Soon to be launched in Dhaka, the technology-driven micro-mobility platform envisions an "integrated urban mobility across public and private modes of transport."
Simply put, it wants to introduce light electric vehicles – ones that you can both ride like bicycles or motorbikes – with an emphasis on reducing carbon footprint.
Mile has recently become one of the Top Ten startups from Springboard Programme 4.0 ofYouth Co:Lab, a project jointly led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation.
Still in the piloting phase, when Mile comes into operation, the users will get mobility services through an app. In the areas where the service will be available, you can get hold of their vehicles through the app and bike to your destination. You will be charged Tk1 per minute.
This model of transport and service, however, is not the first of its kind in Bangladesh.
Jobike – a bicycle ride-sharing startup – launched its operations with much enthusiasm in Cox's Bazar in 2018. In two years, the startup spread its wings to six other places in Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet.
But at present, all their operations are closed except for the one in Mirpur DOHS.
Jobike's Founder Mehedi Reza told The Business Standard that the closure of operations is due to the closure of educational institutions due to Covid-19 as Jobike used to operate in four different university campuses.
However, about the closure of services in places like Gulshan/Banani, he said, "Some of our bicycles need to be fixed; also we are importing new bicycles as well. Once the new bikes arrive, we will resume our services in Gulshan and Banani."
The difference between Mile and Jobike, however, lies in the vehicle they are providing.
Mile's vehicles are electric. You can paddle manually like normal cycles or you can use a booster paddle where using five paddles will get you "an output of 25 paddles," its founders told TBS in an interview.
And thirdly, you can use it as an electric motorbike.
Besides, their vehicles would cost around Tk35,000 to produce, a little more than traditional bicycles. Once fully charged, the battery will run for up to 40 km.
We asked the founders how they plan to get access to possibly a reluctant market that Jobike, despite locking funds, cannot access.
"Bangladeshis are fond of ease. If I have a chance to go to my university which is five km away, I will prefer an automatic vehicle to manual paddling. Besides, suppose you have a presentation, you don't want to get all sweaty by paddling a bicycle. So we are providing both the options (auto-biking/padding) that you can choose between as per your preference," said Kuraish, founder and CEO of Mile.
Imran, Co-founder and Chief Communication Officer, said, "There is a competitiveness in human nature. Generally, here (in Bangladesh) we lack that competitive nature (among the startups).
Our approach will be holistic. Our mission is to provide an eco-friendly convenient solution to mobility. Take Jobike or any other mobility service, our intention is to do a little better than other mobility services.
We will provide a solution to mobility that will benefit the people and the nation, and reduce carbon footprint," Imran explained.
Miles ahead for the three partners
The idea of Mile was created, as an initiative, by three friends after they had spent some time together in F-commerce businesses and mulled over the potential start-up's conceptual idea.
"F-commerce businesses are Facebook-based and they have a different workflow. By the end of 2019, we wanted Mile to acquire the environment seen in startups," said Imran.
"The idea was to introduce a technology-driven micro-mobility platform. There are many mobility platforms in Bangladesh but not many work in micro-mobility platforms.
And those who are working in micro-mobility are doing it at a pretty basic scale [such as with just bicycles]. We planned to provide an alternative solution to what we already have – and we found that no one works with electric vehicles," said Imran, reflecting on the origin story of Mile.
Since founder and CEO Kuraish had experience with electric vehicles because he studied on the subject as well as worked with electric vehicles, the business idea made more sense.
"He had academics and expertise. Shazid's (another co-founder) operational experiences and my experiences in communication also helped. Then we started to look into the logistics of social enterprise. That is how Mile was born," Imran added.
The problems Mile wants to address
"There is a lot of traffic, pollution and individuals suffering in Dhaka caused by our own actions. We wanted to tackle all of those challenges and provide a micro-mobility solution which was not only technology backed, it was app-based, it was to provide a green solution, and add to the green economy," said CEO Kuraish.
The founders said that all the developments of the prototypes are built in-house.
"From IOT, backend, front end and hardware, we are making everything through the company. Everything is quite self-sustainable within Mile. That is something we take pride in," Imran said.
"Our target is to facilitate and promote Made in Bangladesh. If we can make everything in Bangladesh, why not?" he added.
Despite all their auspicious visions, the immediate questions we asked them were why the city dwellers would ride these EVs instead of rickshaws if they seek comfort or why not bus if they seek to save money.
"Because rickshaws cost more time and money while the buses take a lot more time. Mile will give you access to service at a low price and reduce time to your destination as you can both paddle or bike it to your destination in comfort and at a speed you would like to set.
It's cheaper but gets you rid of all the hassles on the road. I think that is a good proposition," Imran replied.
Mile plans to begin service in Dhaka, to begin with, and spread across the country gradually.
"We are about to end our piloting. We are fundraising. We can start as soon as we can lock an investment," said Kuraish.
Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for Asia-Pacific countries to invest in and empower youth to accelerate implementation of the SDGs through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. The Springboard Programme of Youth Co:Lab Bangladesh is a platform for young social entrepreneurs to contribute towards achieving the SDGs through tailored mentorship and wide-ranging national and global networking opportunities.