“There was no method to connect startups and entrepreneurs to the fields of science. Basically, there were no startup accelerators or incubators in the scientific field. This is what the SLINTEC Startup Engine was created for”.
These were the words of Dr. Lakshitha Pahalagedara – Head of Business Development, SLINTEC at the latest episode of Why I Built This. The third episode in the series took place on the 21st of August 2019 at HomeTree Coworking.
The episode revolved around a brief history of SLINTEC and how they aim to provide resources for those looking to be innovative in the fields of material sciences. Particular preference is given to nanotechnology and the numerous ways that it can be utilized. At the heart of this is the SLINTEC Startup Engine.
Launched in March 2019, the SLINTEC Startup Engine revolves around research into material science and nanotechnology. The Engine has two main components. They are the Incubator and Accelerator. The Accelerator is where completed projects are allocated to any entrepreneur who is interested in taking that project to the next level. If they can handle the operations of managing a startup, SLINTEC is ever ready to assist in any way they can.
The Incubator, on the other hand, is where potential entrepreneurs can come and pitch their ideas. If the idea fits into the mandate of SLINTEC, it will be taken onboard for incubation. Here, the project will receive a number of resources ranging from incubator space and access to business mentors, funding and a host of other services. But, a question on all our minds is, what makes a good innovation work?
The importance of design
Aiming to answer that question was Lin Gong-Deutschmann – Managing Director at Design Corp, which is the Holding Company of AOD. Lin started off by explaining that design adds a certain value to whatever you do. It’s not about having appealing products. It’s about solving a problem. Even then, the solution to the problem must be human-centred.
“I believe the future is going to be technology”, Lin shared. She went on to explain that in the past, VC or Venture Capitalists invested in startups that have an innovative business model. But times have changed, says Lin. Now VC investment goes to those startups that are involved in the fields of Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence.
Lin also shared that if you’re going to launch a startup, you need a purpose for it. People are not interested in hearing about what you’re doing. Rather, they’re more interested about why you’re doing it.
Once you’re doing what you’re doing, you need to have an MVP or Minimum Viable Product. It may not be perfect, but it’s important that you get the product out as fast as possible with the basic functionality on point. Once it’s out, get feedback from users about it, learn from it and then keep on reiterating until the product is perfect.
“We need to have better Ideas”
This was the viewpoint of Aloka Gunasekara – Program Manager at StartupX Foundry. Aloka went on to share that we need to have a massive focus when it comes to creating businesses. As such, SMEs (Small Medium Enterprises) plays a vital part in all this. We also need to have a different approach to how businesses are created. Aloka then spoke about StartupX Foundry and some of the startups that were accelerated and funded there, namely Maturify, Tracified and IgniterSpace.
Aloka also emphasized on why we need scientific innovation-driven startups in Sri Lanka. For example, Aloka shared that convenience-driven startups are running out of space, especially in Sri Lanka. If you can patent something, then scaling, raising funds and even exiting the market become that much easier.
Perhaps most importantly, we need startups that earn in dollars and spend in Rupees. If a startup can enter the global market and make a name for themselves, the profits they make can be sent back into Sri Lanka, thus improving the country’s foreign investments. Last but not least, we need these startups to stem the brain drain in Sri Lanka.
“It is the responsibility of those who have the access and the resources, to create job opportunities for people in Sri Lanka, says Aloka. He went on to share that startups in Sri Lanka lack exposure. As such, he emphasized entrepreneurs and those who have their own startups to just go out of the country, see what happens, get some inspiration and come back to Sri Lanka. Once you come back, implement what you learned and saw.
Aloka shared that Funding is another problem. The investor mindset needs to change, and it is changing he explained. But in order to convince an investor to invest in a startup, we need to have better ideas. We need a mindset shift. It’s not just the extrinsic stuff, Aloka says, but it’s the intrinsic stuff as well.
It can be as simple as looking at an alternative energy source to get work done. In wrapping up, Aloka shared that if you’re passionate enough and you put all that effort, you can achieve your goals. This is what StartupX Foundry will also help you with.
A few words from those who are a part of SLINTEC Startup Engine
Niroshan Thiyagaraja, the finalist of SLINTEC Startup Engine 1.0 shared his product pitch with the audience. His product “B Pro” is essentially biodegradable packaging material. Rather than using plastic boxes to hold food, Niroshan’s more organic method involves creating these packaging materials from banana trees.
During the panel discussion that took place following Niroshan’s pitch, Haily Seneviratne, a research scientist at SLINTEC shared the details of her final year project at the University of Peradeniya. Her idea was essentially about adding nutrients to rice. While rice is primarily starch, Haily explained that she devised a method of injecting additional nutrients into grains of rice. These nutrients would otherwise not be consumed by humans.
Haily also shared that in order to commercialize her product, she first needed to find an investor. This is tricky if the Investor can’t see any viable returns for them. A general tip she shared was to think about getting a patent first. This was essentially what Aloka also shared in his session. Once you have a patent, you have more powers of persuasion to convince an investor to invest in you.
Onwards with SLINTEC Startup Engine 2.0
With regard to the SLINTEC Startup Engine 2.0, Dr. Rangika De Silva – Head of Technology Transfer at SLINTEC explained that the focus area of the engine was to pair entrepreneurs with the completed projects and SLINTEC. In addition, if someone had an idea related to material science or nanotechnology, SLINTEC would come forward, offering the correct equipment and the mindset to see it through.
As such, Dr. Rangika shared that those selected for SLINTEC Startup Engine 2.0 would receive incentives such as lab spaces, access to instruments and the technical knowhow along with engineering expertise. Registrations for applications are already open and the application deadline is the 31st of October.
If you think you have an idea that can innovate in the fields of science and nanotechnology, then, by all means, do go ahead and submit your application for SLINTEC Startup Engine 2.0. You can learn more about the SLINTEC Startup Engine here and keep an eye on their Facebook page for registration details.