We have seen an influx of new fascinating startups in Dhaka's startup scene over the last few years tackling challenges in a variety of verticals including garment manufacturing, ecommerce, online education, and space rental, among others.
Many of these companies are doing unique work such as Nitex, a sustainable apparel manufacturer that manages the complete supply chain, from design to manufacturing to shipping, for small clothing brands and individual entrepreneurs.
Others are part of global meta trends such as EdTech, space rental, and digital commerce.
For example, Ajke.live is building a live commerce platform focusing on fashion and lifestyle, part of a larger trend happening across markets.
In another example, Chaya aims to take on space rentals by connecting space owners and renters.
Online Sohopathi, an edtech platform, seeks to make online education personalized and social using a peer-to-peer and live online learning model.
All of these companies are in their early stage either just closed their pre-seed or seed investment. But each of them offers a peek inside the fast-evolving nature of Dhaka’s startup scene.
Below we profile four startups that operate in four different verticals from ecommerce to edtech to space rental.
Founding year: 2017 (registered in Bangladesh, Singapore, US, and Estonia)
Founders: Hussain Mahdi and Arifin Hasan
Vertical: Apparel, Fashion
Investment: Raised two rounds of investment, undisclosed
Disclosed Investors: Sajid Rahman, Bangladesh Angels, Sputnik ATX, Accelerating Asia. The company is a graduate of Sputnik ATX and Accelerating Asia
Nitex is a Dhaka-based sustainable clothing manufacturer that aims to provide a one-stop solution for small and medium fashion companies and individual entrepreneurs to have an end-to-end apparel outsourcing solution.
For most brands, apparel manufacturing can be a complicated and expensive affair, especially for SMEs and individual entrepreneurs. A typical manufacturing process involves buyers traveling to Bangladesh or other manufacturing destinations like China and Vietnam, and sourcing, checking quality, and managing shipments. This process is expensive and time-consuming, but it fails to address some of the key challenges that buyers face, including transparency and accountability when there are delays or supply chain failures.
To solve these challenges, Nitex provides SME apparel brands and entrepreneurs with an end-to-end supply chain and logistics platform, starting with product design, all the way through order fulfillment, and ending with shipping goods to customers' locations. Nitex's platform allows customers to manage and monitor every aspect of their production in real-time remotely. Nitex's manufacturing and logistics platform allow anyone from anywhere to build their own clothing brand without any up-front costs.
Currently, Nitex works with brands in European and North American markets, but the company plans to take advantage of a rapidly evolving trend where brand power is shifting from big companies to smaller DTC brands and individual entrepreneurs and influencers. These entrepreneurs benefit from having access to an end-to-end apparel manufacturing supply chain because they can get started right away and utilize their market power to grow their business.
Founding year: 2019
Vertical: Space rental
Founders: Mehraab Anwar, COO, and Farhia Tabassum, CEO
Disclosed Investment: $45 Pre-seed
Disclosed Investors: Mohammad Maaz Mamoon and Isra Mamoon
Chaya: Chaya is a peer-to-peer online marketplace for space sharing in Bangladesh, connecting space owners with end-users seeking to use space. Chaya is part of a global sharing economy meta trend. The Chaya website allows its users to list their unused or underused spaces to be rented out, and its users to search for available space to rent for events, parties, stays, and experiences, etc. From its website, it appears the company currently covers mainly Dhaka and adjacent areas, such as Gazipur.
Chaya is a two-sided marketplace that aims to solve one problem for each party involved. For space owners, it strives to help them utilize their space to the fullest and earn more money. This makes sense since the vast majority of cities have interesting and useful spaces that remain underutilized simply because they are unavailable to renters. For renters, it can be challenging to find affordable and suitable spaces based on their needs, such as content creation, a private dinner, and so on. Space renting remains an unsolved problem in Bangladesh.
Chaya’s product trajectory so far appears more like that of Airbnb. Initially, Chaya focused on finding spaces for customized events, such as exhibitions, weddings, workshops, video shoots, photoshoots, celebrations, corporate events, and performances; however, the company now offers spaces for experiences and stays, such as those at beautiful villas in Gazipur.
Space owners can list their spaces on Chaya for free. Chaya markets the spaces and helps find users. In exchange, the company takes a 15% flat commission per booking.
Finding space owners should not be a challenge for Chaya if they could bring renters — a common phenomenon for any two-sided demand-driven marketplaces. If you can generate enough demands, supply usually is an easier problem to solve.
Chaya has an opportunity to take the first-mover advantage in the vertical. The company, however, could face challenges from the travel tech companies such as Go Zayaan that are increasingly focusing on the local market and adding unconventional experiences and stays on their platform beyond traditional hotels.
Founding year: 2021
Founders: Nasir Chowdhury (CEO), Anik Ashraf (CMO), Turjoy Barai (COO), and Jahir Alam Raju (CTO)
Disclosed investment: $50,000
Disclosed Investor: Mohammad Maaz Mamoon
Ajke.live: Ajke.live is a Dhaka-based live commerce platform focusing on fashion and lifestyle. Co-founded by Nasir Chowdhury (CEO), Anik Ashraf (CMO), Turjoy Barai (COO), and Jahir Alam Raju (CTO), Ajke initially started with a B2B business model but later pivoted to a B2C live commerce model. The company currently enables live commerce through its web platform and eventually plans to launch an app as well as allowing broadcasters/sellers to share their live sessions on Social media channels.
Over the past few years, live commerce has become an increasingly important trend in digital commerce. First originated and popularized in China, live commerce is a fusion of e-commerce and live-streaming. The model bridges the gap between in-store and online shopping. Customers can see the products live and order accordingly. The vertical has attracted considerable interest from investors. Live commerce companies such as BulBul, SimSim, and ShopShops have raised tens of millions of dollars in investment.
Live streaming shopping is nothing new in Dhaka. F-commerce, or Facebook-based sellers, have been using video streaming to showcase and sell products for a long time. In many markets, Facebook has integrated live commerce features. Ajkerdeal, one of the earliest ecommerce players in Dhaka, has been working on a live commerce platform for a while now.
Being a dedicated live commerce platform, Ajke.live stands to gain an advantage in the vertical. However, it appears that the platform is still in its infancy.
Founding year: 2017
Founders: Awsaf Alam, Raashid Mahdi, Shadman Majid, Sharmin Akther Purabi
Disclosed investment: $75,000
Disclosed investor: Tiger IT Foundation
Online Sohopathi: Online Sohopathi is an edtech startup based in Dhaka that provides a personalized social learning platform for K-12 students.
Online Sohopathi began as a Q&A platform but has since added several layers to its product. It provides a free interactive Q&A platform where students can ask and answer questions from anywhere in Bangladesh.
Besides the Q&A platform, it has also built a live course platform where students can take personalized live courses from dedicated mentors for a fee. These courses can be taken individually or in groups. The fees of courses range from BDT 500 to 5000 per course. For its mentors, the company uses a hybrid model that combines commissions and per-course payments. Online Sohopathi has also developed an online exam management software for offline coaching centers and educational institutions. It plans to eventually offer the same customized learning solutions to offline educational institutions as well.
The company was founded in 2017 and claims to have over 200k users across its platforms and social media groups, with several thousand paying users.
EdTech has seen some uptick in Dhaka amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, there has not been a breakout service as yet. Several factors contribute to relatively slow growth in the vertical, including infrastructure, user behavior, price of internet, perception about online education, and lack of funding. Online Sohopathi has a unique product. The company emphasizes the social aspect of its product and aims to amplify it as it grows.