“When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.”
– Oscar Wilde
It’s safe to say that Sri Lanka isn’t Silicon Valley; we’ve yet to see a Facebook or a billion-dollar investment coming from the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Nevertheless, the seeds are germinating. Yesterday, at OZO Colombo, Venture Engine brought onto the stage 11 startups hoping to secure funding and scale into the Next Big Thing. Their task was to convince a jury of millionaire investors that their ideas deserved a few hundred thousand dollars in funding (photos by Pasan Dominic).
Three of them made it: YAMU, Stripes and Checks and Audiobooks, with Stripes and Checks being declared the winner and the others being runners-up. Stripes and Checks is about custom-tailored shirts: you can pick and choose the materials and elements off their website and make your order. Audiobooks is a project to create audiobooks in local languages. Yamu is, well, Yamu.
Among those judging were Padmanaja Ruparel, President of the Indian Angel Network; Rajan Anandan, MD of Google India; Pankaj Jain of 500 Startups, one of the most active VC firms in the world and Frankie Fang of LGT Capital Partners, managing a fund of over $50 billion. Behind them was much of the Lankan Angel Network, each weighing in with their own set of scales.
For those new to the term, Venture Engine is a program driven largely by the Lankan Angel Network and Blue Ocean Ventures: it collects all the hopefuls together, cuts out many, refines a few and gives them a shot at the money. Quite a few of the “new” brands making a splash emerged from Venture Engine – Takas, Trekurious, 24/7 Techies, ZigZag and Glitteray are good examples. This year, 150 startups applied and were narrowed down to a fairly diverse 11 companies – some established and generating revenue (such as YAMU, Stripes and Checks, GroGreen) and some looking to secure funds before launch, most with a very strong connection to tech.
The question of whether they did or not was answered at the awards ceremony that kicked off in the evening. Ehantha Sirisena of OMAK Technologies, current a bit of a LAN favourites, as they’ve raised millions and seem to be well on the way to making more, took the stage to talk about how they went from being app developers in a corner of a garment factory to building the restaurant backend software endorsed by celebrity restaurateurs like Dharshan Munidasa and Harpo.
Jeevan Gnanam of Orion City fame also put in an appearance, ending his address with some food for thought: “Some of you want to be the Mark Zuckerbergs or Elon Musks of this world. Some are in for the money, some for the fame. If you’re in it for these three, I beg you, reconsider: those who have run companies know how unsexy it can get; for most successful people it is the journey, not the end.”