Mushrooms can become a healthier alternative for protein since a significant portion of the population in Bangladesh suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension problems as a result of the high consumption of red meat.
However, despite its benefits, most people consider mushrooms to be a fancy item meant to be consumed at restaurants, while some don't even know that they are edible.
So, what if mushrooms could be turned into a mainstream or a household item for both middle and lower-middle-class families?
A group of first-year students of Animal Husbandry at Bangladesh Agricultural University pitched this idea for a mushroom-based start-up at the Hult Dhaka Impact Summit 2021.
The summit was a part of the global Hult Prize 2021 that serves as an incubator or a platform for startups designed by university students to address social issues like education, access to clean water or food security.
Team Mush Reign, as they are called, even devised a solution that cut the production cost of mushrooms by 47% to make it more affordable.
The idea caught on so well that the group survived three On-Campus Rounds and 63 other teams at the Regional Rounds - hosted online by BUP from 2nd to 3rd April - to book a spot at the Hult Prize Global Accelerator in Boston.
There they will compete head-to-head with winning teams from all over the world for an opportunity to pitch their ideas at the UN and secure $1,000,000 of seed capital for their social business venture.
TBS got an opportunity to interview the members from Team Mush Reign consisting of Kamrul Hasan, Sazid Hossen, Razia Rahman and Golam Rabbani Noyon where they shared their journey to winning the Regional Round, details about the winning startup pitch and their thoughts and feelings representing Bangladesh and competing internationally.
"Most people think that students studying agriculture follow a very linear career path. But we four thought differently, that is why we had been working on our startup long before the competition. The Hult Prize program enabled us to showcase and take our ideas to the next level," explained Kamrul regarding the team's experience in the competition.
The team had received training at the Mushroom Development Institute in Savar under the guidance and direction of Dr Nirod Chandra Sarker before the competition to develop their mushroom-based startup idea.
"The whole journey has been a dream come true, we have always wanted to be entrepreneurs and do something significant. Now we are closer than ever," said Sazid, the planner of the team. While recalling his experience in the competition so far, he added, "luckily, the theme of the Hult Prize this year was
'Food For Good' which perfectly aligned with the startup idea we had been developing and our food-related education." However, the team's path to victory was riddled with many challenges which they had to overcome with sheer willpower, hard work and determination.
Firstly, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the event was conducted online which posed coordination problems for the members of Mush Reign due to network issues. Similarly, the team had never participated in business competitions before so they had to reach out to mentors to help guide them through the process. "Marketing to potential customers as a part of the competition was especially difficult as it was challenging to interact with them or reach them online," said Razia, who handled the team's marketing. Sazid added, "In my opinion, it was the long hours of coordinating with unstable internet connection that was the most challenging."
Despite the odds stacked against them, Mush Reign overcame all obstacles to represent Bangladesh at the Hult Prize Global Accelerator. But what set them apart from the rest of the competitors?
"We considered each round as if it was our last and gave it our all. We realised very early that we had a lot to learn and had to adapt quickly. The rest we covered through hard work and determination. At this stage, we have superseded our expectations and have nothing to lose," said Noyon, the person responsible for the team's project implementation.
Kamrul further elaborated, "our 'wow factor' was the cost-effectiveness of the product in our pitch which could make mushroom affordable for the masses. Moreover, we are grateful to Dr Sarker for helping us devise this solution, we couldn't have done it without him or the many other mentors who offered us their valuable advice."
Despite going above and beyond their expectations and overcoming many difficult challenges, the team remains optimistic about the international rounds that follow. When asked about how confident they feel moving forward and representing their country and university, the team responded that they were humble, optimistic and willing to learn from the experience as much as possible.
Concluding the interview, Kamrul said, "When we saw the video of Team Safewheel from BUP representing Bangladesh, their university and chasing their dream in the Hult Prize Global Accelerator of 2019, it inspired us to see ourselves in the same place. Now we have a shot at fulfilling our dreams and raise the bar even further. Most importantly, we are proud to represent our country on the global stage and hope that we make people go, "Wow, that team's from Bangladesh." Since Regional Rounds are still taking place online all over the world, for now, Mush Reign is celebrating the progress they have made so far and are eagerly awaiting the announcement regarding the Hult Prize Global Accelerator so that they can prepare for the international challenges that lie ahead.