GSEA 2017 National Finals: The clash of student entrepreneurs

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By now you probably know what GSEA is. However, in case you’re lost here’s a refresher. The Global Student Entrepreneur Awards is one of the largest programs on the planet that aims to foster student entrepreneurship.  Officially organized by Entrepreneurs Organization, this is a competition that’s held in almost all corners of the globe. The competition officially came to Sri Lanka last year, where we saw Buddhika Jayawardhana – founder of Siplo go onto become one of the global finalists.

Following this success, GSEA returned to Sri Lanka once more. Once again, we saw a bunch of talented student entrepreneurs showcasing a salad of ideas. That was at the preliminaries. From these many student entrepreneurs that participated at these preliminaries, only three would progress towards the finals. But there can only be one winner at these finals.

The Triple-A Company- Byung Charn Lee

The first student entrepreneur to take the stage was Byung Charn Lee. His startup was one that was built together with the rest of his family: the Triple A Company. It all began when Byung and his family began their journey as entrepreneurs. In 2017, they released their main product: LifeGem – a soap that has the healing properties of ginseng.

Byung Charn Lee giving his pitch at the GSEA 2017 National Finals (Image credits: Avishka Senaratne)
Byung Charn Lee giving his pitch at the GSEA 2017 National Finals (Image credits: Avishka Senaratne)

Initially, growth was slow because Byung was busy with his studies. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop them from releasing their first product recently, which was LifeGem – a soap infused with the healing properties of ginseng. At the moment, Triple-A is aiming LifeGem at working class people in Sri Lanka.

Priced at Rs.300 per bar, Byung confidently stated that they can make 120 units today. But where can you expect to find LifeGem? This was a tough question Triple-A faced in its early days. After much thought, they settled on selling it at flea markets such as The Good Market.

“It’s simple to create a product. But finding a place to sell that product is something much more challenging.” – Byung Charn Lee

Their plan is to set up a base market aiming at working class people in Sri Lanka. Today, Triple-A plans to build a stable customer base in Sri Lanka. Tomorrow they want to go regional and plan on expanding into the Maldives, Singapore, and South Korea within 3 years.

Gurupaara – Adhisha Gammanpila

The second student entrepreneur we saw take the stage was Adhisha Gammanpila. His startup is one we’ve become familiar with: Gurupaara. You can find our original review of Gurupaara here. He opened his pitch by giving everyone a glimpse of the entrepreneurial journey with his friends. They had many failures, but from these failures, they knew that they had to tap into the digital economy if they were to build the next unicorn.

Thus, they chose to bring A/L classes into the digital age and Guruapaara was born. This was a large market with many tuition class teaches spending massive amounts of money. Look around and it’s not hard to see this with the countless billboards taken, leaflets printed, and posters on countless walls done by these tuition teachers.

Adhisha Gammanpilla giving his pitch at the GSEA 2017 National Finals (Image credits: Avishka Senaratne)
Adhisha Gammanpilla giving his pitch at the GSEA 2017 National Finals (Image credits: Avishka Senaratne)

Despite so much money being thrown into marketing, 2015 was a rough start for Gurupaara. When Adhisha first pitched Gurupaara to teachers he got the same brutal response from all of them. The teachers laughed at him and said they would never use it. As harsh as this feedback was, Adhisha and his team weren’t going to give up. They would spend a year attending many of the startup events in Sri Lanka to build their network and hone their skills as entrepreneurs.

When 2016 came to an end, Gurupaara had over 10,000 regular users. Many of the teachers that laughed at them in their early days, were now their paying customers. This was the year that Gurupaara finally tasted success. So what’s next for Gurupaara? Recently, they expanded their services with Gurupaara Compass, which is aimed at helping school leavers find the right university to achieve their dreams. In the near future, they plan on expanding the service regionally and take the first steps to making Gurupaara a global name in education.

