Speaking of successful young entrepreneurs in Bangladesh often bring to mind popular names like Hussain M Elius (Pathao), Adnan Imtiaz (Sheba.xyz) and Ayman Sadiq (10 minute school). These individuals, along with select others, have been leading the tech scene either in capital investment, recognition and/or their vast number of service users. However, right behind them are a group of silently rising entrepreneurs in their own, specialized fields. This September, our writers Melissa Alves, Brittany Christian and Michael Shlega at Millennial Things Network conducted interviews and dug up statistics, to feature the following 10 promising entrepreneurs for our 2020 list. The list below is in no particular order, and the metrics used to screen candidates was based on one or a combination of the following: novelty of business idea in the given market, high-value clientele, sales, capacity to raise capital investment and/or the rate of growth in terms of production/services, sales or clients served.
1. Tamanna Ahmed
Co-Founder, PRISM and Founder, UC Events
With dozens of online businesses popping up in Bangladesh, there was one common problem that Tamanna Ahmed noticed. Most of these businesses wanted to have a storefront or at least temporary exhibits where they could interact with customers in person. Yet, this was too expensive for any one small business to afford on their own. To find a solution to this problem, Ahmed and her partners at PRISM came up with an innovative solution.
They designed a multi-designer facility that helps young entrepreneurs or people with f-commerce businesses get a common shared space to manage their sales, inventory and orders, and a get prime location from where customers could come in to pick-up orders and exchange purchased items. Apart from Prism, Ahmed also founded Unique Collection Events (UC Events) in 2014 when she had the idea of organizing her own exhibitions.
“With about 22 online business page owners I organized my first event and then it got bigger with more and more women entrepreneurs getting involved.” PRISM is the permanent version of UC Events and both these brands help to introduce entrepreneurs to new clients who prefer to shop offline, thus boosting their sales, and allowing more homemakers to start their own businesses. Due to this physical brand presence at the exhibitions and the shared outlets, consumers also trust their pages more and it allows them easy access to do returns and exchanges.
Ahmed also bought into the franchise rights for Coral Haze, a renowned designer brand of shoes from India, which she exclusively sold in the Bangladeshi market. Furthermore, she bought franchise rights for another designer brand called Mulmul with which she exclusively markets cotton Mulmul outfits in Bangladesh. Her refreshing and ever-expanding approach to the fashion & retail industry shows promise as a rising young entrepreneur.
Nusrat Rouf is the Chief Technology Officer and among one of three co-founders of Biomasys, a new biotech start-up based in Delaware, United States, with a mission to offer rapid, affordable, and easy-to-use diagnostics for the sake of maternal health of those who can not.
Rouf brought with her a Bachelor’s in Biochemistry & Biotechnology from North South University in Bangladesh and a Master’s in Biotechnology & Enterprise from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.
Her research experience is in Biomarker developments for the conception of diagnostic devices. She met the now-CEO of Biomasys at the University of Manchester while working on a project. They were interested in working together for women’s empowerment and improving women’s health conditions around the world. Bound by their concerns about the rate of miscarriages and preterm births, their business idea was birthed. Biomasys uses their product HealtiPreg to help give women the freedom to know disease conditions that can develop during their pregnancy that can cause miscarriages and preterm births.
They won a seed funding competition in this year’s West England cohort of Founder Institute. The interview stage is happening for them to receive funds, and that announcement will happen soon. Each team member is important to the work of Biomasys. They are from the areas of Nigeria and Bangladesh. The CEO, Mkpouto Pius, contributes valuable research insight into product development and gives vision and business direction. The COO, David Ejim, leads the business development and investor acquisition efforts. Nusrat has led biotechnology projects and uses her knowledge of biosensors to help lead their engineering team. With a team like this, Biotechnology in healthcare can succeed.
In the future, Biomasys plans to raise pre-seed funding for research, confirm a prototype, and launch a practical project by 2021. While the business is registered in Delaware, USA, they also plan to capture African and Asian markets and offer diagnostic services to healthcare facilities with access to a complimentary app for consumers. They are open to collaborate with governments interested in combating poor maternal health. Biomasys appears set to become the leader in pregnancy surveillance.
