The application of technology innovatively to improve access to information, products or services was the common theme when seven teams of young Sri Lankans demonstrated their ideas for business start-ups at the conclusion of the Brandix-funded MIT Global Start-up Labs (MIT-GSL) Sri Lanka 2014 challenge.
From the delivery of therapy to dyslexic children, accessing organic vegetables and fruit, or eliminating false alarms generated by electronic surveillance systems, to helping university students find lodging facilities, commuters to locate the taxis closest to their locations, and retailers to know, engage and retain customers, the ideas were presented to potential investors at the program’s ‘Demo Day.’
A collaboration between Brandix, the Sri Lanka Association of Software and Service Companies (SLASSCOM) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the 2014 MIT-GSL Sri Lanka program commenced on 9 January 2014 and ended on Wednesday 30 July. The program is to be offered twice a year to second-year or older undergraduates as well as recent graduates of Sri Lankan universities.
The top seven teams that presented their start-up ideas after seven months of brainstorming, training and mentorship provided by the program, were chosen from the 75 original participants selected from an initial pool of 380 applicants from several higher education institutions including the Universities of Moratuwa, Colombo and Sabaragamuwa, the Open University of Sri Lanka, the Informatics Institute of Technology (IIT), the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT), and Alliance Française de Kotte.
Speaking on behalf of Brandix at the ‘Demo Day’, Group Director Udena Wickremesooriya said his company is involved with the MIT-GSL program to drive disruptive innovation in the apparel industry.
“I come from an industry labelled by many as very ‘basic’, with adjectives such as ‘Juki’ and ‘Garment’,” he said. “This is partly true, if you consider something like a man’s shirt, which hasn’t changed much from the time of my grandfather and father. Compare that with anything else you use, from mobiles to cars to shoes which have all gone through a mega transformation. What this shows is the opportunity that exists in the industry to do something completely different and disruptive.”
In his speech, SLASSCOM Chairman Emeritus Madu Ratnayake said the progress made by the MIT-GSL Sri Lanka program could be an indicator that the target of having 1,000 start-ups by 2022 could be overhauled. “If you look at the top 20 companies in the world today, 60% would be technology companies, and half of them did not exist 20 years ago,” he said. He stressed that more than ideas, money and the team, the most important aspect of the MIT-GSL program is the mentorship provided to the participants.
The panel of judges at the Demo Day comprised of members of the Lanka Angel Network (LAN) Messrs Dumindra Ratnayake, Mano Sekeram, Asantha Wijeratne, Hiran Wickramasinghe, Duminda Jayatilleka and Rohitha Mendis. The seven start-ups that pitched their ideas for investor support were ‘Organic Hug’ (Reap the harvest near at hand), ‘Top Notch (Understand, engage and retain your customers), ‘ShopIn’ (Helping fashion retailers know the unknown), ‘Dolawa’ (Taxi around the corner), ‘D-Care’ (Your child can learn easier and faster), ‘Boarding.lk’ (Find a boarding place that feels like home) and ‘Eagle Eye’ (Stay notified, stay safe).
The best three start-up ideas chosen by the panel of judges were ‘Dolawa’ followed by Eagle Eye and Organic Hug. Each of these three teams will be given an opportunity to launch its start-up with SLASSCOM and receive a grant from Brandix in aid of this process.
A Group that employs approximately 48,000 people at manufacturing plants in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh, Brandix has partnerships with the Universities of Colombo, Peradeniya, Moratuwa, Kelaniya, Sri Jayewardenepura and Wayamba and the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT). A preferred supplier to many global apparel labels, Brandix is credited with many firsts on the global stage, and recently launched its own seed accelerator ‘Disrupt Unlimited’ to inspire, mentor and fund start-ups with breakthrough solutions that disrupt products, practices, processes and business models in the apparel, textile and fashion accessories sectors.