Conversation With Minhaz Anwar Of Better Stories Limited

Conversation With Minhaz Anwar Of Better Stories Limited

Minhaz Anwar is the founder of Better Stories-an ideas agency based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Minhaz calls himself a startup activist and he is one of the pioneers of Bangladesh startup movement which has been abuzz across the country of late. He has been working on business incubation, startup mentoring and opportunity brokering for the last 5 years through his dream venture BizCube, Bangladesh’s first incubator proper. He is the licensee of the Bangladesh StartUp Cup and host of this 7-month long mentorship driven business model competition in Bangladesh.

Recently we caught up with Minhaz to talk about startup eco-system in Bangladesh, startup competition, Bangladesh StartUp Cup, its impact on the eco-system, his plan for Bangladesh Startup Cup 2015, what separates winning teams from drowning ones and more.

Bangladesh Startup Cup is a true community platform for not only the startups but also for the eco-system players such as mentors, investors, and policy-makers. People in the eco-system who could help and support startups came together to a platform for the very first time.

Why did you start Bangladesh Startup Cup in the first place? What do you think of it?

Bangladesh Startup Cup is a true community platform for not only the startups but also for the eco-system players such as mentors, investors, and policy-makers. People in the eco-system who could help and support startups came together to a platform for the very first time.

Going back in 2010, we were trying to build our own capacity and exploring various models of operation worldwide and later that year, we established ourselves as Bangladesh’s First Business Incubator Proper, Bizcube. Over the years, we learnt a lesson that there has been a huge demand for a virtual, networked support system that involves mentoring, investments, legal and networking support but not a physical facility.

We started looking for a framework to make our virtual incubation work. That’s when we came across StartUp Cup, which already operates globally in 60+ counties and got in touch with the headquarter of Startup Cup. We found out that the Startup Cup is a highly customizable global phenomenon which could be applied in Bangladesh easily by tweaking it to meet the local need. In mid-2013 we received the license to bring Startup Cup to Bangladesh and on 4 January 2014, we launched our first promotional event which primarily aimed to bring together the startups and the mentors under one roof.

BDstartupBangladesh Startup Cup is a framework that helps any startup with ideas to go to market and also in the process helps them to reach out to the wider community that involves the mentors, investors, sponsors, organizers and all the concerned elements of a ecosystem in which they can grow.

What one obstacle If was not there Bangladesh Startup Cup 2014 would produce better result?

Many participants, especially the ones who previously had participated in other business competitions and also won them, came to this platform with a mindset that Bangladesh Startup Cup was all about making mind boggling presentations. We had to mould this mindset and make them believe that Bangladesh Startup Cup is not only about making a good pitch but emphasized on going to market.

This transition of mindset from just winning business plan competitions to developing a real life revenue generating business was quite a daunting task. We repeatedly coached and mentored the participants on building their business models and very few took us seriously until they started falling off the race. So there was a big shift in the mentality of the participants since they were not prepared for the fact that Startup Cup was all about going to market and this I consider was the biggest obstacle initially.

Bangladesh Startup Cup is a framework that helps any startup with ideas to go to market and also in the process helps them to reach out to the wider community that involves the mentors, investors, sponsors, organizers and all the concerned elements of a ecosystem in which they can grow.

You had a lot of mentors and judges in this 7 month long process. On what basis did you chose them?

This whole 7 month long process had many sessions in it. Starting from the boot camp to the domain specific and thematic sessions till the last investment raising session we brought in successful CEOs who had walked the path already as startups. We wanted to bring in mentors who had been in the ecosystem for few years and have not only seen success but also learnt lessons and have their stories to share. This was the first criteria we looked for initially.

As we progressed with time we brought in more experienced CEOs. For the investment raising session we gathered a group of CEOs who has ensured their solid presence in both national and international markets and could put offer some investment along with wisdom and experience as well.

Bangladesh Startup Cup ExplainedWhile in conversation with the finalists, drop-outs, mentors and judges, one thing that I realized was that their expectations in terms of investment were not met. What do you have to say on this?

Bangladesh Startup Cup is all about enabling startups to go to market. Revenue and returning customers are the best rewards a startup can have in the first year. Clearly that was our focus. Startups that had a lot of promise but no action to go to market have met the obvious outcome: drop-out!

Although investment raising was not our core focus we did have a demo investment session resulting to 4 different outcomes: one was able to secure a partnership, one received an investment, another bagged access to test their products and one of them deemed eligible for working capital credit offers from a bank.

In 2015 it is indeed going to be better, bigger and bolder! We are going to go to 4 cities including Dhaka this time.

What are the few things that people can expect from Bangladesh Startup Cup in 2015?

In 2015 it is indeed going to be better, bigger and bolder! We are going to go to 4 cities including Dhaka this time. 4 extreme build a business workshops will potentially take place. For the first time mentors will be trained and cecertified. We also expect to automate few processes that had been done manually this time.

What sets Bangladesh Startup Cup apart from other startup competitions?

Bangladesh Startup Cup was able to show within the country what is required and what is possible to be done in the startup scenario in Bangladesh. Our finalists have set examples by nurturing their business ideas and evolving them into models that could not only generate revenue but be firmly established in the market. The cup is not for the one who comes up with a spin but who has launched their products the market, showed proven consistency and has been willing to constantly evolve!

In the boot camp stage the founders just had their ideas on a piece of napkin but after the 7 month long process where they are today is the example of how we should be doing things. I think the other players in the market of the startup ecosystem should take a note and come up with similar programs and events to help and support the startups to go to market.

Many participants, especially the ones who previously had participated in other business competitions and also won them, came to this platform with a mindset that Bangladesh Startup Cup was all about making mind boggling presentations. We had to mould this mindset and make them believe that Bangladesh Startup Cup is not only about making a good pitch but emphasized on going to market.

What are the things that set the finalists apart from the ones who could not make it to the finals?

We embarked on a journey towards the market. At each stage towards the market from an idea we offered classes, coaching and mentoring to help startups cross one challenge at a time. There were concrete indicators for each stage spelled out to the participants and only those who could meet the indicators were taken to the next level.

At the final level, since Bangladesh Startup Cup is about going to the market we judged startups on how good they were doing in the market. There were many teams who came with amazing ideas, wonderful pitches and presentations but dropped out eventually for lack of real action and traction!

How would you evaluate the success of Bangladesh Startup Cup 2014 and its impact on the overall startup ecosystem and how much has it been able to popularize the idea of startups?

In 2013, our incubator launched 2 startups and in 2014, the number became 4! We doubled the success rate in a year but we are not complacent at all.

In 2013, we struggled hugely in terms of finding the right people who would do the mentoring. We were able to make it real dent in terms of attracting people who would be able to give back and willing to do the same. Overall, we launched 7 promotional events before the boot camp and through these events we were able to achieve 800 unique attendees among whom we could retain around 50 as mentors. I think it is a huge value addition to the eco system as previously it was difficult to find even 3-4 mentors. We brought in experienced judges from a2i, Government, ICT sector and Bangladesh Bank.

We have been able to loop in a lot of people and entities as organizers and community mobilizers to support the cup. This served our philosophy of creating an inclusive platform well. I consider this competition to have set a benchmark in the startup ecosystem of Dhaka that with a good idea and intention you can get all support you could ask for and you would need!

Although investment raising was not our core focus we did have a demo investment session resulting to 4 different outcomes: one was able to secure a partnership, one received an investment, another bagged access to test their products and one of them deemed eligible for working capital credit offers from a bank.

Interview by Fatema Mohammad for Future Startup, Edited by Ruhul Kader

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