StartUp in Bangladesh

Ovick Alam: BridgeWee

Editor’s Note: BridgeWee is a StartUp which assists English medium students to access public universities in Bangladesh. They are doing amazing works to open the doors of opportunity to English medium students. Ovick Alam, Founder and CEO of BridgeWee, has been working tirelessly to give access public university education to English medium students.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Ovick Alam recently to gain insights about his ideas, current works and projects to bring positive changes in Bangladesh which is given below.

Niaz: What did bring about your interest in the Entrepreneurship theme?

Ovick: I have always wanted to make a difference to the society and entrepreneurship is a great way to create positive change and leave your mark. In developing countries like Bangladesh, you can find many problems and problems like opportunities for entrepreneurs. Being a student of country’s premier business school gave me confidence about entrepreneurship. When I was preparing for the fiercely competitive admission test of the public universities in Bangladesh, I faced many difficulties due to lack of guidance and proper support. Moreover, as I came from an English medium background, I found the process especially difficult. The admission process was different, but it was not clearly communicated and transparent. There was no preparation center to help English mediums students. More than 30,000 candidates fought for only 930 seats in the business school, so it was quite competitive! My struggle during this time inspired me to bridge this profound, yet ignored gap in the education sector of Bangladesh.

I think entrepreneurship is about developing innovative model to solve society’s problems sustainably and profitably. It is about really understanding the deeply rooted problems of the society and devising idea to solve that problem. It is not all about profits, it’s more about a meaningful contribution to the society. If the contribution is substantial, the society will reward you with profits and high brand equity. Successful organizations really make a difference to their community through their actions. They create a place in peoples’ hearts and minds through good work. In Bangladesh, businesses have a very narrow focus on financial returns. They miss out the broader picture of positioning powerful brands in consumers’ minds and use a holistic approach to business by acting as a responsible citizen. I want to see this change take place in Bangladeshi business culture.

Niaz: Please provide details of the actions you have taken that portray your passion and interest for the Entrepreneurship theme. What did make you decide to be actively involved in this theme?

Ovick: The fact that there was no one to help English medium students prepare for public university’s admission tests in Bangladesh. It gave me an opportunity to form an organization and help them out. I think it is very important for a country to make its public universities accessible to all segments of the society. It can help to bring all the different kinds of people with the different backgrounds under one platform and bridge the gap between them. There are a lot of differences and a huge gap between different mediums of education in Bangladesh. I was inspired to close this gap and help them understand each other and grow collectively. For that to happen, studying together in the best public university of the country would be a big step. I was also, motivated to help English medium students in taking preparation for the public university admission tests because they preferred going abroad as there are no other good educational institutions in Bangladesh.

Therefore, I started an organization called BridgeWee – which prepares English medium students for the public university admission tests of Bangladesh.

Niaz: Have you taken any sort of initiative (e.g. campaigns, fundraising, raising awareness of issues, starting a company, etc) related to this theme? Where did you get your inspiration to start the initiative?

Ovick: I have undertaken marketing campaign on campus and through Facebook. I went to different schools and gave small presentation about the idea that English medium students can also access country’s best universities like The University of Dhaka. I went to many coaching centers and talked to their teacher who taught senior students and tried to spread the words. I spent many hours explaining the complicated process of the admission procedure. I found that many people were interested, but did not have any guidance before I met them. This motivated me even more.  I used the social networking site Facebook to reach many students whom I could not reach physically. It really helped the flow of communication, both ways. Apart from that, I had to raise the money for my initial investment (which was very small). I did that through digging into some of my savings and then borrowing some money from friends.

Niaz: What’s the current status of the initiative you’ve taken?

Ovick: In 2009 BridgeWee started its journey as a pilot project in the Faculty of Business Studies in The University of Dhaka.

In 2009 – We prepared 6 English medium students for The University of Dhaka’s C-Unit admission test and 2 of them were successful. Our acceptance rate was 33.33%, whereas C-Unit’s acceptance rate was 3.5%.

In 2010 – We prepared 12 English medium students for The University of Dhaka’s admission test and 7 of them were successful. Our acceptance rate was 58.33%, whereas C-Unit’s acceptance rate was 2.88%.

As a part of expansion with an objective to accommodate more students, we have moved to a new place out of my home; it is a rented place in Mohammadpur, Dhaka. This is the first step towards bridging the gap in our education system; a unified one with equal access for all. BridgeWee allows the country’s jewels to congregate in one platform, interact and learn to serve the country – thus reducing brain drain from Bangladesh and taking the student community one-step closer to achieving greater concord.

