Jerry Nicholson is an 'angel investor' from London working in Dhaka. Angel investors are individuals who provide startup businesses with capital to help them grow. Nicholson first came here around 2005, after having read a book by Dr. Muhammed Yunus on Microfinance. Impressed with the latter's work, he and his wife, Fiona flew here to see how organizations like Grameen Bank and the Association for Social Advancement (ASA) were implementing microfinance in Bangladesh. They would come back to Bangladesh later with a new vision to empower middle size businesses, and thus OPEN Accelerator was born. Nicholson is now the Managing Director of an organization called Tindercapital Bangladesh Ltd and the project director behind the OPEN Accelerator.
OPEN is designed to give efficient, enterprising rural Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) access to the resources they need in order to grow. They focus on entrepreneurs who practice ethical business and who benefit their locality. Most of them are from poorer areas of Bangladesh.
According to BBS, there were about 78,300 SMEs operating in Bangladesh in 2003, in which roughly 3.5 million workers were employed. SME's play a vital role in economic growth and improving the nation's GDP. The numbers have gone up and are still increasing. More and more people are starting businesses of their own in an ever competitive local market. But there are many obstacles along the way.
One of the major constraints faced by entrepreneurs is access to funding and the necessary connections to get their business off the ground. There are many who lack education, training and expertise to make the most out of a business (or even start the business). In some poorer areas in our country, a lot of the entrepreneurs do not have access to proper infrastructure.
This is where Business Accelerators come in. They exist to help a fledgling business grow faster. Accelerators are often led by angel investors, and government-private coalitions. They provide funding, training, strategic services, or even connections with prospective investors.
The OPEN Accelerator is a joint venture of organizations acting as incubators (accelerators). The programme brings entrepreneurs together and puts them through a four-day training camp programme. It is a network with different partners involved. Tindercapital, Drik, Team Engine, VIPB (Venture Investment Partners Bangladesh. EnviSArc, Challenges Worldwide and Monsoon Leadership Development are currently the major partners.
Israt Jahan Deepa, a businesswoman from Mymensingh is one of the entrepreneurs who have benefitted from this programme. Her business employs local women who produce hand-made soap and recycle old saris into ornamental items. Her business employs around forty five women who previously had no other means to earn a living. Now they are the sole earning members in their respective families. OPEN Accelerator has taught Deepa how to conduct her business more ethically and efficiently as well as brought her in touch with other entrepreneurs as well as investors.
One of the OPEN's partners as well as trainers, Samira Zuberi Himeka is a successful local entrepreneur. Her company, Team Engine OCR along with Drik RVJN and VIPB helps scout and find entrepreneurs for the programme. Himieka is involved as a trainer and is available for mentoring entrepreneurs.
“Our national economy is progressing in a good direction.” She says “Regardless, Bangladesh needs more successful local entrepreneurs. We want to help move these SME's from being just SME's to ME's (medium businesses) and from ME's to big successful companies.”
“We received about 150 applications from all over Bangladesh this year; the entrepreneurs are of different backgrounds and education levels” says Shiprah Kleijer Simon, Tindercapital's researcher from Netherlands. “After our selection process, we invited the best suitable 20 entrepreneurs into Training Camp. It is important that entrepreneurs have a clear vision for growth and have ideas on how to create social and environmental impact.”
“We are trying to build a platform for entrepreneurs so that in the future, they know where to go for any type of support needed to carry out their growth plans,” says Saiful Islam, a consultant from Tindercapital.
“OPEN is much more than just providing a network and training for entrepreneurs,” says Saiful. “With OPEN we want to tell a story, the story of entrepreneurship. Together we can avail extraordinary impact and celebrate the outcome.”
To find out more about the Open Accelerator, go to www.open-accelerator.org.