Bangladesh startup ecosystem in 2015: from branding to capacity building

Countries, Markets



February 24, 2015

The Bangladesh startup ecosystem is still in its infancy, and its birth could well be the Startup Dhaka video documentary, which spans the top players of the local scene with questions ranging from the funding capability to the country’s strengths and weaknesses. While attending Innovation Extreme a few weeks ago, we discussed with Mustafizur Khan, […]

The Bangladesh startup ecosystem is still in its infancy, and its birth could well be the Startup Dhaka video documentary, which spans the top players of the local scene with questions ranging from the funding capability to the country’s strengths and weaknesses.

bangladesh startup ecosystem innovation xtreme accelerator tech event

While attending Innovation Extreme a few weeks ago, we discussed with Mustafizur Khan, the brain behind Startup Dhaka (now leading, Bangladesh top startup blog), Fayaz Taher, organizer of Innovation Xtreme, and Samad Miraly, who is working on the accelerator of this ecosystem.

In a four-way discussion, we’ve discussed of how Innovation Xtreme reached its objectives, and of the ambitious roadmap of the team for 2015.


Changing the narrative of Bangladesh through entrepreneurship

Innovation is Everywhere – How do you feel after this first big, successful event. Sold-out is one good KPI, is there any other “return” you’re proud of?

bangladesh startup ecosystem innovation xtreme accelerator mustafizur khan 1Mustafizur Khan – Innovation Xtreme, the event for businesses, startups and investors was sold out three days early which was a huge validation for the ecosystem.

The biggest gain was the feedback from the actual attendees who loved the opportunity to interact with the international speakers. For many startups it was the first time pitching to international VCs, and they went away with invaluable experience and feedback which we thought was very important for us as a KPI.

We were also able to create an impression for international guests like yourself which will hopefully help us get the story about our community out to the broader world. In time we hope to change the narrative along with the perception of Bangladesh through these stories.

bangladesh startup ecosystem innovation xtreme accelerator sdasia blog

Innovation is Everywhere – Startup Dhaka as a documentary was a first, big step towards the “change of narrative” you work on. As a foreigner visiting Bangladesh for the first time, I must say what I saw on the ground is hugely different from the media perception I had so far. What are the next steps to make this re-branding work on a longer-term?

Mustafizur Khan – To be able to change the narrative of Bangladesh is a very important value or cultural DNA for SD ASIA. From day one it was about looking at the glass half full versus focusing on the problems.

While we talk about the stories within our borders, we also felt that we have responsibility to bridge the startup communities around the region. The pains are similar in this regions with similar macro economic factors – so it is important to talk about how other communities are solving their problem.

There is no reason to reinvent the wheel, and applying and learning the best practices is a great way to save time and resources for our startups. We we are reaching out to regional new media brands to share stories and where possible hold joint events to build a long term dialogue between these diverse communities.


Bangladesh startup ecosystem first accelerator announced for 2015

Innovation is Everywhere – You announced quite a roadmap for 2015. A fund, an accelerator… can you share a bit more about these? When will startups be able to apply? What format will the acceleration be? Who will the mentors be?

bangladesh startup ecosystem innovation xtreme accelerator samad miraly 1Samad Miraly – 2015 is going to be a big year! We are working hard to bring Bangladesh’s first accelerator to life, and we hope to announce the full details in Q1 next year and rollout in Q2 2015.

We plan to start out with 3-5 startup teams and will focus our attention on building partnerships right now and bringing the expertise on board that will help accelerate our teams to the next level. Our program will focus on customer development, product building and development, and marketing and pitching to investors.

We are taking our own advice that we give to startups to get mentors to help accelerate their businesses, so we have Pakistan’s i2i as a knowledge partner. Jon Bradford who heads Techstars in the UK has helped guide us and a huge thanks goes to Jess Williamson, who heads the Barclays Accelerator (also powered by Techstars) in London too.

bangladesh startup ecosystem innovation xtreme accelerator startups from dhaka bangladesh

Through our own extensive business contacts and networks we are recruiting a diverse and knowledgeable mentor base of professionals and successful entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, and we will also rely on the expertise of our partner organisation (yet to be announced!) heavily for support.

We are also engaging in talks with Oxford University’s Entrepreneurship Oxford Business Network through a local startup called GradConnect. The community at work! Last but not least, our advisor at Boston Consulting Group Malaysia will play a big role in linking us and our accepted teams with strategy advice and mentors in the region.

We are currently on boarding startups for a 12 week entrepreneurship bootcamp, to validate our program design for the upcoming accelerator program.

As you can see, though we are acting local, we are thinking regional and global! It’s a small world after all.


Turning issues into opportunities

Innovation is Everywhere – What are the key strengths of Bangladeshi as entrepreneurs, and where do you feel they can make a difference? Your country is strong in the garment industry, in social business as well, are these fields you think might be explored from a startup & technology point of view?

bangladesh startup ecosystem innovation xtreme accelerator fayaz taher 1Fayaz Taher – We are good at solving problems and turning them into opportunities. If you look at where the economy is today, despite all the challenges entrepreneurs face doing business here, they still come out on top.

There is a determination to come out on top among the first generation of entrepreneurs. We have to wait and see how the next generation of entrepreneurs do and if they have the focus and determination.

People in Bangladesh are hardworking and are very entrepreneurial as well. 

Innovation is Everywhere – What will be your main support in the ecosystem? Are you trying to get the government do something with or for you? VCs? Universities? The diaspora?

Fayaz Taher – We are trying to help build an eco-system end to end meaning from the startup entrepreneur coming up with an idea to scaling the business.

In this time period, entrepreneurs need to learn, attend events, keep up with whats happening. They will also need to network and find mentors.

After they have developed their MVP and tested , they will need to have mainstream investors (angels) who can take them to another point or they can join an accelerator program to accelerate their MVP to get more traction. After that a demo day to find more investors to get more resources.

Our main support so far: Networking, News, Accelerator, Investment, Access To market.

We are also trying to work with diaspora to come back to transfer their knowledge through mentorship.

In terms of Universities we haven’t approached but we will be engaging more in terms of events to inspire students to start developing and thinking about tech startups early on. University time is the time to take the risks.

bangladesh startup ecosystem innovation xtreme accelerator street 1


From branding to building a startup ecosystem in the Bangladesh and South Asia


Innovation is Everywhere – What KPIs do you have in mind to assess the performance of your own work?

Mustafizur Khan – We are actually setting our own KPIs for 2015 and as part of the process getting feedback from our board of advisors.

Broadly speaking, 2014 was about building the brand and 2015 will be about creating impact in our startup community.

When we started our work, the word “startup” was unknown among our readers but now even our head of Central Bank knows the meaning. That’s a huge gain because the conversations can now focus on building or reframing our policies that can support our startup community.

For SD ASIA it will be increasing our readership not just through English but through Bangla content, launch and recruit startups for accelerator and lastly setup the XAsia venture fund to provide meaningful support to our startups. It’s a tall order but hopefully, we will be able to set out to achieve things with everyone’s support.

Innovation is Everywhere – For a market overview of Bangladesh, you can visit our Country Page. Do check out also the profile of local startup Shajgoj, a 2m pageviews/month women platform in Bangla.