Walking into the MAS Innovation Center on a Thursday evening is usually unheard of. While most people headed home after a hard day’s work, a group of university students gathered inside the Hive eagerly awaiting what was about to unfold. This was for the introductory session for the IEEE Innovation Nation Sri Lanka 2018.
Organized by the IEEE Chapter of Sri Lanka, the IEEE Innovation Nation Sri Lanka 2018 is a competition that aims at providing training, mentoring and financial support to budding entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka. In addition, it also exposes the global market to participants to take their ideas worldwide.
The session consisted of a number of speakers who would share their experiences about being an entrepreneur. It also would have a brief overview of how IEEE Innovation Nation Sri Lanka 2018 would take place.
Succeeding through Failure
Sameera Nilupul, Director of Liveroom was up first to share his experience at the introductory session at IEEE Innovation Nation Sri Lanka 2018. In case you didn’t know, Liveroom is a cloud-based virtual showroom platform that uses augmented reality technology. We saw them at a number of events before as well.
Rather than have the usual presentation slides, Sameera’s session was more interactive. He started off by sharing his life experience of his life at University. Upon completing his final year project of an augmented reality SDK, Sameera was employed in a company. A few months later, he realized the 8-5 life was not for him. He resigned from his job and decided to start his own company.
Fast forward 6 months, he and his business partner realized that their product would not run on most smartphones in Sri Lanka. They had no revenue, and no money to spend either. Essentially, their product was a failure. All they had was their willpower to go on.
As some consolation, Sameera and his partner found other contracts to keep themselves afloat. The duo also hired two more people in mid-2016 and then started a VR production house.
Sameera explained that even though he had no idea what he was doing, he had a vision to run his own company. So how do you create your own company? Sameera emphasized that if you want to start a company or a product, just go ahead and do it. Don’t care about what society thinks.
Even if things don’t work out and you fail, don’t give up. Success is in your heart. It’s not about having a fancy car or a large bank account. If you have an idea, don’t be afraid to share it with people. With regard to going global and reaching the international market, Sameera shared that the trick they followed was to reach out to ex-pats in other countries.
If their companies are looking for a product that is similar to what you are developing, there is a high chance that you would find a customer in that company.
Designing the perfect product begins with a good idea
Chris Doering, Entrepreneur-In-Resident at SLASSCOM was up next. His session too was an interactive one. Chris started off by explaining some of the ideas he had for products. One such idea he was involved in revolved around the concept for a GPS based taxi service. This was back in 2006 when vehicles had an inbuilt GPS chip.
Unfortunately, at the time, his concept did not fit into the academic framework. The technological framework for implementation was nonexistent as well. But fast forward 3 years and Uber was launched in 2009. The lesson to this story? If you have an idea and do nothing about it, you will never know what you can achieve.
Another example he spoke about was when Chris was asked to decorate a museum for Christmas. Using rather unorthodox methods, Chris came up with a lineup of decorations for the church. Unfortunately, once more, his idea didn’t match with the client’s expectations.
But, a few days after the exhibition, Chris got a call from a Pastor who told him that he wanted to buy all of the decorations. From there, the story even made it to the local papers and the people who had initially hired Chris realized that his idea was indeed a good one.
His next story was about a toy to teach people the German language. The prototype was shown to his professor who loved it. He encouraged Christ to patent it. In fact, his product was so good that Chris’s prototype was actually stolen at a trade show.
Going on the success of the product, he was told later on that in order to cater to a larger audience across the world, he would have to implement the toy in languages of Italian and Japanese as well. This is where the trouble started. Unfortunately, the project didn’t work out and the entire thing was a failure.
Chris’s point in all this? To have one good idea, you need to start off with at least a 100. Observe your environment, prototype it and you will have a bunch of products that are just prototypes. That’s okay, Chris said. It doesn’t matter. Document it, share it with people and if you’re lucky, something good will come out of it.
Chris then spoke about the Design Thinking process. This is a systematic, practical, hands-on approach. It will guide you through a process where you understand the problem and then develop a suitable solution. Chris also explained about the factors for creativity such as having a broad interest in topics and having an independence of judgment.
In a group, you should have trusted relationships and an inspiring environment. Further, group diversity in terms of skills, culture, and gender will give you a bigger picture as well. In terms of an organizational level, you should know that creativity takes time. You should also reward people for creative behavior and have a high tolerance for failure.
What will you risk for the sake of Entrepreneurship?
Are you ready to drop out of University, go against your parents’ wishes and start an entrepreneurship journey? That was Rohan Jayaweera’s opening question to the participants. Rohan, the Co-founder/Director and Chief Operating Officer at Antyra Solutions (Pvt) Ltd spoke about Entrepreneurship. This is not just about coming up with a new and innovative idea, he said. You can just create a better solution for an existing problem as well.
Rohan then spoke about his life experiences. Starting from his school to University days where he would copy songs to CDs, Rohan’s second startup job left him with so much debt to pay back, that he actually had to sell his wife’s jewelry to cover up the debts. Amidst trials and tribulations, Rohan persevered and three years ago, he launched his latest startup, Antyra Solutions.
With regard to the concept of the company, Rohan explained that you don’t have to be the guy with the latest greatest novelty idea. Rather, you just have to do it better. In addition, It’s really important that you find people who complement what you do. So rather than find likeminded people, you should look for people who have opposite skill sets. This will give you the ability to look at a scenario from different perspectives.
You also have to get good at a number of key elements. These range from knowing your cash flow and revenue, to knowing what problems you are solving and identifying the correct problem to solve. It’s also about keeping track of people and the hustle.
Rohan went on to touch on a few points through personal experience. For example, with regard to work-life balance, Rohan’s view was that there is in fact, no work life balance. It’s about asking yourself what you have to give up to gain something bigger.
With regard to entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka, Rohan pointed out that he believes that Sri Lanka is not entrepreneurship ready. The primary reason for this being that people, especially clients, never pay on time.
Becoming an Entrepreneur by accident
The last speaker for the day at the introductory session for the IEEE Innovation Nation Sri Lanka was Dhanika Perera, Founder, and CEO of Bhasha (Pvt) Ltd. Dhanika explained that he became an entrepreneur purely by accident. It happened due to the passion he had.
Dhanika went onto explain that if you want to work on something, you need to understand what your passion is. If you’re launching a startup just to make profits, without a passion it will not. Further, you also have to be brave. You have to be brave to take a decision that would change your life. Real entrepreneurs just want change. They want to make an impact in society.
With regards to students who create products for final year assignments or even competitions, Dhanika emphasized that they should not stop just because they get a good grade. Rather, they should work on it continuously with passion. You also have to be a hustler. Nothing will work if you do not execute it. An idea has zero value unless you execute it.
More on IEEE Innovation Nation Sri Lanka 2018
With regard to the competition itself, Submissions for IEEE Innovation Nation Sri Lanka 2018 will be accepted till the 20th of June 2018, Following that, the top 10 teams would be selected and they would receive training for another 3 months.
This would take the form of workshops and interactive sessions. The final competition of the IEEE Innovation Nation Sri Lanka 2018 will take place in December 2018. The two-day event will comprise of a World café on the first day and a final pitching day on day 02. From there, the winning team/s for IEEE Innovation Nation Sri Lanka will be announced.