, such as IDEA Project and Startup Bangladesh Limited were supplied with 100 crore BDT (U$ 11.5 Million) to improve the local startup ecosystem. Additionally, GoB is setting up 28+ Hi-Tech Parks, including infrastructure support—like data centers—to support technology companies.
As my primary job is teaching, I work to create an entrepreneurial environment and infrastructure in our university (Daffodil International University). We established a separate department titled the Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where our motive is to create new entrepreneurs. It is the only department of this kind in the whole country.
We have done many different things in support of entrepreneurship development. The one thing I would like to change is the mentality and mindset. The youth are more focused on seeking out jobs rather than having the mindset to create jobs for others. Again, the question is – if everyone will be the entrepreneur, then who will actually do the job for others? Creating an entrepreneurial mindset in our youth is what I aim to develop in our society and country.
In Bangladesh, Fintech, Ride-sharing and Logistics Startups are the most promising sectors. Some of the big players like Pathao and Shohoz in the ride sharing industry along with Sheba.xyz, Smanager, Jantrik, etc. are formalizing the unstructured SME market and informal workers boosting financial inclusion. eCommerce & fCommerce sector garners high confidence from investors. For example, startup players like ShopUp, Chaldal, eValy, Daraz and Sindabad.
ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION
GEN: Tell us about your organization. What does it do to support entrepreneurs and/or grow your startup ecosystem?
Iqbal: One of the key mottos in our organization is to create an entrepreneurial university. Dr. Md. Sabur Khan is the head of the E2K project. During his tenure as the President of Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he has helped 2000 new entrepreneurs begin their companies. After that, he established a separate department named Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where the first motive was to create entrepreneurs – and it is still the only department of that kind in the whole country.
In this department, the admission and enrollment process is very different than the traditional process of enrollment. Dr. Khan has introduced a national level talent hunt program to seek out potential startups and entrepreneurs of Bangladesh. Students who want to gain admission to the Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship must pitch and win the battle to show his/her capacity; and based on that, we offer up to 100% scholarship to the students.
We also operate our own Venture Capital Company named Bangladesh Venture Capital Limited Incubation Center. As a department, we have our own fund (Entrepreneurship Development Fund), which actually supports the students and alumni of the university who have an idea and need the seed capital with no interest.
I—as the Director of GEN Bangladesh—have hosted GEW in Bangladesh since 2013, hosted startup huddle, joined the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) each year and hosted Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC) in the last two years. Other than this, we have our own international programs such as Global Entrepreneurship Camp in Malaysia, an International Social Business Summer Program, Startup Grind, GITR in the Ring, Hult Prize, TedX and many other programs organized on a weekly and monthly basis. In terms of infrastructure to education, we have developed all of the programs from Daffodil International University and are continuously working to find the best way possible to support the startups and entrepreneurs in Bangladesh.
ABOUT GLOBAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP WEEK
GEN: When did you decide to get involved in Global Entrepreneurship Week and why?
Iqbal: In 2018, I had attended Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Istanbul along with Dr. Khan Sir. Before that, I had hosted a small program during GEW in Bangladesh. But during GEC 2018, I had that great opportunity to know more about GEN, mixing with the global leaders who are actively working to develop the startup ecosystem in their country. Following the event, I wanted to contribute more for my countries startup ecosystem. Then, I got the appointment to lead the Startup Huddle chapter in Dhaka. During GEW 2018, we had hosted more than 120+ program in 7 days; and honestly, it was like a festival for me. In GEC 2019, we received the Rookie of the Year award. It was unreal to experience that, under one roof, so many like minded people were hungry to do something amazing. Last year, more than 400K people were involved and participated – and every year, I eagerly await the event.
GEN: How does GEW support the other work that your organization does?
Iqbal: As the lead organizer of GEW, our university organization is the focal point for the week. Some of the notable events hosted by DIU during GEW is Industry Academia Lecture Series, Conference / Summit / Symposium on Entrepreneurship Development, Pitch Battle, Startup Market, Policy Dialogue, Master Classes and Youth Startup Awards.
GEN: What do you hope to achieve with GEW 2020?
Iqbal: This year is very crucial not only for us but also for all of the country. We have to prepare for the post COVID-19 situation and work accordingly. My plan for GEW this year is to on board at least 50+ universities as partners of GEW where they will complete a seven day rigorous program (7 summits) on various issues.
We want to take all the sector specific leaders and do plenary sessions so that our policy makers can get some impactful ideas which they can implement. On the basis of the programs, as we are all members of Global Entrepreneurship Research Network, the GERN team will make a full report so that we can share that with the respective people who are continuously working for the startup ecosystem development.
Last but not least, I want to do some activities and programs for the SME’s as they are probably in the most critical situation. According to the Asian Development Bank, more than 6 million SMEs and micro-enterprises are operational in Bangladesh, and they are constantly striving to upgrade the lives of many. For this sector and in terms of digitization, many companies are working – so I hope in GEW 2020, we can promote all the efforts and activities from one platform.