Niaz:   What are the current problems you’re facing in carrying out this initiative? What measures are you taking to try to overcome them?

Ovick: Most start-ups face the same problem in Bangladesh – funding. BridgeWee had the same problem. When it started, I arranged classes in a room in my home. From then onwards it grew. This year due to higher demand, we have rented a new and bigger space in Dhaka. However, funds for investment and expansion are extremely difficult to get. Local banks do not support these small ventures and there is no way to get a loan on against your ideas in Bangladesh. Getting a place in the capital city is difficulty and expensive. However, BridgeWee managed some money to finance its expansion, mainly form previous two years’ profits and with the help of loans from relatives.

Another difficult task was to bring about an adaptive change in the minds of English medium students. Many students from this segment think they do not belong to this country and that public universities discriminated against them. Therefore, they want to settle abroad from a young age. They are also very frustrated because they do not have the same access as the mainstream students do. I had to work very hard to bring about this adaptive change in students, their parents and among the teachers and administration of English medium schools.

Niaz: How has your proactive involvement changed your views about this theme? What have you learnt from the actions you’ve taken? What are your insights on Entrepreneurship?

Ovick: I have been proactive about this issue and taken an initiative at the right time. Moreover, I did not start big because the time was not ripe; I mean the market was not big enough in 2009. Today I can say that I have been successful in changing the mind-set of many English medium students and there is a solid demand for Bridgewee’s service to satisfy them profitably. I had to do a lot of research to develop the materials and develop the curriculum. This knowledge or intellectual property is not available to others and this fact has helped me to create a blue ocean with no competitors in the market. I believe early bird catches the warm. That is what I tried to do. For any leader or entrepreneur, it is very important sense shifts in social needs and understands the dynamics of the change very well. A good understanding of the society is the first step to bring about any change.

My experience with BridgeWee has taught me that one has to be very proactive and hard working to bring about the desired change in the society. It is also important to get help form people. Whatever little I have achieved is due to invaluable help form some people who has always guided me and supported my initiative. Moreover, you need to form partnerships with various individuals and/or organizations – which will be mutually beneficial for both of them. At the same time, you have to shrug-off the pessimistic judgments that others will make about your work or its potentiality. To be an entrepreneur, you have to believe in what you do. For me, I believe that BridgeWee is making a difference to the society and it is very fulfilling and inspiring for any entrepreneur. If you can really create an impact, rewards will follow. However, it is not easy to work against uncertainty, especially when you have invested a lot of time and money on something.

Another important learning from my work is that ‘Patience is a virtue’. Sometimes you try very hard and yet nothing happens, then all of a sudden, everything falls into place. However, if you give up during the bad patches, then you will not be there to enjoy the harvest of your hard labor. William Feather framed it precisely “Success is a matter of hanging on when others have let go”.

Niaz: What do you think of your peers are thinking about this theme?

Ovick: I am a third-year student in a business school in a third world country with very low per capita income. Moreover, I do not belong to some of the few rich, lucky families. Therefore, life is very difficult. I have to ensure that I contribute to the family and study at the same time. Most of the profits from BridgeWee goes to finance everyday expenditures of our family and financing my younger sister’s education. With this situation, it is very difficult for any person to be an entrepreneur because you don’t get money to invest. However, BridgeWee is a kind of initiative that requires little investment. However, as we(My peers and I) look to the future, it is extremely difficult for us to deal with the uncertainty associated with business. Most of my peers advise me to try to get a good job after my under-graduation next year. That is a much more safe option; you get a decent amount of money coming in every month. You do not need to deal with uncertainty and you a lead a decent life.

Although few in numbers, there are some friends who want to become entrepreneurs; but they suffer from harsh realities. Most of them come from a humble background like that of mine. They have great ideas and are very bright with excellent education in country’s premier business school. However, in Bangladesh you will see hardly see a young person getting loans for investment if they do not have a rich background. This fact has kept our country small, the gap between rich and poor is stretching everyday and most of the educated people are passive observers of the situation as they are not powerful.

 Niaz: Thank you so much Ovick for your time. And all the best wishes for BridgeWee as well as for your all of your upcoming endeavors.

Ovick: Thank you too!

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

1. Stephen Walt on Global Development

2. Joseph Nye on Global Politics

3. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

4. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

5. Jillian C. York on Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits

6. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

7. Shaba Binte Amin on Poverty Fighter Foundation