Mark Twain once said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Perhaps, this is the very sentiment that separates an entrepreneur from the ordinary. The average mind scarcely puts thought into how ordinary activities can be improved or made better; people with the entrepreneurial spirit can hardly help themselves.
In a developing nation like Bangladesh, which is bare to political instability, corruption, and poor governance, being entrepreneurial is indubitably no mean task. Yet, as an economy, we are no less than a paradox, with growth strolling in the 6th percentile, as Bangladesh aims to attain middle income status by 2021. The growth being experienced can be feasibly traced back to entrepreneurs, who despite all the restrictions, have managed to remain innovative, creative, and adaptable.
But does that make us an entrepreneurial nation? Businesses that came into existence after independence have now grown into national conglomerates, with the next generation coming up with initiatives to globalize and diversify the companies. On the other hand, young ambitious innovators are disrupting the entrepreneurial space, with startups offering services to facilitate growth and expansion of existing businesses. More and more graduates are opting for small startups of their own, instead of joining nine-to-five jobs. The trend itself speaks of a paradigm shift that in the coming decade, local millennials will transform Bangladesh into a hotbed for entrepreneurial activity.
Lack of capital, still the biggest challenge
Business most certainly cannot exist, let alone thrive in a vacuum. There needs to be an existing ecosystem of bankers, venture capitalists, and other supporting service providers; something which Bangladesh worryingly lacks at the moment. There is a significant lack of seed or venture capital in the economy. Banks dominate the investment capital market with a collateral-obsessed lending system, which discourages new entrepreneurs to set up businesses at grassroots levels.
The culture for investing in ideas and innovation is still not widely practiced in Bangladesh. The global venture capital industry is currently valued at around $58.8 billion in 2015 according to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC). But the fashion of injecting high-risk capital into new businesses is something that the capital market needs to learn, and learn fast to promote the start-up ecosystem.
To worsen the situation, our society is created with such stubborn walls that it really becomes about who you are, and who you know to get anything done, let alone begin a business. Bureaucratic barriers, and lack of dedicated entrepreneurial services in consulting, marketing support, export strategies, and IT systems further poses threat to the flourishing of entrepreneurial ventures.
Better prospects in the digital space
The rise of Silicon Valley in the United States fueled the digital revolution. Businesses no longer followed the traditional ways, rather were these new technology startups with disruptive business models. Entrepreneurship in the digital space was the new big thing.
Bangladesh with its dominant youth population is a thriving ground for tech businesses at the moment. The government’s vision of integrating technology into everyday aspect of life is empowering the youth to set up innovative digital businesses catering to the giant conglomerates and MNCs of the country and filling the gap in IT services the country lacked.
Bangladesh currently boasts over 110 million mobile phone users, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, with a growing smartphone conversion rate. There lies an enormous scope in developing services to meet the needs of these digital natives. Hence opportunities will only continue to thrive for digital entrepreneurs in Bangladesh.
The emergence of numerous accelerator programs, like that of Grameenphone, are incubating and providing seed capital to innovative digital businesses. With such initiatives and more investors showing interest in venture capitalism to fund innovation, perhaps now is the best time for inspiring and passionate entrepreneurs to step up and work towards establishing their businesses as ‘the next big thing’.