3. Marufa Jahan
Founder, Abaya & Gown
Marufa Jahan was 24 years old when she unintentionally became an entrepreneur — on top of working a full-time job, completing a masters degree, and expecting her first child. Her desire for modest Islamic wear she could feel good in wasn’t met, so she set out to design her own.
“When I started [Abaya and Gown], I had no plans for making this my profession. It started with my interest, and I just continued to expand.” Her designs filled the niche for classy, presentable, and beautiful modest wear, and quickly gained traction. By year five, Jahan had her own factory, two showrooms, and was telecasted on TV. Jahan was interviewed for several TV and radio shows and earned awards as a female entrepreneur. She is now working to improve her brand recognition internationally and make her online service stronger.
One of the keys to Jahan’s success is her strong customer engagement rather than advertising. She organizes events for her customers, including award shows, parties, Customer appreciation events, photoshoots, and more. This investment in her customers had paid off — from her first month in business, she has always made a profit and experienced growth. Since the business first started, it has served more than 60,000 customers, and sold over 1,50,000 products.
Entrepreneurship has bought Jahan her independence and the ability to help others in her community. “I support my family, even my parents and near relatives. I do a lot of social work with my business profit. Social work gives me peace a lot. From my early childhood, I always wanted to stay beside needy people, and my business has given me that opportunity.… I carry the study expenses for many poor children. I try to contribute to the poor when any calamity comes.”
4. Sayed Mazakat
Deputy Managing Director & CEO, AARON Denim Limited
Although Sayed Mazakat didn’t start Aaron Denim Limited, his vision has helped take the ready-made garment factory higher than ever. Sayed first got involved in the RMG sector after completing his MBA thesis at the Universit of Western Scotland on the industry in Bangladesh. Soon after, he was unveiled as the Director of Aaron Denim and became involved in many aspects of it’s day to day running. “I took on international branding, and I traveled to Europe frequently for product marketing and buyer presentations. I am pretty much working at the front.”
Part of Mazakat’s vision was setting up friendly approaches to improving departments. He set up monthly evaluation meetings for departments, networked with employees through Viber, and introduced yearly awards to recognize the hard work of his staff.
It wasn’t easy joining the Aaron team as co-owner, and Mazakat faced restrictions from employees in vital positions as a result. “As I was penetrating deep into the roots of the company and bringing transparency, it brought inefficiencies to light.” Mazakat combatted this through perseverance, creating channels, and setting up controls, and now is well on his way to his ultimate goal for the company: establishing a global marketing link with buyers. AARON Denim Ltd.works with well known brands such as Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, The Gap, and Joe Fresh.
5. Rajib Das
Co-Founder and Managing Director, Loop Freight
Rajib Das set out to fix one problem. It is a problem that had plagued his family business for ages, and it was the logistical issues elated to the transportation of goods. The logistics support industry in Bangladesh was not well developed. There were issues related to lack of reliability and punctuality for shipments being delivered on time. Businesses also faced hurdles in connecting with truckers.
Loop Freight came about in a moment of revelation for Das, while riding an Uber one day. The speedy delivery of a transport service like Uber amazed him. It made him wonder if the same efficiency could be achieved in Bangladesh , with regards to transporting material goods rather than human passengers.
He explored the possibility of giving the often-neglected supply chain professionals of businesses a better experience with regards to transporting goods and henceforth, the idea of Loop Freight blossomed. For businesses, Loop is like a supply chain doctor that uses the power of technology to guarantee a truck within 2 hours at an affordable price with more analytics and less paperwork. This service provides huge benefits to businesses such as data gathering, effective shipping, and consistent supply routes. For trucking companies, Loop Freight offers a steady stream of work – the type of consistent work that truckers currently lack. The company guarantees a truck to a shipper within two hours of ordering.
