Startup Weekend Vanni has begun


It was only six months ago, that we saw the global phenomenon that is Startup Weekend first come to Sri Lanka. It all began with Startup Weekend Jaffna where we saw 12 young startups take their first steps in a single weekend. Only a few months later, we saw Startup Weekend Colombo – the second Startup Weekend in Sri Lanka. And today, we are at the University of Jaffna for Startup Weekend Vanni.

There are approximately 100 participants inside the auditorium of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Jaffna. For 54 hours, they will brainstorm, experiment, validate and build a business idea. When the weekend ends, the participants will have taken the first steps in building their very own startup.

Welcome to Startup Weekend Vanni (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)
Welcome to Startup Weekend Vanni (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)

This is what Startup Weekend Vanni is all about, which is the first tech event to happen in Killinochchi.

To kick things off, we saw Abhishek Bhardwaj – facilitator of Startup Weekend Vanni. He began by introducing himself and then asked Dr. A. Atputharajah – Dean at the University of Jaffna to share a few words. During his speech, Dr. Atputharajah spoke about the mark of a successful university being that it produces graduates that help build opportunities for a country.

Abhishek Bhardwaj - the facilitator of Startup Weekend Vanni (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)
Abhishek Bhardwaj – the facilitator of Startup Weekend Vanni (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)

Afterward, Abhishek asked the organizing team to quickly introduce themselves. He then shared some statistics about Startup Weekend that we’ve almost memorized by now. As a movement, Startup Weekend has 200,000+ Alumni, 10,000+ Volunteers and is now in 800+ Cities. Abishek then introduced the participants to the agenda as to what they can expect over the weekend.

We then saw Ahamed Nishadh – Project Manager at ICTA take the stage. He spoke about how Sri Lanka’s startup has evolved over the years to the booming ecosystem it is now. He also shared some examples of Sri Lankan startup success stories such as HypeHash winning big at AngelHack, Mogo Solutions becoming a finalist at the Global Mobile Innovators Tournament, and NicNac representing Sri Lanka at SLUSH. Ahamed commended the Startup Weekend team and then shared a few important lessons for the budding entrepreneurs.

His first lesson was about the biggest challenge a startup faces: funding. There are many programs in Sri Lanka that help startups obtain funding. However, an entrepreneur shouldn’t take money simply because it’s being offered to him. They need to look at the consequences of taking that money. Is it only money being offered or are there other things like mentorship? Many startups suffer because its co-founders took money without thinking of the consequences.

His second lesson was for startups to be cautious when working with large companies. Contracts with them can have obscure legal terms that can put startups in a pinch. If you’re building a startup, be sure to share any contracts with a lawyer and explain any obscure terms for you before signing anything.

Ahamed’s third lesson was about investors. An investor will only choose to invest in a startup if it shows potential in offering a great return on investment to the investor. This requires a solid business plan and more important a powerful team. A powerful team that believes in your product from Day 01. Ahamed’s final lesson was to remind the audience that they should always try to build something unique.

Following Ahamed’s speech, we saw the participants take the stage and pitch their startup ideas.

As with previous Startup Weekend events, we saw a salad of ideas when the participants began pitching. We saw one participant pitch the idea for a platform to help coordinate your travel plans with your Facebook and Twitter friends. Another idea we saw a participant pitch at Startup Weekend Vanni was for a system to monitor the health condition of elderly relatives.

The participants of Startup Weekend Vanni pitching their ideas (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)
The participants of Startup Weekend Vanni pitching their ideas (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)

We also saw a pitch for an augmented reality app to help you try out clothes. A system to help farmers detect and combat insects to protect their harvest was also pitched. But the craziest idea we heard at Startup Weekend Vanni was for a drone delivery system that would help you send surprise gifts to your girlfriend.

Once the pitches ended, it was time to vote for the best ideas

However, the voting process would not be done by judges. As with its predecessors, it would be the participants of Startup Weekend Vanni themselves that decide the best ideas. With that rule in place, the organizers handed a large sheet of paper to the participants that pitched ideas and three sticky notes to everyone else.

A snapshot of the chaos during the voting session at Startup Weekend Vanni (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)
A snapshot of the chaos during the voting session at Startup Weekend Vanni (Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage)

The participants that pitched an idea would write it down and pitch it again to as many of the other participants as possible. Their goal was to obtain as many votes as possible. The way the other participants voted was by putting one of their sticky notes on the idea they liked best. Once the votes are tallied, it’s the top 12 ideas that will be the ones that the teams work on in the coming days at Startup Weekend Vanni.

After dinner, we learned what these twelve ideas were.

The twelve ideas which the teams will work on over the weekend at Startup Weekend Vanni are:

  • Speak and Charge: The idea for this startup team is simple as much as it is ambitious. It wants to harness your voice to help you charge your phone’s battery.
  • Easy Park: An app that helps you find a parking spot inside a carpark.
  • Travel with Me: A platform that helps you find friends to help explore your latest travel destination
  • Drone Deliveries: This is the idea we told you about delivering gifts to your girlfriends (and anyone else) with a drone.
  • Insector: The system aimed at farmers to help them protect their harvests. The system would do this by detecting and helping farmers stop insects from damaging their harvests.
  • An app for instant heart attack recovery: The name describes the app itself in a single sentence. This idea is a wearable device that aims to help save the lives of people at risk of heart attacks. The wearable device acts as a small defibrillator. The app can be used by the relatives or close friends of the patients to help restart their heart in the event of a heart attack.
  • KinderMed: A game that wants to encourage kids to take their medicines.
  • No Train Accidents: As the name suggests, this startup wants to stop train accidents. To do so, they have an app that would track your location and warn you if a train is nearby and heading towards you.
  • Chemistry Learning App: This app is aimed at students studying Chemistry for their O/Ls and A/L’s. It would provide complete notes, short notes, and practice questions to help them pass their chemistry exams.
  • How Am I? This augmented reality app would tell you whether you look good in an outfit or not. All you need to do is to take a picture of yourself and the outfit.
  • E-Toy: Imagine simple Lego bricks that you could use to build gadgets. That’s what this startup wants to offer.
  • Press Me: This startup team wants to help you improve your laptop’s battery life. To do so, it wants to turn every button you press on your keyboard into electricity.

These are the ideas of Startup Weekend Vanni

Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage
Image credits: Pradeep K. Liyanage

Once ideas were presented, the participants joined a team working on the idea they liked the most. Over the course of the weekend, these 12 teams will work on bringing their startups to life. To do so, they shall be working with their mentors today to refine the idea. Tomorrow they shall pitch these refined startup ideas and a prototype to the judges. Which team will have taken the furthest steps to build their startups when the sun rises on Monday morning? That’s something we’ll find out soon as the weekend unfolds. So stay tuned as we bring you the latest from Startup Weekend Vanni.