The stress of starting a startup: ‘Funding remains the biggest challenge’

For startups in Bangladesh, the biggest challenge is one — funds, according to Md Humayun Kabir, the inventor of Laaibah Ruti Maker.

In an exclusive interview with UNB, Kabir said that all startup founders may not be looking for investors or loans to help get their businesses off the ground, but those who do know how difficult it’s to get support from the government or private funding organisations.

“Take my case. After I invented Laaibah Ruti Maker, I ran from pillar to post to get a loan to start production — from Grameen Bank to Sonali Bank to Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC). But none supported me financially,” he said.

“Government officials just don’t care about small-scale entrepreneurs who don’t have backing of politicians or senior bureaucrats. On the other hand, NGOs are reluctant to support startups during the nascent stage,” the CEO of Laaibah Ruti Maker Factory said.

Recalling his interactions with various ministry officials during his initial days, Kabir said that he had to make multiple rounds just to get appointments with senior mandarins — “forget the basic courtesies, some of them never showed”.

Wherever there’s a little chance of obtaining government financing, bureaucracy’s red tape throws hurdles. “I had met the chairman of BSCIC. He had agreed to give me a loan of Tk2 lakh, but the complex process compelled me to decline the loan offer,” he said.

“Thousands of youths are looking for financial support to launch startups. I request the government to set up a particular financial institution to give funding to SMEs and give due respect to ‘inventors’,” Kabir said.

First bread maker made of wood

Kabir claimed his wooden Ruti Maker is the first such invention in this country. “Although there are many electrical, robotic and industrial ruti makers in the world, my invention was for making boiled bread for the first time,” he said.

However, he claimed to have lost around Tk30 lakh in the business. “I started the business with Tk4,000 in Bunagati village of Magura district. I thought about the invention of the machine long years ago, but began production in 2011,” the inventor said.

From local to global market

Kabir began selling his products on Dhaka’s footpaths. And hard work and diligence paid off. “Later, I took an office in Rayerbazar on rent after getting Tk1 lakh from a private investor on profit-sharing mode,” he said.

“Now, many people work in my factory. Alongside male workers, around 25 women are on my payroll. We prefer female workers. Their numbers will be increased soon,” Kabir said.

His company also receives orders from abroad on “Our products are available in online stores too like DARAZ and Evaly. Now, Laaibah Ruti Maker is sold in around 28 countries, including the UK, the US, Australia and Canada,” Kabir said.

He sells three models of the machine, the prices of which vary between Tk2000 and Tk3500, depending on quality.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has asked private banks to be more sincere in providing loans at low interest rates to help small businesses tide over the Covid-induced economic slowdown. “So her directions must be followed to revive the rural economy,” Kabir said.

“Actually, the success of a business depends on the entrepreneur’s initiative. So, youths should take the right initiatives and pin hope on hard work for success. I also want to play a significant role in employment generation.

“Ruti maker is an essential product in every household. So there is a potential market in rural Bangladesh too. We want to tap this local market. All that is needed is a little government support,” Kabir said.

Source: United News of Bangladesh