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Entrepreneurship refers to the organising factor in the process of production. It embraces activities of entrepreneurs relating to such economic decisions as what to produce, how much to produce and what method of production to adopt. Within the sole proprietor firms, the entrepreneur accepts the financial risk of the enterprise and is solely responsible for its management. But in a public company, these two functions are divided between shareholders.

The entrepreneurial history of Bangladesh dates back to the ancient era. In the ancient age, Bengal was rich in different small and cottage industries as well as trade and commerce. The basic industries were fine cotton fabric known as muslin, sugar, salt etc. These were exportable commodities for which there was a great demand in the Far East and Europe. With the establishment of Muslim rule in India, the communication system between different regions of India with Bengal developed. As a result local industries flourished. The Arabs became involved in many businesses and linked them up with the West. These people rapidly merged with the local people and contributed a lot in the development of small and cottage industries and of entrepreneurship.

During Pre-Mughal Muslim rule, an entrepreneur class grew in Bengal, especially in and around dhaka. They had lofty craftsmanship in handicraft, textile weaving, milk products, jewelry etc. The shifting of the capital from Rajmahal to Dhaka during the Mughal period increased the political importance of this region. Dhaka attained greater commercial importance and became a major trading and entrepreneurial centre for the whole of Southeast Asia. The Europeans, particularly the Portuguese, Dutch, English and French as well as other traders began to come in larger numbers. The weaving of muslin received fresh stimulus from the Mughal emperors in Delhi, and reached its peak of prosperity. Besides Muslin, the jamdani saris woven in flowered or plain designs with border and ground in threads of gold, silver or silk became popular and were sent to Hejaj, Morocco, Tunisia, Delhi etc. The other major industries that developed during this period were the gold and silver smithy, making of combs and buttons from animal bones, making of conch-bracelet from shell, treatment of raw hides and papermaking.

British rule in India, however, introduced a new phenomenon in entrepreneurial activities. The British forced the entrepreneurs to produce whatever they needed at home to sell at lower prices. This had a negative impact on the growth of entrepreneurship in this part of the world. The situation became worse after the Industrial Revolution in England and was further aggravated by the opening of the Suez Canal enabling sea voyage from Britain to India in twenty-five days instead of one hundred days via the Cape route. British import policy changed from importing finished goods from Bengal to importing raw materials at the cheapest possible price and re-exporting finished goods to Bengal and other parts of India. British traders made high profits by exploiting the local entrepreneurs through buying raw materials at cheaper prices and also squeezed them out of the market by creating unequal competition from high quality industrial products. In addition, the British government had imposed high taxes on the incomes of local entrepreneurs. The Muslim majority of Bengal inclined to disassociate themselves from the British because of the perception that the British had snatched power from the Muslims. The British also disliked Muslims and tried to deprive them of all economic and political opportunities. All these factors deterred the growth of entrepreneurship in Bengal during British rule.

The gap in entrepreneurship developed as a result of thinned participation of the Bengali people in trade and industry was filled up by people coming mostly from the western and southern parts of India. But their efforts were mostly concentrated in calcutta and its neighbourhood and most of whatever entrepreneurial development took place was concentrated in areas outside the present area of Bangladesh.

During the later half of the nineteenth century, Bengali capital was mostly diverted to land and non-commercial occupations. At the same time, development of transportation, primarily the expansion of railway and shipping as well as expansion of a money economy caused a rise in the price of land, making landed investments more attractive. Most of the salary surpluses of Bengali professionals and officials were invested in land. Such a re-orientation in the pattern of investment adversely impacted on the development of entrepreneurship. Lack of capital was another limiting disadvantage in the way of entry of prospective Bengali entrepreneurs into the sphere of modern industry. Since state financing of private industries as a concept had not yet developed, the only two options left open to prospective Bengali entrepreneurs were to raise the start-up capital from the existing capital market or to borrow from the informal credit market. At that time, capital was not developed and marwaris reigned supreme as the principal source of informal capital, but the Bengali entrepreneurs did not get the required credit support from them. Attitudinal problems such as an anti entrepreneurial bias also played a not too inconsequential role in the development of Bengali entrepreneurship. These biases were reflected in the derogatory attitude towards the indigenous trading communities like the Sahas of Bengal or the Muslim traders of chittagong. An anti-entrepreneurial bias was dominant amongst the attitudes of political leaders and the civil bureaucracy of Bengal.

After the partition of bengal in 1947, the eastern part of Pakistan did not inherit an experienced entrepreneurial class for historical reasons. Neither did this part receive adequate attention from the government of Pakistan in terms of economic incentives to induce entrepreneurial activities. The government support and facilities went more to the western part and the net result was a constrained growth of entrepreneurship in East Pakistan. The East Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (EPIDC), however, had set up some enterprises, especially a number of jute mills, and gradually handed over their ownership to the local associates. This had indirectly helped the growth of an entrepreneur class in Bangladesh.

The country inherited a shattered economy after the war of liberation of 1971. Mills and factories were closed down, agricultural production was interrupted and infrastructural facilities like roads, bridges, railways, power transmission lines, telephone network, gas pipelines etc. were broken down. Because of the political commitment and also because of the exodus of non-Bengali owners of mills, factories and banks the government had nationalised all such establishments immediately after liberation. Within a few years after independence, the government policy was changed and the role of private sector given due importance. The disinvestment and denationalisation policies have facilitated the ownership of large, medium and small industrial and commercial enterprises by Bengali entrepreneurs, although the nature and size of the public sector continued to dominate in Bangladesh, which promoted development of state entrepreneurship in the country. The government, however, brought changes in trade and industrial policies alongside the monetary and exchange rate policies. Import controls were considerably relaxed to reduce the level of protection , thus encouraging efficiency in resource allocation and promotion of competitive abilities of domestic industries.

