It was the first tech event to be held in Kilinochchi. Approximately 100 participants from universities across the island, made their way to the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Jaffna. Over the course of a single weekend, they brainstormed, hacked and transformed simple ideas into small startups. This was Startup Weekend Vanni.
It all began on a Friday evening when everyone arrived at an auditorium. An auditorium that was completed only a few hours earlier. The teams settled in and were introduced to the concept of Startup Weekend. Afterward, they selected ideas, formed teams, and began to work. On Saturday, most teams spent the day building prototypes, validating and refining their ideas with their mentors. Some teams decided to form a merger and work together on a single idea.
Come Sunday morning, the nine teams of Startup Weekend Vanni walked into the auditorium and began finalizing their presentations. Following breakfast, we saw Balathasan Sayanthan – founder of Yarl IT Hub take the stage. He began by sharing with the participants what they need to pay attention to if they want to give a winning pitch. Following Sayanthan’s speech, the teams returned to refining their pitches and ideas with their mentors.
After a few hours, it was time for the mock pitches. During these mock pitches, the teams got additional feedback, not just from their mentors but also the other mentors. Four and a half hours later, after the teams had lunch the time had come. When the clock struck 4.30 PM, the nine teams had to make their final pitch to the judges. These are the startups we saw at Startup Weekend Vanni.
Laptops like our phones can do everything we need from wasting time on Facebook to getting work done. However, they both have one common weakness: batteries. This team wants to help mitigate that weakness in laptops. They want to help you charge your laptop’s battery by using your keyboard.
Essentially, if you press a key on your keyboard then their device would charge your battery. In doing so, the team hopes to help increase the time you can use your laptop. The team hopes to get the patent for the design and then sell it to laptop manufacturers. Over time, the team hopes to introduce this device to smartphones. The judges suggested that the team’s research on the idea further.
The previous startup wanted to help you charge your laptop’s battery. This startup wants to help you charge your phone’s battery. To do so, the team is offering a solution to charge your phone with sound. This is done with the use of a device that uses the power of vibrations and converts it into electricity.
During their pitch, the team showed off a demo where they powered 100 LED Lights with a prototype. They’re aiming to sell this device at price of Rs. 2,000 or Rs .3,000. However, the judges weren’t too impressed. One of the judges went as far as to say that the team was promoting sound pollution.
The team responded by saying that their product was using sound pollution to generate energy. Ultimately, the judges suggested that the team try to pivot the product. This pivot would be to aim the product towards powering devices in large crowds like supermarkets. The judges also requested the team to look at the complexities of large-scale product manufacturing.
How Am I?
If you see a shirt, dress, or a pair of pants that looks great the only way of being sure it fits is by trying it out in a trial. This team wants to help eliminate the need to try clothes to see if they fit. The team proposed an idea for an augmented reality app at Startup Weekend Vanni.
This app would let you see how a certain outfit would look on you. All you have to do is take a picture of yourself and the outfit. Essentially, How Am I is a virtual trial room. The team’s primary target market is clothing retailers. To these retailers, How Am I would be offered on a subscription basis. For end-users, it would be free.
The judges didn’t have much feedback to give this team. Only questions regarding how the app would work both technically and in a business sense. Luckily for the team, they had an answer to these questions.
70% of young children refuse to take medicine. But all of them love to play games. This team wants to build a game that encourages young children to take their medicines. The game is a mobile app that works in conjunction with the Kinder Feeder – an IOT device tracking if your kid took their medication.
From their pitch, we saw that the team is aiming to make a platformer game like Super Mario. There was only one big difference. The Mario here would move forward and crush goomba’s whenever the player took his or her medicine.
Additionally, there’s also a parental control application. The basic app is offered for free but there’s an upgraded version available for purchase. This parental control app would help parents set the rules for the game. Going forward, the team hopes to create more toys in the Kinder line for the game. After hearing the pitch, the judges liked the idea but were worried about children getting addicted to their medicine. As such, the judges suggested that the team carefully look at the gameplay when designing the game.
Travel with Me
This team is planning to build a social network that helps connect travelers. So, if you’re traveling from Colombo to Jaffna, then you can find a travel buddy. Travel with Me would tell you exactly where and how your travel buddy will be traveling. The team is primarily aiming this social network at local travelers within Sri Lanka. However, it isn’t free. The first month is free for all users. But after the second month, you’d have to pay a subscription fee. Travel with Me hopes to obtain 10,000 users by the next year.
During their Q&A session, the judges asked the team why anyone would want such a social network. The team responded by sharing that they believe traveling alone is bore and can be insecure. The team also shared that both travelers can change their minds at any time. Travel with Me will feature a chat system to keep both parties informed.
Here’s a team at Startup Weekend Vanni that wants to help you find a parking spot. eZ-park is an app that would let you know, which parking spots are available around you. Additionally, the app would also let you book a parking spot in advance. Of course, to reserve a parking slot you will have to pay a reservation fee. However, to secure your parking slot you will have to count on the security personnel of the carpark.
