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9 September, 2018 00:00 00 AM
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Space crunch for tech firms

IT firms in the capital find it difficult to afford space in commercial districts, while to run its operation in residential areas
FAISAL MAHMUD
Space crunch for tech firms

When Mushfiqur Sattik first thought of starting his own software firm, he had three weapons in his armoury—his skills and knowledge of the Java programming language, a latest model of the Lenovo Thinkpad laptop (which he had bought with his savings from a seven-month-long job at a software firm), and a spare floor covering 800 feet in his parents’ house at a sleepy corner of the capital’s Mirpur residential area.

“That floor space at my parents’ house gave me the impetus to start my own thing. In a city like Dhaka, it’s nearly impossible for a person with a job that is less than a year old to become the owner of any space. Since I had that, I thought of opening my software company.”

This was back in 2009. He transformed that 800-ft space into a software company named Pioneers Tech Inc. About a decade down the line, Pioneers Tech has not come anywhere near Google, Apple, or, for that matter, Bangladeshi software giants like Datasoft or Graphicpeople, but it has become a company of over 20 engineers and has floor space of 3,500 sq. ft of office area in the city’s commercial area of Karwanbazaar.

“If I hadn’t been able to start my company in our residential house back then, I wouldn’t have been able to come this far,” said Sattik.

Atiul Ehsan, CEO of Boomerang Software, agrees with Sattik. “Starting a software company requires ideas and determination and, of course, laptops. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require space.”

Ehsan said as most of the tech start-ups start with a severe funds crunch, it hasn’t always become possible to rent a space in the expensive commercial district of the town. “So we look for apartments in the residential quarter, which are less expensive.”

“Hence, if any restriction is imposed by the government on renting out office space in the residential district, it will definitely hamper the growth of the software industry in the country,” he pointed out.

 

RAJUK drives

Rajdhani Unnayan Kortripokkho (RAJUK) has been conducting drives since September last year against the commercial establishments in the residential area. After the drive started, a good number of software companies was forced to shut down their office operations. Those which had the capacities to shift their offices to commercial locations have done so.

“I know of a company that has been running its operations for nine years from a residential area in Uttara. Rajuk has shut it down,” said Md Shafiul Alam, CEO of Blancer. “He couldn’t even take away the computers from his office. He has been trying to get those back through the court over the past month.”

Alam pointed out that 70 to 80 per cent of the software companies are running their operations in the residential district. Interestingly, said Alam, though over 95 per cent member companies of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) are registered in Dhaka, yet the leadership never thought of opening a software IT park in the capital.

He said the government has spent over Tk. 1,796.40 crore to establish 12 IT parks in the 12 different districts outside Dhaka. “I sincerely thank the government for this initiative. But the problem is that inside the capital Dhaka, where most of the software firms are located as of now, there is only space for 15 companies inside the software technology park in the Janata Tower.”

Alam said he has asked the leadership of BASIS to place the demand of the software companies before the government’s policymakers to ensure that the right decision is taken. “I also urge the government to allow IT companies to establish their offices inside the residential areas for the time being.”

Tanim Shahnewaz, a renowned freelancer, lauded the government’s initiative of casting its net further afield into Bangladesh’s hinterland. Historically, Bangladesh’s non-metros and small towns have been a poor place to do business—much less try to seed and catalyse the growth of start-ups—but things have slowly begun to change.

He, however, agreed that the software companies in Dhaka should be given more space to do business. “Software companies are not like other companies. If you look at the Silicon Valley in the US, you will see that large names like Google, Apple or Microsoft all had very humble beginnings and they all started inside garages in the residential areas. The point I am trying to make here is that if those companies weren’t allowed to flourish, then we wouldn’t have ground-breaking technologies today.”

 

BASIS stand

BASIS president Syed Almas Kabir said, “Around 95 per cent of IT firms operate their businesses from Dhaka. Software companies manage to create a business-friendly environment in residential areas because these kinds of companies need fast-speed internet, uninterrupted electricity connections and a quiet location. In addition, the infrastructures necessary for IT companies do not have any adverse effect on the environment.”

Hence, to create young entrepreneurs and professionals in this potential sector, there is no alternative to setting up businesses at home or operating the business in residential areas everywhere, including Dhaka city, said Kabir.

“IT and software companies cannot afford to rent space in commercial areas at the beginning. The government has taken the initiative to set up Software Technology Parks around the country. Such a park, however, is yet to grow up in Dhaka.”

“You already know that RAJUK has decided to evict illegal business firms from Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara, Dhanmondi, Mirpur and Uttara, with businesses being shifted from residential areas to commercial locations,” he said, “To put a cap on this, a representative group from BASIS, led by its ex-president and current ICT minister Mustafa Jabbar, met with the then RAJUK chairman M Bazlul Karim on August 16, 2016 as well as the housing and public works minister engineer Mosarraf Hossain on August 21, 2016.”

At that time, the public works minister and RAJUK’s chairman gave their assurances that they would relax their decision to shift IT companies from residential to commercial areas. “Nevertheless, businesses are being shut down without any prior notice,” he added.

Recently, several officials led by a magistrate visited a BASIS member company called Solution Nine Limited at Uttara and shut down its office. The company had been operating at this location for many years.

Referring to the shutdown, Kabir said, “These shutdowns without any prior notice not only put these firms in harm’s way but also obstruct the activities to build a Digital Bangladesh. Another IT firm in Uttara was shut down for the same reason. We feel these activities are not beneficial for the IT sector of this country and go against the government’s digitalisation campaign.”

BASIS senior vice-president Farhana A Rahman said, “There is a difference in time zones with various countries in Europe, Japan and America. The office needs to be open for 24 hours if you have to work in their time. Most of the people employed in this sector work in a quiet environment with hardly any commotion from outsiders. Hence, residential or non-commercial areas are good for them.”

Another reason why IT companies operate in residential areas is that such companies need to work late at light. Otherwise, they cannot match Japan’s time, or Europe’s. The location, therefore, must be flexible for IT companies. It is not the case that such companies cause disturbances in residential areas. These companies do not employ numerous people. Also, they work in calm environments. And these companies start on a small scale.

Those who work outside can conduct meetings from home at 2am. So there are some problems if it is in an office in a commercial district. Though neighbours may complain, if the office and the staff are small enough, there should not be any problems for the locality.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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