There were plenty of challenges along the way, the biggest barrier of which was to change the mindset of truckers who were used to juggling random clients day-to-day with on-spot negotiations, and helping them adapt to become long-term business partners. Even so, Loop freight found a great niche for its business and has been enjoying significant investor support, achieving an initial seed funding of USD 600,000. Das says that “if there is a genuine business, the market is so big and attractive that the investors will follow”.
6. Breity Sabrin
Co-Founder and CEO, Just Storys Ltd.
Breity Sabrin began her journey as an entrepreneur from one thought, “without challenges, there is no sense of fulfillment”. After working in the advertising industry for over 6 years, Sabrin decided to take things into her own hands and founded a company that focused on marketing through simple, social, and shareable content that connects people.
Just Storys LTD, is an exciting company that takes a storytelling approach to digital marketing, allowing them to transfer emotion and thoughts easily through their stories while creating a great advertising opportunity for companies.
The team consists of creative and technical professionals striving for excellence who have had incredible success ranging from a viral musical story night videos to a travel show, “The Chokro”, through which they tell the heritage stories of their country. They work on branding projects using their audiovisual content through subtle means such as product placement. So far, Sabrin’s company has completed projects for renowned companies including Grameenphone, Tecno, Savlon, Sheba Platforms Ltd., Crimson Cup, among others. Their videos frequently feature local pop-culture celebrities and influencers including Toya, Sakib Bin Rashid, Sadman Sadeq, Rafsan Sabab, Iresh Zaker among many others.
However, success does not come easy, and acquiring funds through investors has been difficult since this method of advertising is a novel concept for the Bangladeshi market. It is hard to make people, especially brands, understand the subtle art of digital storytelling and the potential that it has in brand promotion.
Nevertheless, Sabrin and her team at Just Storys have shown great consistency and perseverance in their attempts to establish this new method of advertising. Their rapidly growing consumer network is proof of that. Currently their facebook page has over 109,000 followers , acquired in just one year . They hope that, in the near future, they are able to create a new-age content platform with web series, social contests, podcasts and music contests!
7. Fahad Ifaz
Co-Founder and CEO, iFarmer
According to the founders of iFarmer, Fahad Ifaz and Jamil M Akbar, most farmers in Bangladesh must rely on numerous intermediaries to sell their produce, and this results in 30% post-harvest loss and 40% loss in revenue for the farmers. That is why, they came up with iFarmer, which is a full-stack Agri-tech platform, which adopts an innovative approach to financing smallholder farmers and partners with agricultural value chain actors to improve the knowledge and access to market of the farmers.
iFarmer allows farmers to get access to finance from middle income individuals and also from institutions. In return, the farmers share profit with these investors.
iFarmer on-boards farmers by working with local input retailers and through its farm facilitators, collecting some essential data about the farm households. Once the onboarding process is complete, the farmers receive on-going training on farm management, financial management and quality input usage. These farmers also get access to quality inputs provided by companies that has partnered with iFarmer.
Once the farming cycle is complete, iFarmer uses a data-driven approach to aggregate the farm produce and facilitate the sales of the produce through a business-to-business supply chain. This ensures a healthy return for the farmers, as well as for the farm investors.
In about a year, iFarmer claims to have recruited more than 5000 farmers in its network and facilitated more than USD 1.2 million in farm input and capital financing till date. By working with iFarmer, farmers have been able to generate more than USD 100,000 net additional income and farm investors have received an annual average return of 27%, according to iFarmer’s assessment reports.
8. Armin Khan
Romoni is a tech-based 360-degree business enabling and credit appraisal platform for women micro entrepreneurs in Bangladesh working in on-demand beauty, tailoring and other services and products.
It serves to act as a bridge between the women skilled in various creative trades who can build a career or business with the right platform, and female customers who need standardized, quality services from trustworthy and verified female service professionals.
“The journey had been full of nothing but adventure and uncertaint,” says Khan, I had left my job to concentrate on building this business full time. I registered a proprietorship entity (as “BookmyLook”), took a small space in a co-working space and hired a full time employee to help me with acquiring the beauty service providers. After almost 6 months of running operations like this, I was approached by two of my friends to start a beauty-tech company with them, which will essentially be based on the same business foundation as BookmyLook but with a much broader scope around lifestyle, e-commerce, and empowerment of women micro MSMEs”.
