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Stax Lab 2014: Creating opportunities for Sri Lanka’s budding tech entrepreneurs

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By Maya Chandra For the past four years, students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have been making an annual trip to Sri Lanka, to find and foster entrepreneurial spirit in the field of web/mobile based solutions. This trip is part of a program called Global Startup Labs, an MIT International Science and Technology initiative, designed to create opportunities for technology entrepreneurs in developing countries. Teams of students have a matter of weeks to design a high-quality product, before presenting to a group of angel investors on the lookout for high-potential startups. Stax Inc a global strategy consulting firm meanwhile through a social initiative known as Stax Labs collaborates with strat-ups in order to provide them with the strategic insights and guidance that helps budding entrepreneurs launch their ideas and products into the market. Originally pioneered by Arj Wignaraja and Ruwindhu Peiris, Stax Labs has attracted some of the best and the brightest in student entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka. The mentoring helps the entrepreneurs to not only prepare for the investors, but also gives them valuable insights into the market and how to succeed within it. They have to ask themselves some tough questions, including the million dollar question: what differentiates a successful startup from a failed one? Creating a strong product is only half the battle; there are many strong products but not all can succeed in a highly competitive market. Stax has now extended this giving-back initiative to the teams participating in the GSL program and has designed a more comprehensive mentoring process. This year Stax worked directly with GSL to provide valuable insights into the challenging task of marketing innovative ideas and products as profitable investments, as well as guidance in approaching that challenge. Teams consisting of Stax professionals with backgrounds in research, consumer insights, finance, and data analysis met multiple times with the GSL entrepreneurs in the weeks leading up to the event, to advise them on how to promote their product’s value in a market flooded with startups. By building on revenue models, value proposition, understanding of market trends, and presentation of the product, Stax support helped GSL entrepreneurs to prepare for their product launches, and for the tough questions potential investors will ask. The 2014 Stax Lab Event took place on July 24th, a week prior to the GSL investor presentations. The event was held in partnership with GSL and SLASSCOM. Aside from the teams and their Stax mentors, investors and industry experts came out to see the presentations. The startups showcased on the day were targeting a range of fields- from education to fashion to food. Every product was catered to address a problem, a deep-seated deficiency in the given field. For these entrepreneurs however, that deficiency was an opportunity to take a workable solution to a targeted market. As much as Stax Lab was a very technical presentation, and a forum for entrepreneurs to pitch to investors, it was also a celebration of the achievements and the potential of the GSL entrepreneurs in a rapidly changing market. We hope they will keep in mind what they have learned from their mentors and Stax Lab experience not only on Launch Day, but in the rest of their exploits as well.

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