ICT opens up new prospects for Bangladesh [particularly in Sylhet]

23 02 2017
12:31 PM, February 23, 2017 – Mustafizur R Khan and Fayaz Taher

In the last three years Bangladesh has seen tremendous growth in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. It has a market of 160 million plus people, where consumer spending is around USD 130 billion plus and growing at 6 percent annually. After telcos launched 3G services in 2013, internet penetration in Bangladesh grew by 22 percent by the end of 2014. Of the 66.8 million active Internet subscribers (BTRC, Sept 2016), nearly 96 percent are mobile users and 10 million smartphone users. With growing Internet connectivity, availability of cheaper smartphones, and rapid rise in social networking (23 million plus Facebook users), we have seen an increasing emergence of digital savvy consumers.

Here are three main reasons for growth in ICT sector.

I. Government policy and awareness

In the last three years the Government of Bangladesh has played a major role in promoting the ICT sector as the next growth engine for Bangladesh. A major role was played by a2i, the key driver from the Prime Minister’s Office in deploying the rapid expansion of technologies in delivering public services to citizens. Some of the key milestones of a2i have been the following:

8.5 million students learning from multimedia content developed by 100,000 teachers

105 Digital Talking textbooks for visually disabled students

103 innovations incubated through Service Innovation Fund

USD 28.15 million earnings for Digital Centre Entrepreneurs

The ICT ministry played a phenomenal role in creating awareness and programmes to transform ideas into reality, e.g. through Digital World, ICT Expo, National Hackathon, Connecting Startups Bangladesh, etc.

Recent policies formulated by the government have been very helpful in enhancing the attractiveness of the ICT sector. Key incentives include:

100 percent foreign ownership of companies

Small-cap exchange for easier raising of capital/listing on capital markets

Software park which facilitates high speed internet connection trade facilities, similar to Export Processing Zones (EPZs)

After three years, we now have a mix of community tech space, co-working space and accelerators. As an emerging economy we have fundamental gaps in infrastructure that impact digital entrepreneurship, connectivity, and technology development. These hubs are providing enabling infrastructure and skills training in the IT sector. As a mandate, the government will try to bring ICT programmes throughout the country, but this will be less impactful if certain areas of the country do not have surrounding ecosystem mature enough to support viable startup and accelerator activities. For example, Dhaka has enough critical mass of all the right things—access to funding, universities, international tech companies, media, entrepreneurs, etc., which allow it to build a successful tech hub.

Building a thriving ecosystem requires close collaboration between the public and private sectors. As we move along this path, we predict that we will develop a closer working relationship between the public and private sector.

II. BASIS policy and advocacy

The software association of Bangladesh, popularly known as BASIS, brought focus on startup activities in Bangladesh. It initiated well-known programmes like the BASIS Soft Expo, BASIS Student Forum, BASIS e-commerce alliance, etc., to create awareness about startups and facilitate the growth of this sector. BASIS also helped shape the policy framework of the ICT sector. Some of the policies are outlined below:

Seven-year tax holiday for registered IT companies

Private equity and venture capital policy framework implemented as of July 2015

VAT for e-commerce reduced to nil

III. Private sector movement at the heart

Startups: There has been a significant increase in new startups and founders joining the arena. It is not limited to first-time entrepreneurs only, but people with professional work experience are taking risk to join the startup life. A recent study by Light Castle Partners (LCP) found the top three sectors where startups are currently working now to be e-commerce, tech and impact business.

Telcos: Telecom firms have been one of the major stakeholders as they made the infrastructure investment in 3G that practically jumpstarted the Internet-enabled businesses in Bangladesh. Local private device suppliers played the second biggest role in bringing smartphone prices down by locally manufacturing them. Last year three major telcos either started an accelerator programme or sponsored one to promote digital business in Bangladesh, e.g. the Grameenphone Accelerator which provided access to deal flow.

Investment: While we do have local angel investors who provide seed funding, their numbers are very limited, and their deal size is below USD 50,000. However, there are larger financial institutions that have invested in various capacities. Some of the venture capital and private equity companies that are currently working in Bangladesh include: Fenox Ventures, IPE Capital, BD Venture Limited, Aviskar, DEFTA Partners, Innotech Corporation, Bangladesh Venture Capital, Razor Capital, 500 Startups, Segnel Ventures, IMJ Ventures, Mind Initiative, Brummer & Partners, Princestreet, Osiris Group VIPB, IFC, etc.

