What does a tech icon do after working for five years in the Microsoft, one of the leading multinationals in the world?
When that person is dynamic Sonia Bashir Kabir, she doubles her energy, takes on multiple ventures and becomes the Founder, Chairman and CEO of SBK Tech Ventures (a tech investment company) and SBK Foundation (a non-profit entity that empowers rural communities with technology).
Sonia is also Vice-President and Co-Founder of DMoney Bangladesh Limited (fin tech). Along with other start-ups, she co-founded Syntec (health tech), Uqeel (legal tech) and Dokkho (edu tech).
The conversation with The Business Standard began with her experience in Microsoft where she worked until she stepped down in May 2019.
"I am very grateful for my time in Microsoft. It was a humbling experience. [I] got to work with leading global minds, was exposed to cutting edge technology and learned a new kind of leadership stemming from empathy and humility", she said.
On leaving Microsoft, she said, "I wanted to take up new challenges and felt propelled to do something different –to focus on how needs of 50 percent of the global population, which does not have connectivity, can be met. I also wanted to give a lot of attention to Bangladesh's tech sector. With one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with all the stars aligned, Bangladesh is going to be a rock star! I want to be part of that journey."
While in Microsoft, she came up with the concept of Tech Hubs. Tech Hubs is an initiative of the SBK Foundation. A tech hub is a physical space in rural areas with basic tech equipment given as a grant to foster technology education and its use. The goal of Tech Hubs is to empower rural communities with technology.
Sonia partnered with Young Bangla and established Tech Hubs in sixty-four districts of Bangladesh, with all the Tech Hubs being live now.
The tech expert said, "I dream of establishing 100,000 Tech Hubs – in all the villages in our country. I want to provide 'assisted technology' through community youth leaders to rural residents so that anyone can have access to the internet and technology – be it for an online medical or legal service, online shopping or e-learning."
With her skills and deep knowledge about start-ups, Sonia Bashir is one of the most sought-after angel investors in the country.
What is the future of tech start-ups in the country in her opinion?
"My message to all entrepreneurs is: be the shark, not the dolphin, be silent yet fierce. Visibility is for entertainers, not hard-core performers. Learn as much as you can and push the limits. Your numbers matter a lot, so does your math, and know what you are getting yourself into," she said.
Sonia was then asked why some start-ups fail when they can no longer 'fund' their project.
"Bangladesh has a population of 160 million, approximately, and it is vital for start-ups to find addressable markets. Unless they do so, it will be tough for them to survive," she replied.
"The fact is that investors care about Return on Investment (ROI). The competition is global and fierce. Start-ups must have a clear monetisation strategy. Gone are the days of start-ups getting funded based on a huge customer base with no revenue. The beauty is that our population is our strength. If a start-up can serve even 10 percent of our population with success, they are a winner hands down."
Overall, Sonia Bashir Kabir is very positive about the future of start-ups in Bangladesh but she also cautions against everyone aspiring to be an entrepreneur as success will belong to a few only and not all.
"My deep desire is to work with our youths for digital development in rural areas of Bangladesh", the expert smiled.