Wide-ranging economic reforms initiated in recent years have restored confidence among the entrepreneurs and induced prospective and potential entrepreneurs to come forward and set up new businesses. Industrial policies adopted in different years attempted to create an investment-friendly atmosphere and encouraged entrepreneurship development. Reforms were also made in import policy, fiscal policy and taxation policy along with liberalisation of trade and investment to increase both local and foreign investment.

In the absence of a developed stock market and in a situation when private individuals had little capacity to accumulate capital, institutional sources of finance like the bangladesh development bank (BDB) and investment corporation of bangladesh (ICB) acted as prime movers for industrial development in Bangladesh. Most, if not all, of the industrialists are indebted to these financial institutions. Currently, nationalised commercial banks (NCBs) and private banks have also stepped into industrial financing. Many entrepreneurs can also mobilise capital from the stock market. BDB has so far provided term loans to establish 2467 industrial undertakings. Besides, the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) under its different programmes has so far facilitated the creation of around 18,000 entrepreneurs engaged in small enterprise. ICB has so far provided underwriting, bridge financing, equity financing, debenture financing etc. to over 400 public limited companies. BSCIC industrial estates and export processing zone (EPZ) authorities have provided a large number of entrepreneurs with infrastructural facilities including land for industrial location, water, power, sewerage, gas, telephone, extension and counseling services and store and warehousing facilities.

In Bangladesh quite a number of entrepreneurial ventures have been the creation of corporate spin-offs. They embarked upon new ventures with the experience and skill that they gathered while serving an enterprise. These spin-offs have been found to be very successful because they have the necessary experience and skill in managing and running an enterprise. What they needed was only a little back-up support. Such support gave them a big push and they proved themselves to be very successful as entrepreneurs. In Bangladesh the garment industry has been the creation of spin-offs. Similarly, many chemical engineers starting their career in the Chemical Industries Corporation ultimately left their jobs and started new chemical/ pharmaceuticals enterprises.

A special group of entrepreneurs, creators of the corporate new ventures, identified technically as entrepreneurs, create new products and processes within large organisations. They do not start a new enterprise or industry but create new products with their innovative and inventive ideas. Their corporate entrepreneurship opens up new horizons of opportunities for the corporate structure where they serve. The establishment of many new chemical plants/product lines under Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation is an example of corporate entrepreneurship.

State patronage plays a significant role in the growth of entrepreneurship in Bangladesh. The elite of the society belonging to the defense forces, civil bureaucracy and different chambers and trade bodies, as well as bankers, politicians, doctors, contractors etc. turned into successful entrepreneurs under state patronage. Public policy favoured the growth of such entrepreneurs in the country. A host of banks, insurance companies and buying houses had also developed under such entrepreneurship.

The dholaikhal case in Bangladesh is an example of emulating entrepreneurship that matches the experience of countries like Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan in the growth of entrepreneurship during the early years of economic development through the emulative dexterity of their people. Gradually, the emulative capability of local entrepreneurs helped indigenous technology to flourish, and this, under active government patronage, facilitated the growth of entrepreneurship. The light engineering workshops and servicing units located in the Dholai Khal area of old Dhaka have made remarkable strides in manufacturing spare parts, components, accessories etc. on the basis of models/samples imported from abroad. But these small entrepreneurs are working under serious limitations, which include lack of precision tools, out-dated or obsolete machinery, lack of technical and training assistance, shortage of funds, insufficient space, lack of designs and samples, and lack of quality raw materials.

In many countries of the world like India, Japan, South Korea etc. sub-contracting has been used as a unique and effective tool for the promotion of small and medium scale entrepreneurs. Sub-contracting as a concept in industrial development strategy began to gain ground in Bangladesh from the first Five Year Plan (1973-78). The Fifth Five Year Plan (1997-2002) also laid special emphasis on the growth and development of linkage and sub-contracting amongst the big, medium and small industries. Various policy and promotional measures were also adopted to accelerate the development of sub-contracting in the country. But apart from a few multinational companies like Bata Shoe Company and Bangladesh Tobacco Company Limited, public sector enterprises have not developed a positive attitude towards this system. An import-biased policy and fiscal anomaly also impede its proper development. The must significant progress in the history of entrepreneurship development in Bangladesh is the massive growth of Ready Made Garments (RMG). In 1978, when the first RMG entrepreneur launched his venture, it was quite beyond anybody's imagination that the number could exceed the mark of five thousand by the year 2010.

Following the trends in entrepreneurship education in the USA, the countries of west Europe, Japan, India and Philippines, separate programmes have been launched in Bangladesh for educated youths and women to train in entrepreneurship. Specialised entrepreneurship courses have been included in the undergraduate and graduate programmes of business education. bangladesh bank in association with commercial banks and the Bangladesh Institute of Management launched an Entrepreneurial Development Programme for educated unemployed youths. Similarly, BSCIC, in association with USAID initiated a Women Entrepreneurship Development Programme. However, it is not clearly known how many new entrepreneurs have been created as a result of the training and education. [AHM Habibur Rahman]