There are many kinds of offices. They can, however, be pigeonholed into two broad categories: boring and inspiring. Shuru falls into the latter category. It is also one of the few co-working spaces that sprang up in Dhaka over the past few years. On the evening of February 7, the Shuru office was buzzing with the chattering of many different professionals and entrepreneurs, who were greeted by an animated Junaid Rahman, a co-founder of Shuru Campus Ltd. But the people coming in the office on the 8th floor of Wakil Tower in Gulshan, were not there for work.
Dubbed 'Shuru Meets', the meeting was the first event of a series of similar programs to be held quarterly by Shuru. The event was meant to provide entrepreneurs an opportunity to meet each other and network. The meet was centred around a discussion between two guests invited by Shuru: Reza Ul Kabir of Jolpi Electronics Ltd and Rafiq Ahmed of Dipalo Ventures.
A conversation between investor and entrepreneur
Reza Ul Kabir, whose startup company Jolpi introduced an innovative tech based product and landed a partnership deal with the Grameenphone Accelerator program, spoke about how he never stopped even when obstructed by meagre personal funding. "We walked around in the Dhaka streets to find appropriate materials for the casing," he described, what was a small part of his long endevour to build the product and make it marketable. Kabir's product, called 'Sniffer', can detect gas leaks and sounds an alarm, giving users adequate time to stop the leak. According to the gas transmission authority Titas' figures, at least 3,819 gas leak-related accidents occurred in 2013-14, followed by a dreadful increase of such accidents to 5,123 in 2014-15.
Even though Jolpi struggled to gather necessary funding for appropriate research and development for 'Sniffer', Kabir, the CEO of Jolpi, ploughed through. "Never stop because you don't have funding," he advised the entrepreneurs present at the event. But that is not to say funding isn't important or necessary. And that is why angel investment firms like Dipalo Venture is so important, of which the other speaker at the event Rafiq Ahmed is the managing director. A startup advisory, product development and angel investment firm based out of Chicago in the US, Dipalo Ventures help startups improve their business pitch, accelerate operations, and develop new software products and services. It also makes angel investment in early stage technology companies.
Dipalo made a small investment in Jolpi, after Rafiq Ahmed met Reza Ul Kabir at a startup pitch event. By that time Jolpi had already been shortlisted by Grameenphone Accelerator. One of the reasons Ahmed became particularly interested to get involved is that he focuses on IoT or Internet of Things and he felt that Jolpi is a good IoT solution to a large problem in the local market.
While the Jolpi CEO encouraged fellow entrepreneurs to look for smart investors and capitalising on unique local elements in designing and scaling their businesses, as he did with 'Sniffer' by using wooden casings and focusing on solving a problem that affects lives of the masses, Rafiq Ahmed wanted to share some of what he looks for in an investment as well as how some investments happen very quickly while others may take a while to sort out. "Its also important for those of us wanting to make angel investments to have relatively longer-term horizons. Getting annual dividends and wanting an exit in two years doesn’t usually work in the startup world," the Dipalo managing director said.
Stressing on the importance of fostering a co-working culture, Rafiq Ahmed said that it helps create a community where like-minded people can help each other. "There are over 130 co-working spaces in Chicago, I work out of one. There is only a handful in Dhaka, such as Shuru Campus. They reduce the cost of office space as well offer an immediate community of like-minded people often facing the same issues," Ahmed said.
Even though they have gained some traction recently the concept of co-working space is still relatively unknown in Bangladesh. "There are many who do not know. Furthermore, out of the ones that do know a lot of entrepreneurs are not aware of the massive benefits that a co-working space like Shuru can give them," said Junaid Rahman, co-founder of Shuru.
Rahman, Sazal Hazra and Zayd Almer Khan founded Shuru in October last year. Currently providing space and a variety of services to more than 10 companies, Shuru's working area is equipped wifi, projector TV, meeting rooms, lockers, silent rooms, cafe and relaxation area - all of which stunningly shaped into an ergonomic and cozy working environment by Chinton Architects Ltd. Even though only four months into its journey, Shuru has plans to open more locations. "But our real goal is to be the initial stepping stone for small businesses or entrepreneurs. In five years, I hope that whenever a young entrepreneur decides to start a business, the first thought in his mind takes him to Shuru to start his journey," he said.