BFP-B in partnership with DFS lab helping early stage companies succeed

Business Finance for the Poor in Bangladesh (BFP-B) aims to create economic opportunities for small businesses. They operate a Challenge Fund component designed to spur the private sector to create innovative solutions that increase access to finance for SMEs in Bangladesh.

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MD. Arafat Hossain, BFP-B’s Challenge Fund Manager, discussed what led BFP-B to seek a partnership with DFS Lab to fulfil this aim. “[We learned] from our previous three rounds of investment that relatively large organizations are quite bureaucratic. So, they don’t usually come up with really innovative ideas, but they have very good capacity for implementation, whereas relatively young organisations come up with potentially transformational ideas.”

A challenge the BFP-B team was running into was that these early-stage companies were approaching problem solving in a very linear process by focusing on one solution. But in order to develop a product or a service that people are willing to pay for, there needs to be a multidimensional approach. This practice was missing among the startup companies that BFP-B was engaging.

“We thought we should get some professional help to help these young entrepreneurs to think through their ideas and prepare them better for implementation. When we looked around, DFS Lab definitely came up on our radar and has a lot of experience organising these bootcamps, so we got them on board for helping us with this.”

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DFS Lab is an early-stage fintech accelerator focused on supporting entrepreneurs in emerging markets to refine, grow and launch viable and scalable products to serve the mass market. With years of experience running design sprint bootcamps for their own portfolio companies, they were the right partner to facilitate a design sprint bootcamp for BFP-B’s 11 teams of early-stage Bangladeshi entrepreneurs. The design sprint methodology that DFS Lab uses, as well as the DFS Lab team, has proven to be exceptionally valuable to BFP-B.

“We were unaware of the sprint process before this, but found it to be quite compelling for meeting the gap that we are trying to address here. I would recommend anyone who is working with startups to have this embedded into their process. The DFS Lab team was amazing. The thing I was most impressed with is the diversity of experience the team has. They have worked in so many countries, worked with so many organisations and solutions. I think that was probably the most important validation we had for the applicants.”

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Some of the experts that DFS Lab brought in from their network of over 250 mentors worldwide included a mentor from New York City-based fintech firm Venture Capital, a product designer from the biggest bank in Bangladesh, an experienced Ghanaian entrepreneur and Y Combinator alumni, and an experienced fintech founder from Indonesia.

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Mahbubur Rahman and Muhymin Chowdhury, both Deputy Challenge Fund Managers, echoed Arafat’s sentiment that the sprint process has been a valuable tool, and that the DFS Lab team and the mentors they brought in made the process and experience a meaningful investment for their Challenge Fund operation.

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The DFS Lab team was also very excited to work with BFP-B and the Bangladeshi market, particularly because the market here is very vibrant. Jake Kendall, Director at the DFS Lab, expressed that after observing the Bangladesh market he found it to be quite interesting, but sometimes the market can get frustrated and as an observer, it is difficult to comprehend why. He was quite excited by the role that BFP-B plays in bringing innovation to the market.

He stated, “Bangladesh has real potential. We are excited by the work that BFP-B does, the role it plays in supporting new innovative ideas and approaches, and solving some of the tougher challenges and bringing those solutions to market. That was exciting for us and we are glad to be associated with BFP-B.”

Entrepreneur In Residence at DFS Lab Dan Kleinbaum agreed with Jake and added, “The best part of our job is working with great entrepreneurs, and after four days, it's clear the solutions they are building have massive potential. Bangladeshi fintech is on the rise and we're excited to have the opportunity to work with these teams and BFP-B.”

Challenge FundNasifa Sultan