According to Khan, Romoni has been able to create sustainable employment opportunity for around 500-600 women entrepreneurs till date. Romoni locked in their first angel investor in 2018 and started developing the phone based application and eventually launched full scale operations in Dec 2019. Romoni, led by Khan, was accepted to Accelerating Asia (a Singapore-based accelerator program), won a grant from UNCDF/UNESCAP and more.
9. Nabila Nowrin
Co-Founder & Managing Director, MOAR
After Nabila and co-founder Nahid Sharmin graduated as architects, they began their career in design related positions in the industry. While helping some fellow friends and acquaintances set up their start-ups at that time, they both realized how expensive the set-up costs are for a typical new start-up who have no promise of return. These set-up costs involve rent, interior, security deposit, furniture, reception, workstations, electronics and more.
On top of that, new entrepreneurs have to bear on-going monthly expenses such as utility, internet, staff, maintenance and others. To solve this problem and help new entrepreneurs overcome the barrier to creating their start-up, they founded MOAR in 2011.
Nowrin and Sharmin are also involved in two more businesses, an architectural consultancy firm called Ree Architects and an e-commerce platform called Bohu Bangladesh Ltd. for home furnishing for which they both design, manufacturing and source products locally. “Initially it was really hard to make people understand what Moar (মোড়) was. Even though people were used to working from shared offices in residential spaces, the concept of working in a commercial space and sharing a table with a stranger felt like a new offering.,” explained Nabila.
Some of their well recognized clients include Uber Bangladesh, Uber Eats, Facebook, Google, Al Jazeera plus (AJ+), MetLife, ACDI VOCA, Asian University for Women, TEDxDhaka, SELISE, Startup Dhaka are names people are familiar with. In 2019 alone, MOAR sold more than 650+ memberships to its shared office spaces and they converted to a Limited company in 2020.
Moar currently has two branches in Dhaka, Bangladesh but they plan on expanding through partnerships across the country. “We also have plans to expand our services into training facilities, maker labs, fabrication labs, innovation labs, fabric, leather, wood and metal workshop facilities, professional studios and professional kitchens. We are also in the research phase of figuring out if facilities like hostels, child and geriatric day care centers, communal kitchens can significantly help us achieve our vision,” said Nowrin.
10. Ghulam Sumdany Don
Founder, Don Sumdany Facilitation & Consultancy Group
Co-founder, Ikigai HR Services Limited.
Don started off his initiative with on-campus career workshops around 2015. Today, he is considered a pioneer in the field of premium, soft skills training and corporate HR consultation in Bangladesh. The need of external specialists to custom design training modules for team building, managerial and other skills was not realized in Bangladesh as vastly as it is today, and the work of this trainer-turned-entrepreneur had an enormous role to play in this regard.
Don’s consultation company (Don Sumdany Facilitation & Consultancy) now boasts a rich client portfolio comprise over 100+ clients from diverse industries including Banking, RMG, NGOs, Automobile, Educational institutions, etc. Key clients include recognized names such as EBL, H&M, Perfetti, ACI, R-Pac, BRAC, BMW, Coca-Cola, Partex-star, and many more. Beyond the role of an entrepreneur he is a social influencer in the career and training genre with his regular radio show called Look Who’s Talking?, and is a frequent contributor to career columns in various magazines and newspapers in Bangladesh. Recently, he has published a book called Unleash Your True Potential, and he appears frequently on live talk-shows. In 2020, he has also co-founded Ikigai HR services limited, an HR outsourcing firm offering services such as payroll management, human capital management, retail sales force management, among others.
Although the terms are frequently considered to be interchangeable, Don emphasizes that there are unique differences between a corporate trainer and a motivational speaker. He identifies as a corporate trainer, and has a focus on providing focused soft-skills training in order to equip employees within the corporate sector to perform better in their roles and attain their organizational goals. Hence, his work requires research into each industry and organization that he works with, to determine which set of soft-skills their employees need to best succeed as a member of that team.