The Covid-19 pandemic had hit Rashed Chowdhury hard.
He had invested Tk75,000 in poultry farming. But as demand started to fall with the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, he ended up losing Tk65,000.
The final year student of the political science department at Chandpur Government College didn't lose hope. He partook in a 90-day training on entrepreneurship, joined an e-commerce group called "Victoria E-commerce" on Facebook and, with help from its founder Kazi Apoun Tivrani, began Hilsha trading.
In the last eight months, he sold Tk24 lakh worth of Hilsa and honey.
Tivrani, who is also an English lecturer at Cumilla Victoria Government College, had recommended him to work with products from his own district.
"Hilsa is the heritage of my district. Hilsa fish from at least 27 districts comes to Chandpur Ghat. It's a pickle to differentiate between real and fake Hilsas. On top of it, I live 52km away from the ghat. So, I took the help of a friend who is a storekeeper there and visited the ghat for 15 days straight. When I learned the technique of recognising authentic Hilsas, I started posting online for sale. The first order came from Sylhet after 26 days. I delivered fish worth Tk15,000."
"One day a French expatriate alone ordered Hilsa fish worth around Tk5 lakh from different people. That became a big breakthrough for me. In the last eight months, I have sold Hilsa and honey worth Tk24 lakh. At present, 17 youths work with me. Most of them were educated unemployed," he continued.
Since its opening, Victoria E-commerce that now has 1.32 lakh members has been a path to successful entrepreneurship for many people like Rashed.
Mina Akter, a resident of Cumilla Sadar Dakshin, had failed to take her master's exam due to a caesarean section last year. Her husband was forced to leave his job after he was transferred to a faraway district with a low salary.
"I was on the edge of a ditch. I could not think of what to do. Tivrani madam advised me to work with the beef tripe as there's a good demand for it in Comilla," she said.
"I got a good response after posting about it in the group. I started with investing only Tk1200. The number of orders is increasing day by day. Now, on average I make a profit of Tk10,000 a month," she added.
According to Tivrani, as the pandemic intensified, she began to receive an increasing number of calls from young people to help them get private tuition contracts. But she could only help so many by doing so.
To help a large number of people, she opened up a Facebook group – Victoria E-commerce – on 11 August of 2020 and appointed 10 admins and moderators to manage the group.
She also arranged training sessions for aspiring entrepreneurs. So far, at least 1,500 youths have launched their own business with support from the group.
"Through this group and training, we have been able to create 1,500 small entrepreneurs. The trainers are very sincere. So far, we did not have to spend much on small training. I alone was able to bear the small cost it took," Tivrani said.
Tivrani herself faced many difficulties in her life.
She was married to a contractor from Cumilla at the age of 16. A year later she gave birth to a daughter. But in the same year, she lost her memory due to an injury. For three years she suffered from amnesia.
Although she was an HSC candidate in 2000, she had to take the exam in 2003. Later, she completed her undergraduate and postgraduate studies from the English department of Cumilla Victoria Government College without any break and joined the college as a lecturer through the 32nd BCS.
"Creating large entrepreneurs requires a lot of training and capital. We can't afford that at present. But my dream is that one day many great entrepreneurs will be created through this group," she said.
Tivrani's dream may be realised sooner than she expects.
Arif Hossain, a second-year student of the Bangla Department of Cumilla Ajit Guha College and a member of Victoria E-commerce, has been awarded this year as a young agricultural entrepreneur by the Cumilla district administration
Arif is working with Black Rice, Red Rice and Purple Rice. One of his expatriate relatives advised him to cultivate exceptional paddy after he asked for ideas to start a business in a post in the group.
Later, Tivrani introduced him to a seed certification officer in Cumilla.
In the Boro season, he planted Black Rice on 1.20 acres of land, and Red Rice and Purple Rice on 30 decimals of land each. It cost him Tk70,000.
"I got 35 maunds of paddy last Boro season. In the first season, I made a profit of nearly Tk1 lakh. I have been awarded this year as a young agricultural entrepreneur from the Cumilla district administration. It is a huge achievement for me," said Arif.