If the above title confuses you, then don’t worry. You can join us in your confusion. We were at Paradise Hotel, Negombo for the latest iteration of Startup Weekend Negombo. Held with great success in Jaffna, Colombo, and Vanni, Startup Weekend is a 54-hour event held over the weekend that starts on Friday night and ends on Sunday. Alongside Startup Week and Startup Digest, Startup Weekend is one of the startup programs organized by Techstars, a global ecosystem that helps entrepreneurs build great businesses. Throughout these 54 hours, participants gather at a single location which enables them to have all the tools and resources they need to build their own startups. This includes access to Free Wi-Fi, Coffee and mentors who would offer valuable advice to you.
As usual, the timing is a tad delayed (it’s Sri Lanka after all) but we’re able to kick things off at around 7.15PM. Anurag Maloo was on stage at Startup Weekend Negombo to introduce the audience to each other. He kicks off day one with an icebreaker. You must find your nose. No, that’s not in the literal sense. Rather, it’s to find like-minded people to forge connections, connections that would help them make new friendships over the next two days.
By “finding your nose” the participants would be able to meet new people, know what they do and love, all in the hope of finding a team that would just click. As the night progressed, participants shared their experiences, particularly about the crazy things that they did, be it in life, or as a startup.
Kicking things off with Entrepreneurship 101
Upul Disanayake, Founder and CEO of LONGWAapps and WebInvoiceMaker was next. Upul started off his talk by sharing a story. His story was of a farmer in Sri Lanka who depended on people to come help him gather the crops from his field. The morale of the story was that you should never rely on people to do your work, but rather invest in yourself and learn to do your work by yourself. Upul did not lead an easy life. Shuffling back and forth between his work life and home life, he struggled to maintain a balance and achieve the so-called work-life balance. His life story showed many more examples of how he worked day in and day out to be where he is now.
You can’t just teach something about startups or entrepreneurship, Upul said. Rather, you need to experience it. He went on to explain that one thing that is lacking in Sri Lankan businesses is the fact that they still think on a local scale when they should be concentrating on going global.
Playing a half-baked game
Anurag asked the participants to stand up and join up in rows of two. From there, they were asked to put their right hand in the air and wave it. After waving their hand in a circle, they were asked to bring their hands down and point to a single individual. The person how had the most amount of fingers pointed at them would play an important role later. The person on the right side of that person would also play a part in the exercise later on.
Following this, the group was asked to shout out a bunch of adjectives and nouns and wrote the answers on a whiteboard. The words ranged from Fish, potato, carrots, the beach, aliens, ghosts to Unicorns and Pokémon. At the end of the exercise, Anurag had a total of 40+ words. This is where things got rather interesting. The person on the right side of the person from each group who had the most amount of fingers pointed at them would have to walk up to the whiteboard and pick 3 words.
Once picked, the groups would have to create a pitch based on those three words. For example, one group picked the words Lobster, Nostril and Hitler. So the result was that when a lobster goes into nostril, you would apply an ointment made by Hitler. They call it “Nazi drops”. Another example was Football, Aliens and Mars. The result of this was an Alien Soccer League held on Mars. In order to view these matches, they would make use of the Space X program. We too got into the fun and picked the words Pokémon, Unicorn and Weed. The result: A theme park, where you get to ride unicorns while catching Pokémon, in Pokémon Go while having access to free Weed, all for USD$39.99.
The exercise was meant to show the audience how to pitch your ideas, learn from the ideas of others, build your network, save money and get stuff. Throughout the next 54 hours, you would find your tribe, receive advice from mentors which would prove invaluable to your business. They were also warned to be agile, be present and most importantly, be nice. Be respectful to various cultures and languages.
The participants take the stage
Each presenter would have 60 seconds to pitch their idea in front of the entire audience. There were a total of 32 ideas ranging from a smart budget tracker, which would allocate funds based on your expenses, to multiple vehicle sharing and carpool apps, to a hotspot sharing platform, to an all-in-one wedding tracking platform.
