Iterative, the Singapore-based accelerator program, has picked two Bangladeshi startups for its latest cohort Winter 2023. The selected companies are full-stack supply chain automation startup Nuport and B2B marketplace for neighborhood merchants PriyoShop.
With the latest two startups, Iterative has now backed six Bangladeshi startups. Previously, Iterative backed four Bangladeshi startups including travel-tech startup GoZayaan, EWA startup Mitro (previously Kludio), mapping startup Barikoi, and edtech startup Thrive EdTech.
Iterative announced its latest cohort in a blog post on 22nd February. The latest cohort has 18 startups from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and India. The YC-style accelerator program operates two cohorts per year and invests between $150K to $500K in each startup upon admission.
In a blog post announcing the latest cohort the program writes: “We've received over 750+ applications - that's a 70% increase from the prior batch. With the help of our Venture and Visiting Partners, we spent hours interviewing companies and finally selected these 18 companies. This is our sixth batch of companies - and we think this is our strongest batch yet.”
The selected startups go through a three months remote program where they receive extensive venture-building support and an opportunity to present their companies to a select group of investors at the end of the program.
Nuport: Nuport, is a Dhaka-based full-stack supply chain automation company. Nuport enables manufacturers, distributors, and eCommerce companies to automate their supply chain operations and build out a back-end automation infrastructure so that these companies can scale and grow faster. We published a long interview with Nuport CEO Fahim Salam in October last year, you can read it here.
Priyoshop: Priyoshop describes itself as a B2B marketplace for Bangladesh's neighborhood merchants. The company connects micro-merchants directly to sellers, to fix the fragmented supply chain. We’ve covered Priyoshop since its inception, read our coverage here.
We have written before that Bangladeshi startups have become a regular presence in regional accelerator programs. Several regional and global incubator and accelerator programs have come to play an important role in Bangladesh’s fast-growing startup ecosystem. Programs like Accelerating Asia, Iterative, and Surge have supported and funded a good number of Bangladeshi startups over the last several years.
For instance, we yesterday featured SuperCharger Ventures, a London-based edtech-focused incubator program that has selected Bangladeshi startup Interactive Cares for its latest cohort. As Bangladesh matures as an ecosystem, we expect more of these things to happen.
Here is the complete list of Iterative Winter 2023 batch startups:
We’ve written about Iterative before. From Iterative’s ambition:
"Iterative was founded in 2018 by Brian Ma, Hsu Han Ooi, and Hsu Ken Ooi. The venture capital firm + accelerator program has seen excellent growth and so far invested in 65+ companies and has built a community of 126 founders. It raised $55 million for its Fund II in November 2022.
Iterative says it aims “to build the strongest and most supportive network in the region for early stage founders.” “Southeast Asia needed a better way to support and develop founders”, the program writes on its website. In response to the challenge, Iterative has created a program that is run and supported by former founders. The program has tried to differentiate itself as a program that is designed and run by founders.
Singapore has become a hub for regional entrepreneurial activities over the few years. Several prominent incubator and accelerator programs including Accelerating Asia, and Entrepreneur First among others operate out of the country. Iterative says it “differentiates itself with partners, mentors, advisors, and investors who have all previously started, sold, and operated startups.”
Iterative founders explain that they have been through the startup journey. They understand the trials and tribulations of founders. They understand the relentless ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. They know the challenges, and pitfalls, and how to navigate them. Iterative in a way is an attempt on their part to share their journey and give back to the community.
“We’ve started from 0, multiple times”, the program writes on its website. “We’ve worked out of the proverbial and literal basement. We’ve been told by investors that our idea was too small, too big, or just dumb. We’ve gone from thinking we would be the next Facebook to wondering what we were doing with our lives. We’ve been you.”
That’s powerful. Entrepreneurship is a nonlinear journey. While there are a lot of similarities between different entrepreneurial journeys, each journey is unique and probably happens once. So it is hard to codify the success formula for founders. Moreover, entrepreneurship is a lonely journey.
What helps is that when founders come together, it makes one less lonely and you feel encouraged and almost ready to take on the world. Iterative in my reading has tried to put that understanding of entrepreneurship as its core offering for founders. You learn the fundamentals of building a startup, understand the general dynamics of the journey, and find a community and access to support.
Iterative has modeled itself after Y Combinator. It in fact mentions itself as a YC-style program designed for and by the founders. The founders themselves went through YC with their startups. That’s where funding in batches comes from. The program also adopts many of the YC lingos.
The company writes: “We fund startups in batches. We believe this works better for everyone. It allows us to run the program more efficiently, and the startups probably learn just as much from each other as they do from us.” This mirrors what YC founder Paul Graham said about why he started by backing founders in groups when he started YC.
Psychologically the logic of funding in batch makes perfect sense. Ambition is contagious. Humans are mimetic animals. When we are put together with a bunch of hard-working, ambitious people, we emulate their traits. Our ambition rises. As Tylor Cowen said raising the ambition of people can change their lives. When founders come together, peer pressure works as an ultimate motivator for success.
At the beginning of an Iterative batch, a startup is tagged with a lead partner based on needs and expertise who looks after everything about that startup. “The first thing you and your lead partner will do is set goals for the end of the program,” writes the program on its website. “Where do you want to be at the end of the program? Typically this involves growing your primary metric 5% to 7% every week for the batch duration.”
Startups participate in various events throughout the three months program. Dedicated weekly meetings with the lead partner focus on progress, challenges, priorities, and next steps. These meetings allow founders to unburden themselves, seek advice and develop strategic clarity.
Demo days are a common component of accelerator programs. Iterative hosts a demo day after 12 weeks of the program where startups present their ideas to a select group of investors and stakeholders to raise capital.
While demo day concludes a batch, Iterative says it does not “really end after 3 months. We continue to give advice and make introductions as long as our startups need—and so does the informal network of Iterative companies. We think of our batch program as just orientation into the larger community.”
Accelerator programs like YC and Accelerating Asia have prided themselves on their strong alumni network. In the case of YC, the alumni network alone offers incredible value for new startups. Iterative is quite explicit in its ambition to build a similar community of founders and stakeholders.
Iterative writes on its website that it aims to help “increase the GDP of Southeast Asia through entrepreneurship”. And the program says it is on a mission to “build the most vibrant, supportive, and intellectually honest community of founders.” This is a timely and worthwhile ambition.
The number of active incubator and accelerator programs is an important indicator of the maturity and growth of a startup ecosystem. Programs like Y Combinator in the US have changed the startup landscape in silicon valley and across many markets. Some of the biggest startups in the world today are products of these incubator programs. YC is not alone. There is a long list of prominent incubators and accelerator programs that have played a significant role in the growth of startup ecosystems in the US, Europe, China, India, and other markets.
Compared to that Southeast Asia and South Asia do not have anything equivalent built locally, despite a genuine need and huge demand for such programs. The absence of such programs has left a void in the market and the impact of it can be seen in the relatively slower pace of startup growth in the region.
Knowledge is contextual. South Asian markets are different from European markets or American markets. It is only logical to operate out of that understanding. A regionally-built cohort of incubator programs can help accelerate the entrepreneurial growth of the region. To that end, programs like Iterative are doing indispensable work."