MIT’s first Asian initiative buds young Lankan entrepreneurs
By Cassandra Mascarenhas
For the first time in Asia, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Accelerating Information Technology Innovation Initiative (MIT AITI) in collaboration with the University of Moratuwa (UOM) hosted Demo Day 2011 yesterday, the culmination of a unique start-up incubator during which six teams of young entrepreneurs from the UOM pitched six start-ups based on mobile technology before an audience of distinguished guests from industry, academia and government.
AITI is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) programme that promotes economic development in emerging regions by cultivating a new generation of young technology entrepreneurs. Since its launch in 2000, AITI has conducted 32 programmes in six African countries and in total over 1,800 students have participated in a variety of intensive courses, from web programming to mobile technology.
This year marks AITI’s inaugural programme in Sri Lanka and at the same time marked this programme’s entrance into Asia, in cooperation with the University of Moratuwa. Through a demanding six week programme, AITI has guided six teams of UOM students in building real mobile software start-ups. At the Demo Day, each team publicly pitched their start-ups with the goal of attracting a round of funding and ultimately launch a profitable and sustainable enterprise.
With a panel of judges consisting of representatives from the three largest mobile service providers in Sri Lanka – Dialog, Mobitel and Etisalat, who were also co-sponsors of the event, as well as two other entrepreneurs from WSO2 and Microimage respectively evaluating the six start-ups, 29 students divided into groups of six presented their innovative start-ups based on mobile technology.
“Six weeks ago, we embarked on a pretty audacious journey. We took a big risk and decided that within six weeks we would, with some of the best students in this country, build up six start ups in such a brief period of time, start-ups based on mobile technology and today, we are happy to announce that we have been absolutely successful and today six start-ups will be launched,” stated the lead entrepreneurship instructor with MIT AITI Samidh Chakrabarti. “Our programme is meant not only to produce companies, but to increase both innovator and investor confidence in a market whose time has come and this event is intended to serve as a catalyst for technology entrepreneurship in the Sri Lankan market, which is rich in technical talent.”
The programme which commenced on 27 June saw the students put to the test by three MIT-affiliated instructors who have been coaching a select group of twenty-nine UOM students in how to build software start-ups. The teams have undergone rigorous training in both business and technology en route to developing mobile applications that provide innovative solutions to important problems.
Previous AITI courses in other nations have been incredibly successful with several start-ups achieving profitability and serving as job creators in their regions. Given the technical sophistication of UOM, AITI believes that its programmes in Sri Lanka can break new ground.