After the pitching was complete, the participants, mentors, judges and ourselves were invited to partake in a meal that known far and wide across the world as dinner. While having dinner, the participants were also handed 3 sticky notes and asked to vote for their favorite pitches. The pitches that would receive the most amount of votes would proceed to the next round.
After an intense round of voting, the following ideas/pitches were selected for Startup Weekend Negombo.
- DreamCatcher – This is an app that would tell you for how long you’d need to save money to buy a product based on your income and expenses.
- Ifi – This Is an app that would enable you to use the Hotspot capability of another person’s phone. For example, if you’re running out of mobile data and there’s a person who is hotspotting, the app would detect the connection and then connect to that internet connection. If a person uses up 50MB of data, then they would have the chance to share 50MB of data for someone else in need.
- TinyTasks – What if you needed a plumber or an electrician but you didn’t know anyone? Well, with TinyTasks, you can find the nearest one, akin to how PickMe works, but for electricians and plumbers. So you can see the closes ones in your area.
- The HoboTraveler – This is aimed at people who love to travel who also have a certain skillset with people willing to accommodate people who need a certain skill. For example, if you are good with graphics designing, and a person needs a graphic designer, they can host these people for free in return for their skills in graphics designing.
- Easy Traveler – This is essentially a real time location tracker for trains. So if you’re waiting for the train, you can get a real time update of where the train is and how long it will take to get to the station.
- VehicleMaster – This is an app that provides humidity and wetness details of the road and gives a message to the driver and slows down the vehicle if the wetness and humidity are high. If the humidity and wetness of the road are low or at acceptable range, you will be given a speed range you can drive at.
- School of Creative Industry – This is an online teaching portal to cater to students in rural areas.
- Guruthuman Network – With the goal of providing free education for everyone, Guruthuman (Singhalese term for Teacher) aims to set up hubs all around Sri Lanka and provide 24×7 learning and support.
- BItEvents – This is a centralized hub that anyone can create and view any event that happens locally. Think of it as a one stop hub for events.
- Tie The Knot – It’s a platform where a wedding planner, the bride, and groom virtually interact and also offers a platform to check the progress of the wedding details, vendors, and decorations
- Find Your Sound – A website to help young and talented music producers to gain the proper recognition they deserve. It also connects record label to startup music producers.
- ScanItNow – If you hate staying in long queues, then ScanItNow can help. Using a barcode or QR code, each item at the supermarket or grocery store will be added to a virtual store. At the checkout counter, you can pay for your product via Android Pay, Dialog eZ Cash or Mobitel mCash. You will then be sent an email with your purchase history and an accompanying text message as well.
Once these pitches were selected, Anurag was back on stage to talk about the importance of a team. As such, when building a team, you must have a diverse set of skills and perspectives. Anurag then spoke about the judging criteria.
Accordingly, the teams taking part in Startup Weekend Negombo would be judged on a number of criteria such as validation, execution and design, and their business model. He also emphasized the fact that rather than making a full blown product, that focus on an MVP that provides the same basic functionality as the final product.
Once all that was done, the participants joined a team working on the idea they liked the most. Over the course of the weekend, these teams would collaborate to bring this startup idea to life. Aiding them would be mentors who would offer valuable advice. Interestingly, the total number of finalists at Startup Weekend Negombo comprised of 6 females and 5 males, essentially meaning that 60% of the participants are females. This was indeed a proud moment for Anurag who boldly emphasized female empowerment.
And so, day one of #SWNegombo came to an end
But that didn’t mean the night was over, rather, it was far from it. The teams stayed up late to brainstorm to get ready for the next day. We ourselves stayed up with a few teams checking up on their progress to get a rough idea of what their product would be and how they would develop it, Just how ready would they be? Well, that would be answered on Startup Weekend Negombo Day 02.