Taking to the Hills for Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy

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Kandy, the birthplace of a number of kings, the hill capital of Sri Lanka, and also the home of Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy. By now you probably have some inclination of what Techstars Startup Weekend is. Techstars Startup Weekend is a 54-hour event held over the weekend that starts on Friday night with participants pitching their ideas, carrying them on through Saturday and then ending with a final product pitch on Sunday.

Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy
Anurag Maloo, Regional Manager at Techstars

During these 54 hours, people gather at a single location to perform the ultimate feat: creating and launching a company within these 54 hours. We saw some really interesting startups emerge from previous Techstars Startup Weekends that took place in Colombo, Negombo, Trincomalee, and Jaffna.

Ayubowan Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy

Greeting everyone with an infectious enthusiasm was Anurag Maloo, the regional manager of Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Anurag welcomed everyone to the main hall of the Oak Ray Regency Hotel and asked everyone to make themselves comfortable. Given the sheer number of bean bags, this was a pretty easy thing to do.

Breaking the Ice like a Titanic

As with any Techstars Startup Weekend events, the first thing that takes place is the Icebreaker. No, there was no ice harmed in this process. Rather, it was a way for everyone present at the event, from organizers to mentors, to participants and even ourselves, to get to know each other and identify what each of us is good at. Anurag called this process “finding your nose”. It also included sharing some of the craziest tasks carried out. The results were quite entertaining and also interesting.

Techstars Startup WeekendFor example, our editor Mazin spoke with two rather unique characters. One had stolen a trishaw during his younger days, and the other stayed away from school for two consecutive grades because he simply “didn’t feel like it”.

Anurag then reminisced about the previously held Techstars Startup Weekend, which was Techstars Startup Weekend Jaffna. He spoke about the ideas he saw and how Jaffna was hard at work to become the next Silicon Valley. We saw a lot of familiar pictures in Anurag’s presentation as well.

Amithe Gamage wanted us to sell ourselves

Amithe, Co-founder at Quantum Leap was on stage next. He started off his session with an interesting question: “How do I sell?”. If you have a product or service that you want to pitch to potential investors, how do you go about it? Well, as Amithe explained, you need to have confidence. Not just in yourself, but in your solution as well. You also need to sell your ideas on a B2B level. From there, it’s time to harness the power of social media. Apart from selling your product, you must also put yourself out there and sell yourself.

Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy
Amithe Gamage addressing the participants

Relationships are important

Amitha used an example of how he uploaded a photo of a pot of curd he purchased that was only two days away from expiring. The seller would ask those looking to buy the said pot of curd if they are going to eat it today or tomorrow. Since the curd was two days from expiry, if it wasn’t to be consumed today, the seller asked Amithe to come the next day.

Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy
The pot of curd that churned everything (Image Credits: Facebook)

This photo was seen by a high ranking official at the Galadari hotel who immediately contacted Amithe and asked him where he too could place an order for the hotel. Amitha’s point here was to emphasize that you need connections and relationships with people.

Amithe went on to explain some of the biggest challenges that an entrepreneur or a startup can face. The biggest challenges are the lack sales experience, fear of rejection and also the lack of time. But Amithe encouraged the participants to not lose hope.

Techstars Startup Weekend KandyOnce people had found their nose, it was time to play the half-baked game. Now we’re no stranger to this but we’ll give you a rundown of it anyway. The process involved the participants shouting out nearly 30-40 unique words. They could be nouns or adjectives.

Pitching it half-baked way

So once random, funny, and occasionally disturbing (thank you Aloka) words were yelled out, participants at Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy were quickly divided into 7 teams. Each team was told to pick three words from the jumbled mess before them on the whiteboard and come up with a creative business idea using those words. They would then have to pitch it to the rest.

Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy
Picking words for the half-baked game

Needless to say, pitching was lively and fast-paced. The ideas ranged from time-based wade packages and red bats for elle players to koththu weekend and a cable car from Hanthana to Wales Park.

Back to briefing out

Once all teams were done with their mock pitches, Anurag then went on to explain how successful companies have kick-started themselves with Techstars Startup Weekend events. He told a story of determination and sheer willpower, as well as good marketing skills and business minds. Zapier, EasyTaxi, and Rover were a few examples he used, among others.

Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy
Participants pitching their half-baked ideas

He went on to say that they were currently celebrating the fact that Techstars Startup Weekend had its’ 10th birthday in 2017. After that he briefed everyone on what Techstars is, as a company that aims to help entrepreneurs on their journey. He also mentioned the various sponsors and partners who were providing support for this event. He states that among key things we should learn in Techstars Startup Weekend is validating ideas, and learning a new skill.

The schedule for the weekend for Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy was then laid out, with Anurag explaining in detail what the participants were supposed to do and how to do it. He explained that the process of building an idea had three major points;

  • Validation
  • Design and execution
  • Business model

60-second pitches like the ball’s on fire

Once that was done volunteers were asked to form a line and make a 60-second pitch then and there, surprising (and scaring) many of those participating. However, a number of those stepped up to the challenge, and Anurag quickly and briefly explained the Do’s and Don’ts of pitching, including how to structure the pitch. He also gave some guidelines, for example, that the ideas should be at seed-stage, and something new.

Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy
Participants making their 60-second pitches to the audience

Pitching rounds began, with a large timer on the screen behind the pitcher making it seem all too real, and all too short. 17 unique ideas in total popped up in 17 minutes, and then participants were asked to vote online for their top three ideas. An intense session of talking/discussing/underhanded marketing ensued, but finally, everyone had voted.

Those whose ideas weren’t selected were quickly roped into teams by these intrepid entrepreneurs, who would be developing these ideas throughout the weekend to pitch for the final presentations on Sunday.

Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy
Participants voting for their top three favorite ideas

With that, Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy wrapped up, with some of us heading to cozy homes or hotel rooms while others decided to camp out and work on their ideas overnight. Day 2 of Techstars Startup Weekend Kandy also promises to be good, with 11 teams racing to finalize their ideas. Stay tuned to see what happens.

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