SDFL Chairman Dr. Lionel Pinto, LIIN Chairman Chandula Abeywickrema and SDFL Director and GEN Sri Lanka Acting Managing Director Suresh de Mel, with the SDFL Team at the MOU signing ceremony
Lanka Impact Investing Network (LIIN), co-founders of ‘Ath Pavura’, a TV reality show in the style of Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den, but channelling private equity into micro, small and medium (MSME) level ‘social entrepreneurs’ which was rated as the Number 1 business program in the country, has entered into a partnership with the Skills Development Fund Ltd. (SDFL) through an MOU in order to foster a vibrant and thriving entrepreneurship ecosystem in the country through entrepreneurial skills and network development.
The SDFL was established in 1998 by the UNDP and the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the recommendation of the presidential task force on technical education and vocational training.
The ecosystem currently present in Sri Lanka limits the grassroot level entrepreneurs’ ability to rise amongst challenges in order to secure funding, create strategic partnerships and disrupt markets due to the inability to showcase their business acumens and skills as verified by an independent third party. Entrepreneurs do not have the necessary environment built to reach out to the key stakeholders and showcase their businesses due to the inability to showcase a proof of concept at an early stage of their respective businesses and due to the underdevelopment of necessary and required business skills. This situation is highly prominent in the regional areas beyond the Western Province where entrepreneurs have limited access to obtain skills and reach out to the intended markets.
In order to address these challenges LIIN, SDFL, GEN Sri Lanka along with other ecosystem partners will be engaging in a collaborative partnership to build a vibrant and thriving entrepreneurship ecosystem in the country by focusing on the three areas of access to capital, access to market and access to process. The ecosystem will bring together the network, the tools and the activities of skills development and vocational training, knowledge and guidance, financial literacy, research and development, market information and transforming attitudes in order to face the challenges and harness the opportunities of entrepreneurship.
For the first time in Sri Lanka through this public private partnership to energise entrepreneurship throughout the country, grassroot level entrepreneurs will obtain the opportunity to receive National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Level 1 and Level 2 training in order to show case a certification of being an incubated and trained entrepreneur of the SDFL. This initiative will effectively network partners to strengthen the entrepreneurship ecosystem, to provide mentoring and private equity along with technology support with the intention of acting on the four pillars of connecting, understanding, supporting and celebrating entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka.
This ecosystem will provide the platform required for entrepreneurs to collaborate, lead policy advocacy, break down silos, overcome cultural and policy barriers, innovate, gain access to resources, global best practices, finance, markets, mentor and finally empower, share success stories, popularise and to create a transformation in the wider market.
Thus, the long-term goal of building this ecosystem would be to provide a support mechanism along with access to mentorship for the grassroot level entrepreneurs in all regions of the country in order for them to thrive and contribute to developing their communities.
Setting up of an Entrepreneur Incubation Model in order to drive the eco system
As the initial step in creating an ecosystem LIIN has developed an entrepreneur incubation model to be implemented by SDFL. Whilst setting up the first Entrepreneur Incubator Model, LIIN would also be training a specially selected team from SDFL to acquire the necessary skills required to run and operate the Entrepreneur Incubator at SDFL.
Entrepreneurs entering into this ecosystem will be channelled through the incubation program, after which they would be eligible to receive the NVQ level 1 and 2, certification. On successful completion, they would be given the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to receive an initial seed grant to pioneer their businesses enterprise. This seed grant will be released from a Grant Fund which will be managed by LIIN while a Grant Committee will also be formed with representatives from SDFL, LIIN and two other independent experts sitting on the committee. The Grant Committee would make the final decision to release the initial seed funding based on the entrepreneur’s pitch to the Committee. The ticket size of the funding per entrepreneur would range from Rs. 25,000 to a maximum of Rs. 100,000. Post the seed funding stage, LIIN would be facilitating opportunities for the funded entrepreneurs to receive further capital infusion needed to accelerate, expand and grow their businesses through loans and private equity arrangements.
Through these arrangements the partners involved would be targeting to provide hand holding support to grassroot level entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka to enter the spotlight and create businesses that are able to compete in the national as well as the international arena.