Startup Weekend Colombo has begun

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It wasn’t that long ago that we saw the first Startup Weekend in Sri Lanka. Over the course of a single weekend, we saw people from all walks of life in Jaffna come together. As the sun rose on Monday morning, they had taken the first steps in building their own startup.  Only four months later, Sri Lanka is now hosting its second such event. Yesterday, Startup Weekend Colombo kicked off.

By now you probably know what Startup Weekend is. But in case you’re still lost, here’s the short introduction. Startup Weekend is a global initiative that aims to promote entrepreneurship. It gathers its participants at a single location for a weekend. It then empowers them with everything they need to build their very own startups. From mentors to free WiFi to coffee, Startup Weekend has everything you need to build a company over the weekend.

Startup Weekend Colombo has begun (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)
Startup Weekend Colombo has begun (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)

Startup Weekend Colombo Day 01 begins

The event kicked off, with a few short speeches. The first was by Sachindra Samararatne – Program Manager from ICTA. Sachindra began his speech by sharing some of the achievements of the Sri Lankan IT industry in 2016. The Sri Lankan delegation visiting 4YFN. Team Shark’s journey to Formula Student. Kaawo winning big at the Global Mobile Innovators Tournament. And the list goes on. Looking at these achievements Sachindra stated that by 2020, the IT industry (including its startups) will be Sri Lanka’s biggest exporter.

Following, Sachindra’s speech we saw the chairman of DIMO take the stage. He spoke briefly about how DIMO was born and what they are today. Afterward, we saw Shahani Markus – founder of Emojot take the stage. She opened by congratulating the participants for attending the event. Shahani went on to share a few quotes from Steve Jobs before talking about her experiences as an entrepreneur. She started her first business in 2006 and it failed. However, she doesn’t consider it a failure. This is because of the lessons it taught her and the people she met.

Half-baked ideas at Startup Weekend Colombo

Following Shahani’s speech, we saw Andrew Hyde – founder of Startup Weekend take the stage. Sri Lanka is the 79th country he’s visited. Startup Weekend Colombo is the 99th Startup Weekend he’s attended. After sharing these facts, he asks everyone in the audience to stand up. He tells them to wave their hands in the air. Then suddenly, he tells everyone to point at a single person. The person with most fingers pointed at them from each table just became a leader. This is how Andrew’s game known as half-baked began.

Andrew Hyde - The founder of Startup Weekend speaking at Startup Weekend Colombo (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)
Andrew Hyde – The founder of Startup Weekend speaking at Startup Weekend Colombo (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)

The leaders were then called onto the stage. They were asked to write a bunch of random words. Once they were done, Andrew asked them to pick two words. Having picked their words, the leaders were now tasked with thinking of a business idea that revolved around these two words. After a little bit of thinking, all the leaders gave a 30-second pitch of their business idea.

One person pitched an idea about a company using a drone to deliver goods to people in mountains. Another person pitched an idea about an app to get sushi after a movie. We also saw people pitch an idea for a DIY plan. But the most memorable one was the most feline one. This idea was about an AI cat. It’s a normal cat. Considering how cats are evil, we’re pretty sure this how Skynet is born.

“The possibilities are endless in this room. We can create great things if we want to” – Andrew Hyde

We played a game of half-baked on the first day of Startup Weekend Jaffna as well. As Andrew describes, “if you’re ever bored in office, play a game of half-baked with your friends.” He then shared with the audience what else they can expect from Startup Weekend Colombo. That, however, is up to the participants themselves. They could find co-founders, friends, ideas, funding, maybe all four and more. The possibilities are endless.

After Andrew shared his message, he invited the mentors on stage. The mentors shared with everyone the expertise they were bringing to the table. Together, they made up a salad of learning the participants could feast on.

Being courageous and sharing actual startup ideas

Once the game of half-baked ended, it was time for the initial Startup Weekend pitches. Each of these pitches would be one minute long. The purpose of these pitches was not to impress judges. Rather, it was to share a startup idea the participants wanted to work on. The stage was open to everyone.

