While the pandemic forced many businesses to shut down temporarily or put an end to operations permanently, it brought about a scope for PlexusD – a health-tech startup – to explore horizons in Bangladesh's healthcare industry.
Prior to the pandemic, PlexusD had been operating as a one-stop digital platform offering healthcare services like digital appointment set-up, billing, report, medicine and follow-up reminders, etc. However, when the Covid-19 wave hit Bangladesh, PlexusD decided to sail with the wind, shifted their business model, and adapted to the new normal.
With opportunities came challenges as well. "We have the option to expand our operations now but before we engage potential customers, we want to develop solid operational strategies and organisational structure," said Nazim Mahmud, founder and CEO of PlexusD.
According to Nazim, when an idea evolves into a venture, the conversion needs to be built upon a strong specific structure, otherwise, the company cannot survive in the long run. He said, "I think start-ups like us need professional help from individuals who can guide and prepare us for the challenges that may arise in the future."
With this thought in mind, the PlexusD team recently enrolled in NSU Startups Next – an incubation programme being conducted by North South University – to help startups founded by NSU students and alumni elevate in their respective sectors.
This incubation programme was launched on June 29, 2020, with the motive of empowering promising start-ups, helping them grow, and turning them into strong pillars that hold the foundation of the startup ecosystem of Bangladesh.
Out of all the startups that had applied for the NSU Startups Next incubation programme, around 18 startups were selected for the initial screening. Among those, only eight paved their way into a 3.5 months-long apprenticeship programme.
This group of startups consists of an online marketplace - AuctionVilla, a health and wellness platform - Haami, digital marketing platform - HypeScout, career management startup - Kalke, health and wellness platform - Lilac, product reselling marketplace - ReShop, health-tech startup - PlexusD, and an ed-tech startup - Thrive EdTech.
For the cohort, this incubation programme has brought together a pool of professionals and academicians from within the faculty pool of North South University and the startup ecosystem.
Among the group of external members of the NSU Startups Next programme, Impact Advisor Farzana Kashfi believes that incubators are a great way to encourage and promote entrepreneurship.
"I think it is a fantastic way for young people to grow and engage with innovative ideas, contribute to the growth of the country and economy. The NSU did a remarkable job by launching this incubator, it was a very timely initiative," Farzana told The Business Standard.
For the next 3.5 months, this batch of startups will be coached by industry experts and educators on how to better utilise their skills and resources and deliver the maximum output. Working with leaders within the startup ecosystem will allow the startups to better acquaint themselves within Bangladesh's startup community as well.
Not only that, such an incubation allows founders to become leaders and flourish in the startup ecosystem. On this note, Farzana said, "Incubation works as a support system that connects you to other people who essentially could be on the same boat. You get to exchange experiences, have the sense of being part of something bigger than yourself."
Farzana believes that the startup community can be very challenging for a young person starting off with an idea as an entrepreneur - the struggle can be lonesome.
Motivation can dry up but, she said, "Once you are a part of an incubator where there are people who are going through the same struggle and has the motivation to bring a change in the community, it adds to the motivation, broadens the network, gets challenged, and leverages each other's strength."
She thinks incubation is really important, if we want to see more youths becoming entrepreneurs.
"Every year, graduates are entering the workforce but the lack of jobs has shown a rise in youth unemployment. Entrepreneurs, in this case, can create new jobs and bridge that gap. So I think this is why it is really important to promote entrepreneurship and incubators are great platforms for promoting entrepreneurship in a country," added Farzana.
The startups will go through the incubation programme which will help elevate their knowledge, product and improve their social connections. This three months-long incubation will not only shape the growth of the abovementioned startups, but it will also strengthen the startup community as a whole.
Nazim believes that the incubation programme will lead PlexusD to the right direction. "The NSU Startups Next programme will open doors for us where we can reach out to potential stakeholders of the ecosystem. If we can implement the things we will be learning for the next three months, we can efficiently sustain through the coming three-five years," he said.
Like Nazim, one of the external members of the NSU Startup Next's advisory committee and the Founding Partner and CEO of Anchorless Bangladesh Rahat Ahmed also thinks that this programme is a very good opportunity for students who are about to enter the corporate world.
"Through this programme, we can guide an idea to follow the right path and become a successful venture. It can be a very good opportunity for students to look up to the prospects of the startup culture," said Rahat.
Rahat believes that these startups will be able to stand out, operate efficiently, and bring about a positive impact on its surroundings.
For the next three months, this cohort will be schooled by a team of external members of the advisory committee that includes Tina Jabeen, CEO of government-owned Startup Bangladesh Limited, Anita Ghazi Rahman, founder and partner at Legal Circle, Development Practitioner Farzana Kashfi, Nirjhor Rahman, CEO of Bangladesh Angels, and Hussain M Elius, co-founder and CEO of Pathao.