Organized by the combined efforts of our very own team at ReadMe, together with Manoj Ranaweera, StartupX Foundry and CrowdIsland, we explored the startup vibes & the Sri Lankan tech ecosystem.
Hosted at StartupX Foundry on the 10th of January 2018, and initiated by Manoj Ranaweera, a tech entrepreneur and the former CEO and Founder at edocr, the event took the form of a meetup. This was an open invitation to the Sri Lankan tech entrepreneur community to see the progress made by the ecosystem since its inception half a decade ago.
Kicking things off was Manoj himself
Having entered the tech startup world 14 years ago, Manoj went on to talk about the how he started 11 ventures throughout the 14 year period, with a quite a number of failures.
He also spoke about the importance of continuous learnings and taking those learning into the next venture. In conclusion, Manoj spoke about the emerging trends in startups and encouraged entrepreneurs to never give up.
The Story of ReadMe
Mazin Hussain, our very own editor at ReadMe was up next. Mazin started off by giving a brief introduction to ReadMe. Interestingly, this meetup coincided with the 6th birthday of ReadMe. From what began as a simple startup, ReadMe transformed into something bigger: Nexia Capital Media.
Mazin then went on to speak about the Sri Lankan IT industry. These, he said can be categorized into three sectors: ICT companies, BPO companies and Academia. As of 2016, the Sri Lankan ICT/BPO sector was valued at $900 Million. This is almost double that of 2011, when it was $440 Million.
In terms of export contribution, the ICT/BPO sector contributed to 6.87% of total exports. In 2016, the Apparel industry contributed a total of 41.28% valued at $4.3 billion. The IT industry has 61,494 people employed, according to data taken from the Department of Labor. This is without taking into account freelancers and startups.
Mazin then gave examples of some successful companies such as ExtremeSEO, 99X Technologies, and even CodeGen. He went on to say that the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem is indeed active and growing. However, it is also quite young and in its early stages.
In wrapping up, Mazin emphasized that we need to try and go beyond Colombo and introduce technology on a grand scale to communities across Sri Lanka. Initiatives such as Yarl IT Hub and Startup Weekend are trying to do just that and it’s working. In closing, Mazin left us with an interesting question: how do we make technology more accessible to people?
A Brief on Startups, Incubators and Accelerators
Following Mazin, we had Aloka Gunasekara. Aloka, the Program Manager at StartupX Foundry carried forth Mazin’s views on startups. He spoke about how startups are the “cool” things to be a part of in the current day and age.
Aloka then spoke about the initiatives in place to help startups grow and exit quickly. His examples were Spiralation and GSEA as examples. In case you didn’t know, Spiralation is a program by ICTA launched in 2010 that focuses on supporting new technology ventures.
Aimed at budding entrepreneurs who had a vision of launching their technology startup, a typical Spiralation program includes seed funding, training sessions, networking sessions, business promotion opportunities (both locally and internationally), etc. Aloka’s example of a Spiralation product was Arimac.
Aloka then spoke about the various startup incubators and accelerators that are currently available in Sri Lanka. His examples were the Lankan Angel Network, Hemas Slingshot, the John Keells X Innovation Challenge, and the latest which was StartupX Foundry.
Meetups such as Refresh Colombo, which Aloka was a founding member of, and Spike were platforms for people to come together and discuss what they’re working on. They all have one goal in common: helping a startup from a grassroots level, grow exponentially, and then be acquired by one of the larger conglomerates and safely exit the market.
Helping Startups get funded?
The last speaker for the day at Startup Vibes was Chalinda Abeykoon. Chalinda, the CEO of crowdisland.lk spoke about what his company, Crowdisland does. In case you didn’t know, Crowdisland isn’t your average equity crowdfunding platform. They’re a financial services company dedicated to helping startups.
Chalinda spoke about how his career started off. He shared his experience running two startup accelerators: Spiralation by ICTA and Disrupt Unlimited by Brandix. Afterwards, he explained what crowdisland does to help startups become investor ready. This support is open to any startup that has already validated its idea and is looking to scale.
He concluded by emphasizing that Crowdisland doesn’t run any competitions. Rather, they’re open to any startup and keep an open door at all times. If any startup wants their help they can get in touch through their website.
Pizza and Pitches
Following Chalinda’s speech, Mazin was back again on stage to make a few announcements. The first one was to say that the pizza had arrived (which received tumultuous feedback). The second was to introduce a number of new and upcoming startups in the current industry.
The magic of Alakazam
Founded by Dulitha Wijewantha, Alakazam is a digital marketing assistant that provides insights and recommendations for small businesses on their marketing activities. We initially saw them at Seedstars Colombo 2017 and also at Infotel 2017.
Carried out via Facebook Messenger, Alakazam carries out an in-depth analysis of your business and generates reports based on gathered data. Dulitha went on to explain how Alakazam can help businesses carry out impactful marketing campaigns.
VeroxLabs is cooking up some interesting stuff
Founded by Harin de Silva, VeroxLabs is a medical device development company that designs, patents, manufactures and markets laboratory equipment for Assisted Reproductive Technology. Additionally, they also offer other services such as creating inline filters to separate volatile organic compounds, which they recently did for a US company.
Verox Labs was initially based in the UK but recently moved to Sri Lanka. However, it has a global footprint because it manufactures medical equipment and then licenses the designs out to larger manufacturers of medical equipment. They have a global support network and aim to disrupt the market with technology and a strong value proposition.
The Intelligence of Conscient AI
The brainchild of CD Athuraliya along with two of his peers, ConscientAI deals with harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, deep learning, machine learning for usage by ye average consumer.
We saw them at the OSLO Innovation week and then again at Disrupt Asia 2017 as well. Their specialty is utilizing visual content with machine learning.
Saving your vision with Optha
We first saw Keerti Kodithuwakku’s product at Seedstars Summit where they showcased Jendo, a preventive healthcare solution to combat cardiovascular disease.
The new product, Optha aims to help users protect their eyes and safeguard their vision by identifying potential problems and notifying the user about it.
It was indeed an evening of good vibes
Following the last pitch, Manoj Ranaweera was back on stage to thank people for their time and also to speak about his latest venture, Techcelerate Ventures, which plans to help Sri Lankan companies through UK Sri Lanka Tech Partnership. In conclusion, Mazin took the stage deliver the vote of thanks and invited those attending for more pizza and drinks.
With that, the Startup Vibes meetup came to an end.