Bangladesh is a nation of young people - the median age of the nation is 26. The conversation around the demographic dividend is a commonplace thing. At the same time, the youth unemployment rate has been growing consistently even though the economy has been seeing impressive growth.
It is true that having a young population offers an advantage, but you have to provide them opportunities as well to have a positive outcome.
Globally, unemployment has become a growing challenge for nations. This is where entrepreneurship as an intervention comes in. Entrepreneurship has emerged as a viable intervention to the growing challenge of youth unemployment.
In the last few decades, the world has witnessed the unparalleled rise of entrepreneurship and the wealth Silicon Valley led technology entrepreneurship has unleashed. As a result, the interest in entrepreneurship and startup is at an all-time high. Efforts have been made to create entrepreneurs through various programs and training. While many people believe that entrepreneurship could not be taught in an academic environment, it did not deter academicians and policymakers across the world from trying. We have seen programs on entrepreneurship from leading educational institutions across the world with varying degrees of success. There are programs like Y Combinator that teach and fund startups and there are also programs from institutions like Stanford and Harvard.
In Bangladesh, Daffodil International University (DIU) is the first institution to offer a 4-year full-time bachelor degree in entrepreneurship. Launched in 2015, DIU’s Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship offers a 4-year bachelor degree in entrepreneurship that teaches both the theoretical underpinnings of entrepreneurship as well as practical realities of starting and building a business. We recently sat down with Mohammad Shibli Shahriar, Head, Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Daffodil International University (DIU), to learn more about the program.
Why did you think of establishing the Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship?
Mohammad Shibli Shahriar
Every year, 46 million new workers are adding up in the world’s labor force and many of them are from developing countries. The global youth unemployment rate was 12.6% in 2013 and the rate increased to 12.8% in 2018. As long as the rate of unemployment is increasing, it will increase regional disparities; and improvements in the world economic order will offset by youth unemployment. In Bangladesh, the rate of educated unemployed youths is increasing. At present nearly 47 percent of graduates are not getting any jobs after their graduation.
With the vision of solving this youth unemployment problem, the Department of Innovation & Entrepreneurship was established in 2015. Our mission is to create young leaders in the society who will be able to solve the social problems or fulfill the needs and wants of their targeted people. It also aims at providing students a platform to develop relevant entrepreneurial skills through practical assignments and project work and elevating the growth of new ventures through continuous mentoring and funding supported by venture capitalist, angel investors, entrepreneurship development fund and other seed funds.
Could you give us an overview of the Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Daffodil International University? What is ambition?
We started out with an ambition to create 500 entrepreneurs within 2021. We set out with that goal in mind and it remains our north star. However, we have evolved a lot as an academic department. Our approach to the overall eco-system has changed a bit. The way we approach teaching entrepreneurship has changed. It seems that we still have a lot more to do to get to a point where we have a relatively competitive and enriched system of teaching entrepreneurship.
When we first started, we used to run a competition, which continues to date, to select students. Unlike the regular programs, we have deliberately made it difficult for students to get into our program because we wanted to attract students who are genuinely interested in entrepreneurship and understand the demands of the program.
Our main undergrad program started off with HSC passed students. The program is designed to teach entrepreneurship as a four-year undergrad degree to students who are looking for an entrepreneurship program.
When we started working on the undergrad program, we came to see that a lot of graduate students, as well as professionals, also seek similar entrepreneurship program where they could learn about entrepreneurship hands-on within a shorter period of time. So we introduced diploma courses and MBA on entrepreneurship.
We are the only University in Bangladesh right now offering a 4-year degree on entrepreneurship. Many universities around the world have been working on programs on entrepreneurship with varying degrees of success and failures. We would not say that we have found the silver bullet yet but we are in search of it!
Our learning is significant over the past few years. In the early days, we would pressurize students and would depend entirely on our curriculum, which was customized to cater to the perceived need of an entrepreneur. It was stricter with limited flexibility. But we have changed that. We realized that we need a program that allows students to explore their own ideas in their own way. We decided to give students the floor to work on whatever they feel like they are passionate about. Now there are classes and class works and at the same time, we ask students to decide what they want to pursue and then we try to make the learning around that. We are now building collaboration with different organizations and companies to offer our students more hands-on learning for their future initiatives as entrepreneurs.
Over the course of the last few years, we have received a tremendous amount of response from all over the world. Prominent people in the space of entrepreneurship have visited us in the past years. We have established collaboration with the much-renowned organization in the space.
Entrepreneurship is of paramount importance for a nation like us. It creates opportunities. It helps grow the economy. Maximizes the national wealth. Create employment opportunities.
We would have the first batch of graduates from the department this year. We are super excited to see how they do in the real world. Our ambition is not that we would turn everyone who studies entrepreneurship and innovation into an entrepreneur. Our goal is that if we could make 10% of the students who go through the program into entrepreneurs, it would be a huge success for us.
Apart from the 4 years bachelor program, what are other things you do at Daffodil?
As I mentioned earlier, the ambition of our chairman is huge. We want to build an ecosystem for entrepreneurship development. We have a venture capital company at Daffodil called Bangladesh Venture Capital Limited that invests in early-stage companies. It means our graduates could potentially raise money right out of the gate if they have an interesting idea.
Apart from that, we have an entrepreneur development fund at the department from which we provide funding in the form of an interest-free loan to our students up to 50,000. If anyone fails to repay within time, we extend the deadline and if s/he cannot repay anyway, we ask him/her to drop an application and we see what could be done.
We bring successful entrepreneurs to take sessions. We have a popular lecture series where CEOs and big personalities come and share their stories with our students.
We arrange startup fair every year where students can have stalls and sell their products. We are also involved in a few government initiatives.
What is your take on the overall entrepreneurship ecosystem in Bangladesh?
First, entrepreneurship is still not something most parents would encourage their kids to pursue. There is a social stigma around doing business in our society. We don’t essentially see our businessmen with the respect that is prevalent in other cultures. This scenario has been changing for a while now but we should work harder to improve the situation further if we are to encourage entrepreneurship.
Second, we need more collaboration in the ecosystem. We alone cannot develop the overall entrepreneurship ecosystem in the country. So does no individual organization. In order to have a vibrant ecosystem, we need all the organizations, universities, government and other stakeholders to come together with a concerted effort to build the ecosystem.
Third, starting and building a business should be easier. There needs to be policies that support entrepreneurship and encourage people to start businesses. Doing business is not easy in this country. It is expensive as well. We need to pay attention to these areas. Starting a business should be inexpensive and doing business should be easier, systematic.
Fourth, funding and access to mentorship and similar support is still a challenge. Access to funding and mentorship and support should be easier for founders.
Fifth, international collaboration is important. We could learn a lot from markets like China and India and Estonia. We should have collaboration in place with such hotspots of entrepreneurship so that we learn from these markets and apply that learning into our market.