With its fast-growing population of 165 million people, ranking the country as the 7th largest in the world, a very young population (60% is below 30 years old), and a growing web penetration, Bangladesh is an unexplored market full of opportunities for innovative startups.
Its startup ecosystem is still very young but a few initiatives are born the last few years to support the few local dynamic entrepreneurs, mainly diasporans back from Canada, the US or other countries.
It all started after the release of the video documentary Startup Dhaka in 2013, which wanted to create awareness about the local entrepreneurs trying to tackle the country’s problems and the lack of support and infrastructure in the country to help them grow faster. The documentary had been financed thanks to crowd founding, raising over US$9.000 on Indiegogo from 56 backers from around the world. The positive reception of the video incited the team of Startup Dhaka to turn the initiative into an online magazine, SDAsia.co, to promote local ideas and businesses.
They also launched the first tech conference, Innovation Xtreme, in November 2014, allowing 10 local startups to pitch, sometimes for the first time, to international venture capitalists. “We hope to change the narrative along with the international perception of Bangladesh through these success stories in our startup community,” said Mustafizur Khan, the brain behind Startup Dhaka and SDAsia.co. The event brought together over 350 people including entrepreneurs, investors, corporate employees and aspiring entrepreneurs and was sold-out three days before it started.
While 2014 was about building the brand, 2015 will be about creating a real impact for the Bangladeshi startup ecosystem, with the first accelerator rollout expected in first half quarter of 2015. “We plan to start out with 3-5 startup teams and will focus our attention on building partnerships and bringing the expertise on board that will help accelerate our teams to the next level,” said Samad Miraly, one collaborator of the project. An XAsia early stage venture fund of $2 million will also be created to provide financial support to local startups.
1. Light Castle Partners
LightCastle Partners, a company providing market insight, consumer research and industry due diligence, is set to disrupt the traditional market research industry in Bangladesh with its new product, LightCastle Data. This self serving platform wants to give businesses access to insights from their target group about their products, packaging, pricing or other ideas. The respondents register with LightCastle Data to earn points each time they take a survey which they can monetize via reward partners like food franchises and coffee shops. Using this service will allow businesses to reduce the cost by half compared to a traditional market research and get insights fast with access to a real-time dashboard to track responses as it goes along. Quality checks detecting if the survey is done too fast will be provided to ensure that outliers do not taint the actual data. LightCastle Data will be launched as a beta version this year.
Bongo is the first and largest Bangladeshi entertainment catalog with an every day growing library of over 30.000 on-demand full movies, dramas, TV shows, music videos and songs. It’s like the Netflix of Bangladesh, making its Bangladeshi content available through their website and mobile app. The startup, still in beta-testing, has already a base of 125 million mobile users in Bangladesh and in the diaspora around the world. It has been voted “Most Promising Startup” during the event Innovation Extreme.
3. Buckets Engineer
Buckets Engineer brings subscription-based service to the 1.5 million autistic kids in Bangladesh, to improve their skills. The startup created a hub of applications and tools allowing parents, therapists and educators to create customized dynamic learning approaches adapted for children with learning disabilities. All apps allow to track the child’s progress and provide guidance throughout the child’s development. Buckets provide various input sources (touch, gesture, keypad, mouse) to develop the exercises. Their aim is to eventually integrate their project within standard schools throughout the country. They started by participating in Dell’s Education Innovation Challenge 2013 and Buckets Engineer was one of the top 50 semi-finalists out of 800 global projects worldwide. The startup won the GIST competition in May 2014 (GIST is an initiative to build entrepreneurial ecosystems in 86 emerging economies).
4. Parallax Logic
Parallax Logic is a digital agency delivering e-commerce solutions. Their most innovative product, pitched at Innovation Xtreme, consider that shopping is a social activity but e-commerce platform don’t offer any real social experience. That’s why they created a virtual social e-commerce shopping experience which has a great potential globally.
With many events happening all over Dhaka, there was a need for a portal, other than Facebook, which is dedicated solely to all sorts of events happening in the city. That’s what led Infrablue Technology, one of the leading software company in Bangladesh, and PreneurLab, an Innovation startup, to collaborate and create Kokhon.com, the Event Bride for Bangladesh, connecting people with their favourite event and helping event organizers. The website is highly customized, suggesting events, allowing for reviews and other features such as a mood meter. They also plan to help organizers set up e-payment services for ticketing (via B-Kash, or DBL) if asked. Every event will be listed for free but special privileges will be offered to premium users. The back-end of the platform is ready and the Beta launch will be done very soon. Within July 2015, they want to get all Dhaka major events listed.
The Bangladesh retail market is worth $10 billion and the internet penetration has been multiplied by 10 in the last few years. Biponee.com wants to become the main e-commerce platform in Bangladesh. The startup is a venture of Brainstation-23, a renowed software company of Bangladesh. With their tag line “shopping is just a click away”, the platform has already delivered products to 30.000 customers.
Launched in 2013, Sobji Bazaar produces and delivers organic agricultural products to its base of thousands of customers. A useful service to allow Bangladeshi population avoid wasting time in the dense traffic or taking small children to the supermarket. They have 65 acres of land where they cultivate the products. This large scale production allows to offer competitive prices and to deliver free of charges. They deliver within desired timeframe thanks to accurate planning and an extremely active service network. Customers pay cash on delivery and can order online on the website www.sobjibazaar.com. They are delivering all over Dhaka city for the moment but plan to spread into whole Bangladesh.
8. Lidia May
The startup Lidia May has the ambition to transform Bangladesh embroidery craftsmanship into international luxury fashion, by selling crafted bags to the global market. They want to connect local talents of the rich hand-made crafts and art scene to the global market, and that way alleviate poverty, empower women and cultivate hand craftsmanship. Lidia May works with the Lidia Hope Centre, a non-profit working in the Dhaka slums since 2010.
Dam.com.bd is the first online shopping database of Bangladesh, gathering price information of every single product offline and online and comparing prices to guarantee the best deal. The founders say that 60% of customers in Bangladesh pay too much because of the lack of information. Started in March 2014, the startup had in November already 120 partner shops and 6.000 unique users per day.
Founded by an ex-Groupon veteran who returned to Bangladesh with domain expertise from the UK and Australia, Zuumzuum is an e-commerce platform for lifestyle shoppers seeking reputable brands products at competitive prices throughout the South Asian market.
Funded in 2013 by USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, Drinkwell utilizes a micro-franchise model to develop its business in remote arsenic-affected areas. Their vision is to transform the global water crisis into an entrepreneurial opportunity. They provide clean drinking water to rural and peri-urban communities in Bangladesh by targeting local individuals with enterepreneurial energy residing near the location of its water treatment systems to form their distribution channel. After over 200 implementations of arsenic removal units in remote villages in India, it is now rolling out in Bangladesh, tackling brilliantly health issues as well as unemployment and low living standards of remote communities. The inventor of the technology, Dr. SenGupta, was a 2011 Fulbright Scholar in India.
This story was originally published here