Muzahid Khan, Managing Director of Janala Venture, describes his company’s assessment of the current business opportunities in Bangladesh.
FOR MANY, Bangladesh is known for its garment trade, an industry that now accounts for nearly 78% of the country’s exports. It is second only to China in terms of the volume of its exports of clothing.
Bangladesh’s output is popular with several high street fashion brands including H&M, Primark, Gap and Zara. The industry has created and supported thousands of jobs for the population – particularly for women – thanks to its exports to the US and Europe. As a country with a large agricultural sector, it is not surprising Bangladesh is also the world’s fourth biggest rice producer.
Now Bangladesh wants to compete alongside its neighbours for a slice of the global market. It is establishing itself as the next rising star in South Asia, hoping that foreign investment will create lucrative opportunities for investors and for its own citizens – after all this is a country that’s mostly led by the entrepreneurs of a young generation.
Over the years, the Government has implemented a number of policy reforms designed to create a more open and competitive climate for private investment, both foreign and local.
On my recent visit to the country, I couldn’t fail to notice the entrepreneurial spirit of Bangladeshis, which has been fuelled by advancements in technology. It is signalling the birth of a new era in a country that’s taking the best of its heritage and future potential to maximise opportunities. I was lucky enough to meet several entrepreneurs across different sectors to get a feel for what is to come.
Huge advances across all sectors have been enabled by the speed and use of technology. Easier internet access has led to a new generation of entrepreneurs whose tech-based start-ups are creating wealth and jobs. On my recent visit to Bangladesh, I met a number of tech start-ups who aspire to become leading tech businesses in Bangladesh serving not only the local economy but also operating globally.
One such business, Smart City, has been created by Sylheti entrepreneur Syed Delware Hussain, whose aim is to digitise everything about Sylhet inside the smart city platform. His company has won prestigious start-up award run by the new Bangabhandu High Tech Ark in Sylhet. Another amazing success story is Daraz, an innovative company offering similar services to Amazon, which has already expanded into neighbouring countries.
The future of tech entrepreneurs in Bangladesh looks promising, with Bangladesh Angels promoting a number of these each week to a global forum of investors – and it is already succeeding in attracting huge amounts of investment.
Drop shipping is also a major growth area for people in Bangladesh, especially those in the rural communities who have access to high-speed internet and smart phones. This is an emerging sector which is expected to grow into a $2 billion industry.
Asia has become the number-one region for providing outsourcing services to the rest of the world. Freelancing offers many advantages including the freedom to choose clients and projects, access to the global market, and flexibility over location. It also means avoiding long commutes in Bangladeshi traffic, especially in Dhaka, resulting in more people looking at a freelance career.
The rapid digitalisation of Bangladesh has contributed to the recent growth of this way of working. As a result, Bangladesh has already become the second largest supplier of online labour, according to the Oxford Internet Institute. About 500,000 active freelancers are working regularly out of 650,000 registered freelancers in the country. Between them they are generating $100 million annually, according to the ICT Division of Bangladesh. It also means Bangladeshi freelancers are open to working for employers across the globe, offering talent on a par with those in developed countries.
Known as the “golden fibre”, jute was one of the major cash crops of Bangladesh. Pre-independence and during British rule, the production of jute and related goods was the single largest industry in this region.
Even after the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent state, jute was the main contributor to foreign exchange earnings for more than a decade. The widespread use of alternative products like plastic and hemp has reduced the demand for jute, but it is still one of the most important export items in the country and is growing in popularity as it makes a comeback thanks to an appetite for natural products.
While Akij Group is an industrial conglomerate and owns one of the largest jute mills in the world, there’s also many growing enterprises where sustainability is at the heart of what they do. Take North Bengal-based Saidpur Enterprises, which has been recently established as a fairtrade organisation creating high quality products out of jute. The company already employs 98 local women, supporting mothers to improve their livelihood and that of their families.
What are you waiting for?
Bangladesh has a come a long way to improve its economy by investing in the latest technological advances to create a country full of opportunities and hope. It is led by young entrepreneurs who are not only competing with neighbouring countries but also those across the globe. Sectors are diversifying, and with that we shall see a further rise of start-ups and talent that is eager to succeed.
●For anyone thinking about investing in Bangladesh, now is the time to explore. Contact us for more information www.janalaventura.com