Welcoming the New Year, the country's first university campus-based business incubator is set to begin its journey at Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology (CUET) in the last week of January.
Named Sheikh Kamal IT Business Incubator, in memory of Sheikh Kamal, the eldest son of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the incubator will provide 250 entrepreneurs, freelancers and potential startups with financial and logistical services, alongside mentorships.
Most of those who have applied for the opportunity so far are students, especially fourth-year and master's students from CUET and other universities in Chattogram, who do a lot of projects and theses, said Professor Dr M Moshiul Hoque, dean, Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and director of the incubator.
If a project in the incubator does not take off, steps will be taken to help students gain job placements, while nurturing the creativity of the youth and utilising the experience they gained in the facility, he said.
Constructed on 4.7 acres on the CUET campus at a cost of Tk125 crore, this will be another feather in the cap of the Digital Bangladesh campaign, first unveiled in the election manifesto of the present government in 2008.
CUET Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Mohammad Rafiqul Alam said to The Business Standard, "The Fourth Industrial Revolution is now a reality. China and India have already made a name for themselves in the world by creating jobs by setting up business incubators. Bangladesh is now on that path too.
"The IT business incubator will be run by qualified manpower…it will open the door to endless possibilities for creative youth."
Professor Moshiul Hoque said, "Initially, we will give 20 startups a chance to work. The selection for this is going on. In the first round, we selected 250 people after evaluating 7,500 ideas. In the next step, 20 people will be selected from there; we will get those names by this month.
"Everyone selected will get financial assistance of Tk10 lakh for the implementation of their project. In addition, for the next one year, they will be able to use the incubator's lab, internet, telephone, and office for free. Besides, there are facilities to eat and stay here as well."
The director also said office space in the facility will be rented out at a very low cost.
"Companies will be able to continue their initial work by employing fresh graduates and the students will also acquire skills for the future."
He said many of these projects showed promise, but lacked proper guidance, mentoring and finances, which resulted in those not seeing the light of day. "We will give them priority. We are working on how to convert university projects into real projects and products. The Sheikh Kamal Incubator will act as the bridge," he said.
Fahim Uddin, a student of the 18th batch, said, "CUET students are always interested in new innovations in the use of information technology. But due to lack of financial support and necessary guidance, the initiatives never take off. We hope that students can get a fair assessment of their merits if we can avail facilities like the business incubator."
The projects in the incubator will be kept under "high-level monitoring", for which an expert panel will be formed.
Each project will be assigned a mentor, and as it develops the entrepreneurs will be given the opportunity to network within their chosen industry and be assisted in obtaining intellectual property.
Architecture department student Tasnia Masiat, a student of the 16th batch, said, "With Sheikh Kamal IT Incubator, we can easily work on more IT-related platforms. However, we ask the authorities to keep in mind the challenges faced by women and keep special opportunities for them."
What's in the IT Business Incubator?
Under the Sheikh Kamal IT Business Incubator project, a 10-storey incubation building comprising 50,000 square feet and two multipurpose training buildings, six-storeyed and four-storeyed, taking up 36,000 sq ft have been constructed on five acres of land.
The incubation building has a startup zone, innovation zone, industry-academic zone, brainstorming zone, an exhibition centre, an e-library zone, a data centre, research lab, video conferencing room and a conference room.
There will also be separate corners for banks and IT firms, cyber cafes, food courts, cafeterias, recreation zones, display zones and media rooms.
Additionally, the multipurpose training building boasts a state-of-the-art auditorium with a capacity of 250 people, and four computer/seminar rooms with a capacity of 50 people.
Besides, there are two separate dormitory buildings (one for women, one for men) with four floors each covering an area of 20,000 sq ft. Each dormitory has 40 rooms.
An Artificial Intelligence (AI) lab, a machine learning lab, an optical fibre backbone, a substation and a solar panel are also being set up.
"Although there are only a couple of business incubators in different parts of the country, including in Jashore-Sylhet, our project will have the most technological advantages in the country. Besides, it will be run by talented scientists and trainers from local and foreign universities," said Vice Chancellor of the University Prof Dr Mohammad Rafiqul Alam.
A business incubator is considered an effective mechanism for research innovation and entrepreneurship within academic institutions.
Considering this, in 2012 the Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority under the Ministry of Information Technology, took the initiative to set up an IT Business Incubator.
The project was approved by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the 26th meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) on June 8, 2017. The cost of the project was initially estimated at Tk82.02 cr, before increasing to Tk125 cr.
Hosne Ara Begum, managing director, Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority, said, "This is a dream project of the current government. It wants the first-of-its-kind initiative to succeed. In addition, Sheikh Kamal IT Training and Incubation Center in Chandgaon area of Chattogram city, Software Technology Park and IT Park at Singapore-Bangkok Market in Agrabad, construction of a world class IT Park at Chittagong University and construction of an "IT Business Hub" around Chattogram are also ongoing."
The business incubation centre project is being implemented by CUET in collaboration with the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology and under the supervision of the Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority.