The inspiration of my journey with technology, especially in technology based start-up, came to light in 2003, when I was nominated for US State department's 'International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP)'. I want to mention my honourable mentor Fayaz Taher first.
The IVLP awards people who show amazing leadership skills in respective fields and have potentials to lead the nation from the front.
It was surprised to know that more than 335 current or former IVLP alumni became Chiefs of State or Heads of Government, including Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Indira Gandhi, Tony Blair and so on.
For being a tech entrepreneur and start-up evangelist US State Department added me into the programme titled 'Scaling up Digital Start-ups'. The programme is three-week long and we, 21 entrepreneurs and change makers from 20 countries, are invited in the programme. The programme is fully funded by the American government. I started from Bangladesh on 8 May. I landed in Washington DC on 9 May. We had a hotel booked already. I met the other participants on the next day in a short meeting.
The IVLP team took us in a city tour. We visited all the important offices and places there. Our hotel was quite near to White House, yes 'The White House'. Our programme started with a briefing with the organizers. They provided us with a credit card, health insurance and other programme schedule. We visited George Washington University.
Jim Chung and Ayman El Tarabishy took a session on scaling digital start ups. I knew Jim beforehand; he was in Dhaka for the Innovation Xtreme (IX) which we arranged few months back with Start-up Dhaka.
Next day, we had a meeting with SBA, the American Small Business Association. It supports small companies and has several programmes to help them. For example, via SBI initiative it encourages the American government organizations, they call it agencies, to spend 3-5 per cent (believe me the amount is quite big) of their R&D budget via those small start-ups.
We went to the State Department office and met Adam Riggs who works in Office of the Senior Adviser to Secretary Kerry. We had a very open discussion on the business scene of our countries and how US State department works. On day 3 we met Jason Ganz, CEO of Agora VR. Agora VR is a virtual reality start-up which is focused to bring virtual reality in business meetings.
Later, we visited 'Centre for Data Innovation' where we learned about Open Data initiative and a possible impact of 3 trillion dollars in world economy. We were invited to a SPARK Initiatives reception - a networking event for entrepreneurs. FYI, President Obama inaugurated the SPARK initiative to encourage entrepreneurship initiatives worldwide.
We left Washington DC for Kansas City. The Kansas City is the home of Hallmark, Jazz music, Walt Disney and the Kauffman Foundation. This was amazing. We visited Engineering Zone which is a place to learn and try engineering stuffs for people.
We met Laura and Martha from STEM initiative which promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We had a session with Mark Allen, an investor, serial entrepreneur and mentor. He shared his story how he mentored teams and ran 9 companies at a time.
I was talking to Andres Leon Torero, one of the IVLP participants, who is from Panama and a mentor of Panama Business Accelerator on what he is focusing to learn from this journey. He said, "Understand the mechanics of the models and practices that are being led in the US in relation to the start-up ecosystem to transfer and adapt them to the Panama Ecosystem and translate opportunities to bridge both economies through a fluid process."
Another participant Walid Ghodbane, Assistant Professor of Tunis University, said, "In our visit we learned a lot about the US start-up ecosystem, the US institutional system that helps techies start and grow their business and become a global success."
The journey was more wonderful than I expected. It was not only about learning from the speakers or investors, we have learnt a lot from our fellow teammates as well. It was really amazing roaming around with a group of 21 top entrepreneurs of the world. Google Developer Group gave me network all around the country. Now, IVLP has given me a network all around the world.
Arif Nezami is Founder, Prenure Lab and Manager, Google Developer Group Dhaka