According to a recent study by LCP, the sectors most preferred by investors are mobile financial services (83 percent), health tech (67 percent), and C2C commerce (50 percent). Local startups that recently got funded include: GObd, PayWell, Priyo.com, Solaric, SureCash, Styleline, Direct Fresh, AjkerDeal, Eshosikhi, Pathao, Bagdoom, Sheba, BPCL, Brian Station, Studio 71, Smart Compare, Light Castle Partners, Magnito Digital, and Doctorola.

* Ecosystem builders: The startup ecosystem originally started in 2013 with main advocates being Startup Dhaka also know as SD Asia, Team Engine, Hub Dhaka, EMK Center, Better Stories, Preneur Lab, etc. Most of these companies are involved in mentoring and accelerator activities which help startups take their business to next stage.

Every ecosystem will have challenges and it is important to be aware of those that could hamper growth.

The mindset of young founders needs to change when they are learning at schools and universities. Government education policies need to align with their vision of Digital Bangladesh so that there is a pipeline for talent in the private sector.


Trust with the consumers is the most important factor for growth in the ecosystem. If consumers do not feel comfortable conducting commerce online, it will slow down growth. This is why it is important to establish consumer protection programmes and policies that cover refund, fraudulent activity, and consumer data. There needs to be reporting mechanisms and action must be taken so that consumers feel protected. There will be a huge amount of data being generated and there needs to be stricter data protection laws and penalties in place so that one cannot easily give consumer data to anyone.

Bureaucratic procedures

We need to be able to create companies in a day and also close them down in a day. Startups face a tough task getting incorporated, trade licenses, VAT registration, and bank accounts due to the number of steps. It is also very difficult for a startup to rent a commercial property in order to get a trade license and other necessary documentation to open the company.


We believe that everyone needs to operate with the same rules. In the startup world, it is best to let the customers choose the winner. This will drive the industry to attain better results and improve standards of the businesses to keep up. Consumers will also adopt technology startups at a faster rate if they experience better quality.

International companies that spend outside the country of origin have parent brands with global spending contracts. A local company faces restrictions when sending money abroad for advertisements, where as these foreign companies can spend straight from their foreign accounts, which are faster and easier to deploy.

We are proposing a few suggestions that we have also earlier shared with stakeholders, as we believe it may help accelerate the growth of the ecosystem.

Tax incentives

From the seed round to different fundraising rounds till exit or initial public offering, raising capital is not easy. The market hasn’t matured enough to attract mainstream international investors, as deal flow is still limited and growing. Although alternative vehicle policies are being created to attract mainstream investors, we need to grow our local angel investor scene with policy incentives by giving tax credits. We propose tax incentives to encourage investors to risk their money in startups. Since access to startup funding is an issue, tax incentive to encourage people with a considerable appetite for risk can be a good alternative for the local market. This will help to fund more early/seed stages startups by increasing deal flow for the entire ecosystem.

Matching government grant to funds raised by startups

The Singaporean government has launched initiatives like the Business Angels Scheme (BAS), which matches any investment up to SGD 2 million (USD 1.32 million) that a startup raises from a business angel investor through its investment arm Spring Seeds Capital Pte Ltd. Bangladesh government has similar grants for technology companies, like the Innovation Fund, but it is not really promoted among the community. This fund could be easily be used to match the fund raised by local startups to provide financial backing that the startups require so desperately.

Regional connectivity

India, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Philippines have a growing startup community. Privately, a lot of local startups are connecting regionally, but we need to connect from the government level as well. These markets have policy frameworks that we can use and best practices that we can implement. We need to bridge the stakeholders from the regional startup community for idea sharing to better support the ecosystem. The government can also provide subsidies to the startups to participate in regional tech events.

Bridge the academia with entrepreneurship

Many entrepreneurs in Bangladesh have started up by necessity or taken risk with a leap of faith to earn more. Though many have gone through a formal education system, there is a vast number who haven’t been able to for various reasons and lack of access to quality education. Knowledge is the key to any economy moving towards an advanced society. Therefore vocational training to provide basic knowledge to startup entrepreneurs is a necessary step to build solid companies based on fundamentals.

The mindset of young founders needs to change when they are learning at schools and universities. Government education policies need to align with their vision of Digital Bangladesh so that there is a pipeline for talent in the private sector. It’s a long-term process, but in the short-term there has to be a way to make the education system more relevant for the ICT sector. One way the government can encourage students to get more relevant job experience in early stages is by subsidising paid internship programmes in tech companies. This way, both students and tech companies benefit from developing talent that is prepared for the future.

