BD team brings award from global capital venture contest

Sayeedur Rahman | Published: May 30, 2019 00:32:12 | Updated: June 10, 2019 13:57:06

Team Prothoma from Bangladesh University of Professionals — (from left) Mahedi Hasan Omi, Nafisa Hasan, Sumaiya Alam and Zarif Tazwar

Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures Competition of  Texas Christian University (TCU) is a competition that invites entrepreneurs to pitch ideas for conscious capital ventures that make a profit while solving a problem. The  competition was organised by TCU Neeley School of Business, which is one of the world's biggest platforms for raising angel fund and venture capital (VC) fund.

This year, two teams from Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP) have obtained glory--one in the United Kingdom in Unilever Future Leader’s League and another in Shanghai in Hult Prize. Recently, another team from the same university was selected as the finalists of TCU's Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures Competition and got the opportunity to represent Bangladesh in front of the top American business experts in Texas, USA. Among the top universities from all over the world, they acquired the Honourable Mention award. The competition was organised by TCU Neeley School of Business, which is one of the world's biggest platforms for raising angel fund and VC fund.

There were more than 56 teams. Young entrepreneurs were selected through a process. Team Prothoma of BUP-- comprising  Mahedi Hasan Omi,  Kazi Nafisa Hasan, Sumaiya Alam and Zarif Tazwar-- was the only team that was chosen from Bangladesh.

Sayeedur Rahman interviewed the members of Bangladesh team to learn about their experience.

Question (Q): Can you briefly discuss your idea and product? How do you think your idea will influence in our country and other countries globally?

Zarif Tazwar: We proposed to produce an antimicrobial, reusable sanitary napkin to address the basic menstrual hygiene needs of working women in the reproductive phase at an affordable price. To break the social stigma surrounding menstruation, we strategised to bring behavioural reform across the minds of our target customers including factory workers, cleaners, and women living in the lower socio-economic class through a stream of interactive marketing approaches capitalising excellent distribution network of a leading community service organisation. This product is aspired to provide comfortable, hygienic and affordable sanitation to the women in dire need, to promote women empowerment through facilitating increased workplace presence in Bangladesh, thereby playing a proactive role in addressing the goals 3, 5 and 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Besides, as its lasting consumption leads to less dumping of plastic waste in water bodies, it is environment-friendly.

Q: Can you tell us about the rounds of this competition?

Kazi Nafisa Hasan: This competition, which was helmed by Neeley School of Business of Texas Christian University (TCU), consisted of three rounds. It kick-started with online round calling for entrepreneurial ideas from any part of the world. This year, from over 300 applications, 56 ideas had been shortlisted and invited for a detailed presentation in the TCU. It is worth mentioning here that we were the only team from Asia to get an invitation to pitch our ideas in front of the esteemed panel of jury and investors. Pitted against each other, these 56 teams were grouped into seven flights, each accommodating eight teams. The best team from each of the seven flights went to the finals along with two other high performing teams based on the aggregate score. Simultaneously, teams that could not make it into the finals were given a coveted opportunity to compete in the elevator pitch segment. At this stage, 47 teams were classified into two groups. Relying on an engaging and intriguing pitching session, we were qualified for the grand finale of the Elevator Pitch Segment along with five other teams from two pools.

Q: Can you share the experience of the grand finale?

Mahedi Hasan Omi: The ballroom witnessed some of the innovative pitches by some of the brightest minds hailing from different parts of the world. The imposing presence of reputed investors pushed all of us to bring our game to the table. Coupled with it, the opportunity to connect with competitors guaranteed knowledge sharing in terms of ideas, markets, personal motivation, thus making the experience enriching and fulfilling.  Soon we were declared the Honourable Mention awardee; suddenly the atmosphere felt on the ballroom was surreal. It was a matter of absolute honour to lift the national flag in a foreign soil, a moment that will always bear the testimony of success. Suffice to say, we did create memories for a lifetime.

Q: What were the challenges you faced during the competition?

Sumaiya Alam: It was challenging for us to make the judges empathise with the problem we wanted to address and solve in our country yard. Probably the fact that such preconception had a lot to do with their convenient lifestyle might lead to their inability to acknowledge the severity of the problem in Bangladesh. Something that is supposed to be a necessity for women in developed countries like the USA turned out to be a nearly luxury product in Bangladesh. Such crude reality was difficult for them to visualise and ponder upon the solution of it. As a result, we had a challenging time convincing them about the rationality of the problem identified, the feasibility of the solution proposed and scalability of the business project.

Q: You took part in several other competitions. How were Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures Competition different from other mainstream competitions of our country?

Kazi Nafisa Hasan: Unlike other business competitions in Bangladesh, this competition glorifies entrepreneurial spirit among the future leaders of the world. Ideas which judges feel can be turned into reality are given due credit, importance and are put for open discussion and criticism for entities to gain essential business hacks to succeed in a risky business setting.

Q: Your team represented Bangladesh in the global stage. What are your thoughts on that, and how did you plan to prepare for it?

Zarif Tazwar: Since we were fortunate enough to represent Bangladesh in the global stage, we made it a point to leave no stone unturned while we prepared the content of final slides. Before we left for the USA, we had conducted extensive research about the demand of our product, product lifecycle, marketing channel, distributing network, finances necessary to industrialise in addition to materialising Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and selling a significant amount to different target communities for gathering valuable customer feedback.

Q: Any advice for the future participants of Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures Competition?

Mahedi Hasan Omi: You are only inches away from reaching your desired destination. Go all guns blazing and who knows you might witness your brainchild come into light in no time.

The interviewer Sayeedur Rahman is a second year student of Bangladesh University of Professionals.
He can be reached at sayed161201@gmail.com

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