Ishrat Jahan, chief executive of small jute product company "Tulika," found a significant number of buyers at the national SME fairs held in the last two years, but she was frustrated to learn that the fair scheduled in March this year would not be held in time due to the pandemic.
A huge volume of Tulika's products this year has remained unsold, so Ishrat was elated to hear that the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Foundation would organise the 9th National SME Product Fair 2021 on 20-27 November at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the capital.
"Hopefully the unsold products will be sold this time if the fair is publicised widely. I hope the entrepreneurs will overcome the poor condition of their businesses after receiving new orders," said Ishrat.
Like Ishrat, many other small and medium entrepreneurs across the country have been eagerly waiting for the fair to meet potential buyers from home and abroad.
Maksuda Khatun, the owner of Shabab Leather, told The Business Standard, "I started the business in 2016 and took part in the national SME fair in 2018 for the first time. I have applied for a stall again this year."
"The fair has played a vital role in expanding my business. At the last fair, I got some foreign buyers. Later I supplied products according to their demands."
Maksuda said representatives of many companies visiting the fair often place orders instantly, while many others communicate with the manufacturers later.
"The SME fair is a good place to showcase the root level entrepreneurs' products. The entrepreneurs are also introduced to government policymakers, including ministers from various sectors at the fair. I am very excited to be able to take part in the fair after a long time," she added.
Dr Md Mafizur Rahman, managing director of SME Foundation, told TBS, "Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has agreed to inaugurate the fair. We will set up 300 stalls this year."
"Many entrepreneurs want to take part in the fair but we do not have that much space, so it may not be possible to allocate stalls to everyone," he said.
The SME Foundation managing director said they have taken several measures to organise the fair smoothly and welcome as many visitors as possible.
He said, "The fair will have a fixed visiting time for the diplomats of different countries and officials of international organisations and their family members living in Bangladesh. Only they will be allowed to visit the fair during that time. We did it last time too. In this way, the entrepreneurs can talk with them without any hindrance."
"We want to build bridges between entrepreneurs and buyers. Multiple seminars will be held at the fair. I hope participants in these seminars will come up with various suggestions to take the SME sector forward," Dr Md Mafizur added.
The SME Foundation has set a fee of Tk15,000 for each stall at the fair. The last date of application for a stall is 21 October.
What industries to get priority?
Sources at the SME Foundation said agriculture and food processing, agricultural machinery, ICT and software, leather and leather products, light engineering, jute and jute products, plastic industries, handicrafts and jewellery, toys, and agar-attar (perfume) will be given priority for participation in the fair.
Small and medium entrepreneurs sold products worth Tk4.95 crore during the 8th National SME Product Fair organised in 2020. They also received orders involving Tk6.37 crore at that time. That year 296 SMEs showcased their products at 309 stalls in the fair.
According to the Bangladesh Bank, there are about 60 lakh SME entrepreneurs in the country. Around 90% of the country's total industrial units belong to the SME sector.
According to the SME Foundation, the SMEs' share in the country's GDP is estimated at 25%.