Enif Labs – Isuru Kariyawasam

The third and final student entrepreneur we saw at the GSEA 2017 National Finals was Isuru Kariyawasam. His startup wants to help make technology more accessible to those who are visually impaired. He opened his pitch, by having the hall covering in darkness. “This is how they see the world,” said Isuru as he introduced the target market for his startup: Enif Labs.

Isuru Kariyawasam giving his pitch at the GSEA 2017 National Finals (Image credits: Avishka Senaratne)
Isuru Kariyawasam giving his pitch at the GSEA 2017 National Finals (Image credits: Avishka Senaratne)

Enif Labs, like the other competitors at this competition, isn’t a brand new startup. Rather, it’s been in operation for quite a while and already launched a product previously. This product was Orasi N, which was a mobile app that aimed to make smartphones more accessible. However, Isuru wasn’t satisfied with the product.

Thus, the Enif Labs team went back to the drawing board and built Orasi 2.0 World. This is a small braille keyboard that connects to smartphones. With this braille keyboard, not only can the visually impaired take calls or send messages, but also do other tasks such as read eBooks.  Currently, there are two visually impaired people testing Orasi 2.0 World. Isuru concluded his presentation by sharing that Orasi 2.0 World will be released in November this year and they already have approximately 20 pre-orders.

Following the pitches, we saw a panel discussion.

Once the student entrepreneurs had given their pitches, it was time for the judges to decide the winners. And so they left the hall to debate amongst themselves. After much debate, the judges returned to the hall. This wasn’t to announce the winners, but rather for a panel discussion on student entrepreneurship. Chaired by Mohammed Fawaz – the GSEA chair, the panelists were: Indika De Zoysa, Kanishka Weeramunda – Campus Director of Edulink, and Mangala Karunaratne – CEO of Calcey Technologies.

“Everything is stacked against you but a true entrepreneur will make it” – Mangala Karunaratne

The first question thrown at the panel was on the topic of why students in Sri Lanka don’t pursue entrepreneurship. Kanishka opened the discussion by saying that many students do want to start businesses, but not in Sri Lanka. He believed that there were two reasons for this. The first was parents who discourage entrepreneurship and the second was students seeing their friends earning high salaries in safe white collar jobs.  Mangala stated that the Sri Lankan education system discourages entrepreneurship, with Indika adding that the culture in schools is towards exams.

The panel was then thrown a question asking their thoughts about patents. Mangala stated that the patent system is a mess. This is because obtaining patents is expensive and it won’t stop big companies from bullying you. Ultimately, a patent is merely a single tool for innovation and there are more out there. If you can execute your idea, then patents are irrelevant.

The short panel discussion ended with the panelists sharing that technology taking over the world. Some notable examples they shared were Amazon being the largest bookstore, Airbnb being the largest hotel, and Uber being the largest taxi service. Technology is where the future is they shared. With that, the panel discussion came to an end.

So who was the winner at the GSEA 2017 National Finals?

Once the panel discussion ended, it was time to announce the winners. This was the crowning moment of the GSEA 2017 National Finals. This was the tense moment where everyone would know, which student entrepreneur would represent Sri Lanka at the GSEA 2017 Global Finals. After much tension, the results were announced.

The winner of the GSEA 2017 National Finals: Adhisha Gammanpila (Image credits: Avishka Senaratne)
The winner of the GSEA 2017 National Finals: Adhisha Gammanpila (Image credits: Avishka Senaratne)

The runner-up was Isuru Kariyawasam and Enif Labs. And the winner of the GSEA 2017 National Finals was Adhisha Gammanpila and Gurupaara. Adhisha will be representing Sri Lanka at the GSEA 2017 Global Finals, which will be held in Frankfurt. We wish at ReadMe wish Adhisha the best of luck and hope fortune will be in his favor to return to Sri Lanka as the winner of GSEA 2017.   

1 COMMENT

  1. This is the way to go entrepreneurship and innovation.Congrats to the winner. It’s time our education structure was changed to help students to think and innovate

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