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Startup boot camps inspire young entrepreneurs in Jaffna

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  • Entrepreneurship is the way to expand opportunities in Sri Lanka

By Amanda Gant

Sri Lanka’s supply of entrepreneurs is relatively short, and it’s only hindering the economic growth of the country. Only 2.8% of the Sri Lankan population are business owners (as compared with 10-20% in comparable countries around the world, according to a September Daily FT article). Congruently, 45% of the population earns less than $5 a day according to the World Bank, showing a need for further economic development, including through developing startup companies that will provide employment and innovation, to bring success to the Sri Lankan population.

Entrepreneurship: A true option for Sri Lankans

Luckily, entrepreneurship is now more than ever a realistic option for Sri Lanka. Seth Levine, founder of the Colorado-based VC firm The Foundry Group, shares that the “breaking down of geographic boundaries that (previously) confined entrepreneurial communities” is now making entrepreneurship a viable option for regions outside of the traditional startup hotspots of Silicon Valley. He goes on to explain that, “entrepreneurial communities… thrive best in open environments… when information sharing is free and when entrepreneurs have access to other entrepreneurs.”

Venture Frontier Lanka: A Sri Lankan focus with a global reach

Enter: Venture Frontier Lanka (VFL), a nationwide private-public initiative launched in March 2018 to identify and support entrepreneurs all across Sri Lanka through community-building, trainings, mentorship and eventually seed funding. Since its launch VFL has hosted two startup boot camps (one in Colombo and one in Jaffna), a CEO forum, and a virtual live broadcast about startup ideation that had viewing sites in nine universities and over 1500 views.VFL works on a global and local model, bringing experienced entrepreneurs from both Sri Lanka and also from around the world to share experiences with Sri Lankan startup founders. 

VFL is run independently by a team co-founded by Ovidiu Bujorean, of the US, and Heminda Jayaweera, of Sri Lanka. VFL operates as an independent company registered in Sri Lanka is thankful for initial funding support from Hemas Holdings, LOLC and the Sri Lanka Export Development Board.

A glimpse into Jaffna’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

VFL is truly an initiative for the whole island. In partnership with Yarl IT Hub in Jaffna, VFL organised a boot camp earlier this 5 and 6 May that trained and mentored founders from 19 startups in Jaffna, many of whom had graduated from Yarl IT Hub’s six-month coding school called uki.life. The VFL Startup Boot Camp, hosted at the Yarl IT Hub’s brand new co-working centre, featured design thinking and leadership workshops, one-on-one mentorship, and a pitching session where the three top performers included: 

  • First Place: idea Factory, which is creating a patented plastic bottle recycling machine that will automatically reimburse bottle recyclers with mobile phone credits; 
  • Second Place: Cookoo, a company that will soon showcase gourmet in-home dining experiences in Jaffna that travelers and local foodies alike can book and pay for online; and 
  • Second Place: (Judges could not break the tie in selecting!) Skyline, a local print shop that is going digital and serving the Jaffna and global market by taking advantage of technology to allow customers to create custom orders online.

The need for mentorship and international connections is real

“More than money, I personally need mentorship; connection with someone who has been there and understands the construction industry abroad, who has connections and feels interested in hearing about our product, giving us feedback and making introductions on our behalf,” shared Nithushan Uthayakumar, a national mentor at the VFL boot camp in Jaffna, who is also the founder of BLUE LOTUS 360, an enterprise resources planning software-as-a-service startup.

VFL works to fill this mentorship gap by providing entrepreneurs a platform and structure to form connections with allies overseas. VFL has a network of over 200 mentors from around the globe with whom VFL will match participating Sri Lankan entrepreneurs throughout the programs. VFL global mentors are currently providing three months of mentorship to the top 3 venture founders as identified at both the Colombo and Jaffna startup boot camps held earlier this May.

Join in future Venture Frontier Lanka initiatives

VFL’s next initiative will be a nation-wide entrepreneurial challenge open to startup founders from the entire country. Watch for the official call for applications this June on our Facebook page. They also plan a two-month accelerator at the end of 2018 designed for the top 15 ventures that will feature an innovation house, weekly dedicated mentorship meetings with each startup, global mentor networking dinners with experts from around the globe, as well as access to pitch in front of an investment panel. 

It’s definitely time you get involved with Venture Frontier Lanka and improve yourself and your country’s businesses! VFL is seeking: entrepreneurs who want to start or improve their ventures, experienced business owners who want to advise participating startup founders, and corporations and organisations to partner to grow the entrepreneurial culture in Sri Lanka. Contact info@ovibees for more information and to be added to their list.

(The writer is a developer of startups, having organised entrepreneurship development programs in over 50 countries. She currently serves as a small business loan officer in Washington, DC and a team member of Venture Frontier Lanka. She can be reached at amanda.gant@gmail.com.)


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