Contribution from the most important stakeholders

The telcos, payment providers, logistics services, service companies, and the government (ICT Ministry) should support local startups in the next five years to obtain decent valuation. These five parties are integral parts in making the machine move in the right direction. The telcos need to make data service cheaper; payment providers need to make online payment secured and seamless; logistics services need to be reliable and designed to support the cash-on-delivery system, which is a dominant payment solution in South East Asia; service companies need to start solving real problems that are affecting the bottom of the pyramid; and the ICT Ministry needs to work with all the parties so that real change can take place.

Mustafizur R Khan is CEO of SD ASIA, and Fayaz Taher is CFO of SD ASIA.

Full story: The Daily Star




Nirvana Inn Hotel Review (Sylhet City, Bangladesh)

21 02 2017

Nirvana Inn Hotel Review (Mirza Jangal Road, Ramer Digher Par, Sylhet City 3100, Bangladesh)

Our rooms were on the 5th floor, we had two rooms; Double Family Suite (with two double beds) and Royal Suite (with two double beds).


New gym

Located in Sylhet City

Staff generally friendly

Breakfast from 0730-1030, staff allowed us to stay longer if we arrived late

Flexible payment options

Negatives (things they can improve on)

Opening time for the gym could be 0600 instead of 0730/0800

Music and loud noise from hotel events and outside events can be heard throughout the night! They need to soundproof windows and other parts of the hotel

Reception and house keeping staff, some requests did have to be requested a couple of times for it to be actioned

Guests staying longer than 2 days need different choices for breakfast

All rooms to have security safe

Fix leaking shower fixture

Give guests quality FRESH water bottles and NOT Mum branded water, we’ve found FRESH drinking water brand to be the best so far.

Internet (Wifi) connection is slow and not reliable

Allow food from outside to be eaten inside the hotel, only one restaurant at this hotel

The bathrooms could be cleaner including the toilet and shower area near the swimming pool.

Would we stay here again? Only come back to use the gym if their opening time were extended and the price was right.

More reviews on TripAdvisor.

Comment below your experience if you’ve stayed at this hotel…

Sylhet Da’wah Team

7 09 2014

A team of volunteers working for the sake of Allah (swt) in Sylhet, Bangladesh.

Like and invite your friends: Sylhet Dawah Team

Follow: Twitter.com/SylhetDT



Sylhet Airport to finally get refuelling station

30 07 2014

Sixteen years after the Sylhet airport was declared international in 1998, the airport will finally have refuelling facilities for aircraft.
The authorities concerned are hopeful that aeroplanes can be refuelled in Sylhet by August.
The refuelling station in Sylhet will be complete once South African company Encon Engineering Projects (Pvt) Ltd, which is implementing the project, gives the finishing touches to the storage tanks, said officials of Bangladesh Petroleum Company, superviser of the project.

Full story: The Daily Star

Auto-refuelling at Sylhet International Airport

17 11 2013

The third station is being constructed at Sylhet International Airport, and is expected to be opened by March 2014.

Full story: The Financial Express

Review of e-Sylhet.net in 2012

8 02 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 11 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Update: Refueling Facilities at Sylhet Osmani International Airport

8 04 2012

Work on the refuelling facilities of Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) here will start soon as the authorities recently got possession of the allotted land from the Bangladesh Railway.

Aimed at supplying jet fuel to aircrafts at the MAG Osmani International Airport, the project had been facing stalemate for the last 4 years due to inaction of departments concerned, especially the BR and Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB), sources alleged.

Full story: The Daily Star

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BANGLADESH: Sylhet ill-prepared for quakes

24 02 2012

Sylhet is ill-prepared for earthquakes due to lack of awareness and unplanned urbanization, say experts.

“Total disregard for the national building code by the builders has left Dhaka extremely susceptible,” said earthquake expert and civil engineer Mehedi Ahmed Ansary, from Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET).

Full story: IRIN News

High AIDS infections in Sylhet

21 09 2011

Grave concern has been expressed over increasing number of HIV-positive persons in the Sylhet division.

Sylhet is in the second position among the country’s divisions that are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS while Dhaka tops the chart.

A total of 396 HIV-positive persons have so far been detected in the division and 182 have died.

Full story: New Age

No Sylhet Development Authority yet

9 07 2011

The process to establish the Sylhet Development Authority has so far achieved a little progress after the cabinet reached the decision to form it in 2006.

The delay has disrupted the overall development of the city, observed many of its dwellers.

The absence of SDA delayed the finalisation of the master plan, said the Sylhet City Corporation officials.

Full story: New Age