Last Friday, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Global Startup Labs (formerly AITI), hosted its first Alumni Day at the University of Moratuwa, reflecting upon the first two years of a unique start-up incubator, during which teams of young Sri Lankan student entrepreneurs build and launch innovative mobile software start-ups. The program’s longtime supporter Fayaz Hudah of the ICTA delivered the opening remarks and gave students valuable advice on how to make businesses out of ideas.
Global Startup Labs is an MIT programme that promotes economic development in emerging regions by cultivating a new generation of young technology entrepreneurs. Since its launch in 2000, MIT-GSL has conducted programmes in over ten countries, and in total over 1,800 students have participated in a variety of intensive courses, from web programming to mobile technology.
This year marks GSL’s third programme in Sri Lanka. Through its demanding seven week annual programme, GSL has to-date guided thirteen teams of UoM students in building real mobile software start-ups, many of which have ultimately launched into profitable and sustainable enterprises. Today, several GSL alumni shared their success stories.
Dhanika Perera, MIT-GSL alumnus and founder of Bhasha (Pvt) Ltd, began his road to entrepreneurial success during his participation during GSL 2011, then known as the MIT-AITI programme. Dhanika founded Bhasha just after GSL 2011 and initially started by commercialising an individual university project he had created, the SETT Browser. Though Dhanika and his team had initially planned to launch a separate business during GSL, Dhanika ultimately met Bhasha’s first customer at the GSL’s first annual finale event, Demo Day 2011. Dhanika credits his decision to take the leap in commercializing Bhasha’s first product, and the meeting of his first customer, to his participation in MIT-GSL, which encourages the development of a life-long entrepreneurial mindset. Since that date, Bhasha has created a number of successful local language software products recognized by both national and global awards, including the mBillionth South Asian Mobile Award (2011), e-Swabhimani National Award (2011 & 2012) & National Best Quality Software Award (NBQSA 2012).
Another such successful company has been GlassCUBE, founded out of Global Startup Labs 2012.
According to Samith Wimalana, GlassCUBE’s CEO, their team had long dreamt of creating a business but had no idea how to begin the process. GSL, then known as AITI, gave them the critical direction they needed in order for their business to take flight. “Without AITI, GlassCUBE would not be what it is today,” says Samith. “None of this would have been achieved if the four of you [instructors] weren’t there to lay the groundwork.”
GlassCUBE’s primary accomplishments include winning the Audience Choice and Most Likely to Succeed Long Term awards at Launch Day 2012, GSL Sri Lanka’s high profile culminating event, earning themselves 10,000 LKR in seed funding. Since then, GlassCUBE has gained recognition in local news outlets, amassed nearly 10,000 downloads of its first product, DriveMODE, and launched its second application, MoviesLK, which has since reached between 10,000 and 50,000 downloads on the Google Play store.
MIT-GSL’s Alumni Day 2013 brought together team members from 5 successful startups launched out of Global Startup Labs. Global Startup Labs, which is meant not only to produce companies but also serve as a catalyst for technology entrepreneurship in the Sri Lankan market, has been incredibly successful, with multiple start-ups achieving profitability and serving as job creators in the region. This year, GSL Sri Lanka looks forward to expanding its impact through partnership with SLASSCOM and the development of a sustainable year-long entrepreneurship curriculum. Given the country’s technical talent and supportive business community, GSL believes that its programme in Sri Lanka can break new ground.
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