Omar Hossain, an entrepreneur from Cox's Bazar, took training on entrepreneurship in 2019, offered by the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida).
He then set up a Tk3 crore export-oriented factory to manufacture raw materials from seaweed for the pharmaceutical industry.
Despite strong global demand for his product and great potential for his business, the entrepreneur cannot ramp up his production capacity because he is not getting a bank loan.
Different banks have turned him down for a Tk60 crore loan even though he is ready to mortgage his land.
Bida reports show most trainees could not go so far as Hossain and 83% of them are yet to become entrepreneurs.
Most would-be entrepreneurs say they failed simply because they did not have access to credit.
Banks have rejected even small loan applications by them, some of them said.
Omar, identified as an entrepreneur in the database of the "Entrepreneurship Creation and Skill Development" project implemented by Bida in 2019, somehow kicked off his business without any credit support from banks and managed to keep it running so far.
According to Bida, 24,900 people were given training across the country under the Bida project. Of them, 20,655 could not become entrepreneurs mainly because of lack of capital. Only 4,245 or 17% became entrepreneurs.
TBS talked with at least 20 randomly selected people identified as entrepreneurs in the project database. Of them, only four people said they got bank loans. Others have tried their best but are yet to get any.
TBS also talked with 25 trainees who are trying to start with an investment of several lakhs taka on their own. They are also trying different banks for loans but success for them is elusive.
Sharif-Ur-Rahman from Rangpur said he needed a Tk3 lakh loan from a bank for producing jeans for a buyer in Europe. He did not get it. Banks are reluctant to loan such small amounts, he said.
For some, not having the collateral to secure a loan is an issue. Imrul Islam has applied for a Tk6 lakh loan from various banks to set up a cattle farm in Magura. But he is out of luck as he lacks the collateral, he said.
There are specialised government banks that lend for job creation, but there is no such assurance from them too, Imrul added.
To get a loan for the first time, a start-up must have a bankable post, says Brac Bank Managing Director Selim RF Hussain.
It has to be remembered, loans are not donations and a banker will always consider if the loan will be repaid. "A banker has to examine if a loan proposal is bankable, " he added.
The banking sector saw a surge in default loans when big borrowers enjoyed Covid stimulus loans on easy terms, but small businesses struggled to get any. Banks' default loans rose to Tk94,000 crore in March.
In 2019, Bida launched the "Entrepreneurship Creation and Skill Development" project for the youth preparing them for starting a business and its challenges, market analysis, rules and regulations, capital mobilisation and other related issues.
The training programme cost Tk62 crore.
Local business chambers, associations and successful businessmen were mentors of the trainees who prepared their business plans.
An online learning platform and two experienced persons assisted them with investment information. A support centre in every district training centre assisted the trainees.
Besides, Bida introduced every trainee to different banks and financial institutions for them to secure loans and they were also helped to create links with large industries.
AKM Hafizullah Khan, director of the Entrepreneurship Creation and Skill Development' project, said they selected 24,900 people out of 61,150 for training after thorough scrutiny. They were prepared to invest small capital amounts. But they are not getting assistance from any government bank.
"It is not just about giving good training, they need capital support too. Otherwise, the training at a cost of crores of taka will be worthless," he added.
Seventeen percent or 4,245 of the trainees have become entrepreneurs and Khan considered it a big achievement.
According to Bida officials, the entrepreneurs have so far invested over Tk1,000 crore in different sectors. About 38,000 people have got jobs as a result of their investment. If all those who have been trained can invest, huge employment opportunities will be created in the country.
However, this is not the only training project where money spent for skill development failed to yield the intended result for want of capital.
In March, this newspaper ran a story, headlined "Women IT training with poor show gets extension," on an IT training scheme designed to create women entrepreneurs.
The report said the Jatiyo Mohila Sangstha had imparted six-month computer training to some 32,731 women in eight years, but only 0.62% or 205 of them had become entrepreneurs. The Project Director Nazmul Hossain Khan pointed to a lack of funds as a major reason why so few of the trainees were successful.
Former governor of the Bangladesh Bank Atiur Rahman told TBS that new entrepreneurs could have been assisted with capital from the project itself. The Bangladesh Bank has a start-up fund of Tk500 crore from which Tk100 crore can be given to the Bida trained entrepreneurs and the potential entrepreneurs could start their own businesses.
There is also an opportunity to incorporate projects funded by entrepreneurs in the annual development programme if necessary, he added.