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‘SOCIO-ECONOMIC CULTURE IS A BIG STUMBLING BLOCK FOR THE GROWTH OF STARTUPS’

Some of the biggest challenges startups face have to do with issues at the policy level and mentality of the general public, says Tina Jabeen, the Senior Consultant for the iDEA project. She is also the Deputy Project Director for ICT Innovation, acting essentially as the investment advisor for the startup programs under the ICT Division.

Working with the specific goal of catalysing the ‘Vision 2021’ and ‘Digital Bangladesh’ objectives, ICT Division’s Startup Bangladesh funds and facilitates startups that will have a positive social impact. The iDEA project (stands for ‘Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship Academy’) works as a venture capital.

“For the young aspiring entrepreneurs it’s a dream to be able to initiate a successful startup. But for us it’s an agenda, namely, Vision 2021 and Digital Bangladesh. To us, it’s like we play the role of fueling these initiatives. We give them all the tools so that they can materialize their dreams, but in the process the government is also materializing its dream of Vision 2021 and Digital Bangladesh,” she said.

“We hear about policy issues. I wouldn’t say that’s well understood, but you do hear about it. But leaving that aside for a moment, you have to look at the socio-economic realities,” said Jabeen. “There is family pressure that people face invariably,” she continued. “I was at the Innovation Forum the other day and I was listening to people talk about that. I heard things like: “If I say I want to work on a startup then my wife will leave me,” or “My parents wouldn’t allow me to get involved in a startup, because they don’t believe in this.” The whole concept is seen with suspicion and there is not trust that this might work one day.”

The funding issue naturally comes at the forefront and all startups struggle with that. “The banks only know how to loan money in return of interest. They have no idea about startup funding. They approach everything within the framework of collateral, because that’s their fiduciary duty,” Tina Jabeen said.

But startups can be extremely rewarding for investors if the right kind of investments are made. “But we don’t have that kind of system in Bangladesh. There is immense potential in startups and you can get your money multiplied many fold if the right system is in place,” said the investment advisor for iDEA, who also has 25 years of experience of working in Silicon Valley.

Tina Jabeen says another big obstacle towards growth of startups is the mentality of the entrepreneurs. “The mentality of the entrepreneurs is a big problem. This is true across different age groups. They think it’s easy, but it’s not,” said Jabeen.

To address this, work needs to start from the primary education level, she thought. “You have to implant these ideas and teach to think differently at the school, college and university levels,” she said.

This is important because, Jabeen said, Bangladesh will be competing at the international level. “Work ethic is very important. Look at the big picture here. We will be competing at the international level. And if you are not fit for that mentally then there is no point starting all these initiatives,” she added.

Gaining international standard, says Jabeen, is not just about IT export or outsourcing work. Even at the domestic level the competition is of international standard. “We live in a globalized world. Domestic market is familiar with international standards because of global brands. So, there is no alternative but to aim for the highest standards,” she said.

“We want to support our entrepreneurs and in the process we want to develop the venture capital ecosystem, where we will have the local players or investors will believe in our entrepreneurs, just like in Silicon Valley where they have all these angel investors. They know that startups work. They will invest in 10 startups where nine will fail, but one will return the investment and more. So, we are trying to create that type of business mentality,” she said.

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