In the heart of the bustling Hotel InterContinental, the Bangladesh Startup Summit 2023 unfolded as a gathering of brilliant minds devoted to making a difference.
Organised by Startup Bangladesh Limited – the flagship venture capital firm of the ICT Division backed by the government of Bangladesh – the event brought together startup founders, investors, experts and thought leaders from around the world for the first time in Bangladesh.
Among the top eight startups from Youth Co: Lab Springboard Programme 5.0, six of them (Dreamwater Enterprise Limited, Dr Chashi, MommyKidz, Palki Motors, Plastile and WeGro Technologies Ltd) pitched their ventures that address pressing social and environmental challenges, for a chance to win $10,000 in grants.
From addressing climate change to promoting gender equality and inclusive growth, these young change-makers are at the forefront of building a prosperous Bangladesh.
The esteemed jury panel included Vineet Rai, Founder of Aavishkaar Group, an internationally renowned Impact Investment Platform; Osman Ahmed, Venture Partner of Accelerating Asia; and Shams Zaman, Head of Corporate and Investment Banking, Citibank NA Bangladesh.
Shah Rafayat Chowdhury, the Managing Director at Dreamwater, set the stage with a poignant tale about Rahima, a village woman’s daily quest for clean drinking water. Rahima had to walk almost a kilometre to fetch drinking water, even though there was a waterbody located right beside her house.
Unfortunately, the water in that nearby source was not suitable for drinking.
Dreamwater is a profit-based startup that operates on a business-to-business (B2B) model. They have developed innovative portable water filters capable of transforming any surface-level water into safe drinking water. This technology aims to address the issue Rahima faced and make clean drinking water more accessible to communities like hers.
During the Sunamganj flood crisis in 2022, when nearly 40 lakh people were stranded without any source of safe water, Dreamwater deployed 26 efficient portable water treatment plants through which 4,50,000 litres of flood water was transformed into drinking water.
The startup bagged the second prize and grants worth $3,000, presented by Zunaid Ahmed Palak, MP Hon’ble State Minister, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
Following Dreamwater, representatives of Dr Chashi and MommyKidz took the stage and described their business strategy, followed by the impact they are creating on society.
Dr Chashi’s innovative app, used by farmers to diagnose diseases in crops and receive proper guidance on the usage of fertilisers, pesticides and other farming practices, impressed the jury for its contribution towards enabling Smart Agriculture in Bangladesh.
MommyKidz, which has established a growing digital community for parents to consult with doctors, and avail care products and other necessary services through their app, was also among the startups which represented Bangladesh in the Youth Co: Lab regional Summit held in Bangkok earlier this year.
“Participating in the YCL summit in Bangkok was a transformative experience for me as a first-time founder. The networking opportunities were unparalleled, allowing us to connect with industry experts, potential investors and like-minded entrepreneurs.
Through insightful discussions and collaborations fostered at the summit, our app not only gained exposure but also invaluable future partnership possibilities that will accelerate our growth and enrich our user experience,” said Nishat Anjum Palka, Founder, of MommyKidz.
Plastile was the fourth startup to pitch, impressing the audience by describing the cost-effective and durable plastic tiles they are making with recycled plastic as an alternative to traditional construction materials.
The energy was different when Mostofa Al Momin, CEO of Palki Motors Ltd, pitched his idea and business plan. Momin shared a dream that he had been brewing for over a decade. The idea stemmed from a moment in front of a car repair shop in Mohakhali, of replacing a car engine with an electric motor and battery. This vision fueled his determination to revolutionise the country’s electric vehicle landscape.
Vineet Rai, Founder of Aavishkaar Group, questioned the choice of this venture in a low-income country. Momin’s response was rooted in his long-held belief in the potential impact of the project.
“When I dreamt of this project more than a decade back, I was walking in front of a car repair shop at Mohakhali… I knew it would be a game-changer and I need to do it for my country,” he answered with a smile.
The pitch and this particular statement resonated positively among the audience. When Salman Fazlur Rahman, MP, and advisor to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh announced the winner’s name and asked for a guess, everyone shouted “Palki.”
As the winning team, Palki received $5,000 in grants.
Momin attributes his boost in confidence pitching to the mentorship and networking opportunities which were offered by Youth Co: Lab, most notably being given access to pitch to a Singapore-based accelerator programme. Momin has further plans to utilise the grant money by buying parts for the vehicles.
WeGro Technologies Ltd was the last one to grace the stage, stating impressive numbers of their business projection. WeGro is an agri-tech-based startup that links farmers and investors. Users can invest in agricultural initiatives like raising livestock or growing vegetables through its app. WeGro enables small farmers to receive funding by connecting them with investors and advising them about the best practices.
“If the numbers that you are demonstrating are correct, you will become a billionaire soon,” said one of the jury members to Md. Mahmudur Rahman, CEO, WeGro Technologies Ltd. WeGro won the third prize and $2,000 in grants.
Earlier in the summit, during the inauguration ceremony, Youth Co: Lab, a collaborative effort between UNDP and Citi Foundation, received an award from the Prime Minister for fostering an environment conducive to entrepreneurship in Bangladesh. This award speaks volumes about the programme’s dedication to empowering young change-makers and building a more sustainable and inclusive future.
“We are honoured to receive this award,” said Van Nguyen, the then Acting Resident Representative of UNDP Bangladesh. “This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our team and our partners. We are committed to continuing to work with young people in Bangladesh to build a more sustainable and inclusive future.”
Co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation, Youth Co: Lab invests in young people across 28 countries and territories in Asia and the Pacific so they can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship.
Since 2018, Youth Co: Lab has been working closely with the government of Bangladesh and key local ecosystem partners to incubate youth-led social enterprises and SDG-focused startups, build the capacity of entrepreneurship support organisations, as well as influence inclusive entrepreneurship policy formulation.
Youth Co:Lab is now seeking applications from young entrepreneurs for Springboard Programme 6.0. Visit the United Nations Development Programme in Bangladesh Facebook page to apply.