However, that didn’t mean everyone took the stage to pitch an idea. Nonetheless, we saw a line form of people that wanted to pitch ideas for startups they wanted to build over the weekend. Even towards the end, as Andrew attempted to close the session, one more brave soul would take the stage to pitch an idea. When the session finally ended, thirty people had taken the stage and pitched their ideas to the audience at Startup Weekend Colombo.

Three of the thirty brave souls that pitched their startup ideas on Day 01 of Startup Weekend Colombo (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)
Three of the thirty brave souls that pitched their startup ideas on Day 01 of Startup Weekend Colombo (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)

After the pitching session ended, it was time for voting. While thirty ideas were presented, the participants will only be working on a handful of these ideas. And it was up to the participants to select these ideas. Those who had pitched had written their ideas on a piece of paper. Everyone was given a pair of sticky notes. The participants voted with their sticky notes. The people that pitched their ideas had to speak to the other participants and get as many sticky notes on their sheet of paper as possible.

Once voting began, orderly chaos ensued. The thirty people that pitched their ideas spoke with every single person they saw. The moment they finished pitching to the people at one table, they immediately jumped to the next free table. We don’t know how long the voting session lasted. All we know is that the hall was filled the sound of people pitching and that we had enough time to get some coffee.

The ideas of Startup Weekend Colombo

Thirty people took the stage and pitched their ideas. But only a handful of these ideas will be selected by the participants. It is these ideas that the participants will work on over the weekend. What were these ideas? Here’s the entire list:

  • An app that would allow you to express your opinions effectively. It could also be used as a marketing tool.
  • A community-based website for designers and artists. It would allow them to reach clients outside Sri Lanka.
  • An app that shares recipes of food you can make with the ingredients you already have.
  • An app that tells you where perverts are.
  • An initiative aimed at helping people pass exams. To do so, it would deliver education anywhere at any time.
  • A wedding management software to help you plan your wedding. Our co-founder Enosh could have used this a few months ago.
  • A coding boot camp for students. Over 12 weeks, students would learn the art of coding and how to build apps.
  • An app that would help you carry change while you go shopping.
  • A platform to help you find the closest ambulance in times of crisis.
  • A business solutions provider primarily aiming at startups.
  • An app that would give you updates about the status of your car in real-time.
  • A web platform that would help you deliver things. It would do this by connecting you with people who are travelling to the same place you want your package delivered.
  • A location based marketing app. The app would allow merchants to publish special offers. When the users of the app are close to the merchant, they’ll get a notification informing them about the offer.
  • An app that would allow you to easily book salon

Teams and plans finalized. Execution begins.

After the ideas were announced, it was time for dinner. Following dinner, everyone returned to the main hall. Andrew had one more announcement to make. That announcement was the judging criteria. On Sunday, the teams with the selected ideas will have to make a pitch. These judges of these pitches will look at three points:

  • Validation – Do customers want your idea? You’ll need to speak to customers and justify why you’re giving the answer you chose for this question.
  • Execution & Design – This is all about your MVP aka Minimum Viable Product. The judges will look at how functional it is and whether it’s easy to use.
  • Business Model – The final item is all about how you plan to build a successful business around the idea.

Once Andrew had explained the judging criteria, the day’s proceedings officially came to an end. Unofficially, Startup Weekend Day 01 would drag on into the night. The night was still young and people were joining teams. Once the teams were finalized, everyone started preparing planning their next move.

The teams have been finalized and today they take the first steps towards building their startups (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)
The teams have been finalized and today they take the first steps towards building their startups (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)

Today, they’ll be executing those plans. Today, the teams will be working with their mentors. Today is the day they take their first steps to building their startups. That involves figuring out the business plan, building MVP’s and speaking to people. By the end of the day, many of the teams will have new insight about their ideas. They may have to completely revamp their ideas or just slightly tweak it. Either way, the teams are fired up and determined to wake up on Monday as the winners of the first Startup Weekend Colombo.

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