Building devices can be a complex task, to say the least. As such, many children are discouraged from entering the science lab to hack and build devices. e-Toy wants to change that. They are offering a toy kit that children can combine to build devices.
e-Toy aims to sell these products to electronic wholesale suppliers, toy makers, parents, teachers, and students. The team acknowledges that they have some established competition. However, the e-Toy team is hoping to sell their blocks at a price that would be affordable for the Sri Lankan market. The judges liked the idea. However, they suggested that the e-Toy team focus on simplifying their idea and aiming bigger.
One of the biggest challenges during your schooling life would be exams. One of the most challenging exams would be chemistry for some of us. The team behind Cheese wants to make this challenge a bit easier. Cheese is an app, that offers notes, video lectures and even quizzes to help students pass chemistry exams. Initially, the team will be focusing on chemistry. Once they get the formula right, they’ll be expanding to other subjects.
Insector is a device that wants to help farmers protect their harvests. It does this by detecting insects and helping farmers stop them without resorting to pesticides. Insector does this emitting sounds at frequencies that help repel different types of insects.
However, the team does face some challenges. Some of these challenges are: finding the high-frequency sensors, making the devices cheap, and insects adapting to this new threat. At the end of the presentations, the judges weren’t too impressed. This was primarily due to the slide listing the challenges the team faced. The judges felt that the team was saying that everything they pitched was challenging.
Train accidents are a common and deadly occurrence. Railway crossings do have protective measures in place. However, these aren’t always effective. Safe Crossing wants to change this. At Startup Weekend Vanni, the Safe Crossing team pitched an app that could help save your life at a railway crossing.
It does this by taking your location and that of the train. If the app notices a train approaching you, then the app interrupts everything you’re doing with your phone to warn you. Additionally, the Safe Crossing would also allow you to book your train ticket. This is how the team wants to encourage you to use the app daily.
One could say that it’s a challenge to put GPS trackers to track the location of trains. But every train in the Indian Railway System (the most complicated one in the world) did this last year. The judges liked the idea. However, the judges were confused as to what was the core problem the team was aiming to solve.
The pitches end and the teams get some feedback
Once the pitches ended, it was time for the judges to make the tough decisions. As they debated amongst themselves, the teams got some general feedback. The first person to do so was the Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna – Senior Professor Vasanthy Arasaratnam.
She began her address by congratulating the organizing team for bringing Startup Weekend to Kilinochchi. She hopes that the program becomes an annual event that happens in Kilinochchi. During her speech, she encouraged the university students to work with their peers from the different faculties to build greater things.
Afterward, the judges shared their own general feedback with the participants. The first was Chalinda Abeykoon – CEO of Crowdisland. He said that the objective of these 54 hours was to validate a business idea. He commended everyone at Startup Weekend Vanni for achieving this objective beautifully.
However, he encouraged the upcoming entrepreneurs to remember that they are not the first to build something. There are competitors doing the same thing somewhere in the world. Chalinda also encouraged the participants to look at the world around them. In doing so, they should think how they can make it better. That’s what an entrepreneur does.
“It’s the technology startups of today will pave the path for Sri Lanka to become a digital economy tomorrow” – Sachindra Samararatne
Following Chalinda’s comments, we saw Sachindra Samararatne – Program Manager at ICTA share his thoughts. He began by commending the talent the speakers had for giving amazing pitches. However, he shared that both he and Chalinda still had a tough time understanding the ideas being pitched. Sachindra stated that it’s important to emphasize your unique selling point.
When emphasizing this unique selling point, it should be communicated in the simplest manner. Sachindra went on to say that the teams should focus on not just selling their MVP but also show how it’ll grow. He concluded by encouraging the participants to work with their peers as the Vice Chancellor said.
The winners of Startup Weekend Vanni
Once the judges and the Vice Chancellor had shared their feedback with the teams, it was time. This was the moment everyone was waiting for. To say that the teams were anxious and tense would be an understatement.
It didn’t help that the judges were constantly teasing the results and asking for guesses. But ultimately, they couldn’t keep it a secret for long. After three long days, the winners of Startup Weekend Vanni were as follows:
The most innovative idea was V-Charge
3rd place went to How Am I?
2nd place belonged to e-Toy
And Kinder Med walked away with 1st place
The first tech event in Kilinochchi came to an end
Once the awards had been handed out, it was a time of celebration. Many who walked into the auditorium as strangers were now leaving as friends. The air was filled with cheers and sighs of reliefs. Over the course of a single weekend, a bunch of new startups were born. Which of these new startups will go on to disrupt and revolutionize our daily lives? That’s something only time will tell us. And so the first tech event to take place in Kilinochchi, powered by ICTA, 99X Technology and Seylan Bank: Startup Weekend Vanni came to an end.