US extends support to Sri Lanka's entrepreneurial ecosystem

Friday, 11 October 2013 03:20 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Kinita Shenoy The US Embassy in Sri Lanka is sponsoring two participants at the Global Startup Youth and Global Entrepreneurship Summit in KL, Malaysia. Bhasha Lanka Founder and CEO Dhanika Perera have been selected to represent Sri Lanka at the Global Startup Youth (GSY) in KL from 8-11 October. This three-day boot camp is expected to host 500 youth between the ages of 18-25 years from 90 nations comprising coders, hustlers, domain experts and youth leaders with a group of international mentors and facilitators. Tellida Director – Operations Mohamed Hisham, an entrepreneur in the technology sector, is being sponsored to attend the 4th Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), taking place from 11-12 October, also in KL. The GSY harnesses the power of youth, their cultural diversity, their domain expertise and their deep conversations about today’s world problems to accelerate them into ventures, ready to be taken to market and scaled. Global experts in innovation, designers, startup leaders and leading grass-root entrepreneurship players will join as global mentors to help youth build apps and solutions to real world problems in the areas of Health, Education, Environment and Women’s Empowerment. The winning ventures will showcase their prototype to world leaders. Sri Lankan candidates for GSY and GES are sponsored by the US State Department. The GSY is a side event of the upcoming 4th Global Entrepreneurship Summit. President Obama of the United States is currently scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the GES. Malaysia, as the first East Asian host of the GES, is an ideal place to showcase entrepreneurship and innovation as the drivers of Asia’s remarkable economic growth. The GES aims to stimulate high-growth entrepreneurship and private-sector job creation, generate new connections and access to financing, and identify and train new entrepreneurs and youth around the world.  The GES connects bankers, venture capitalists, angel investors, incubators, policy makers, entrepreneurs, and universities. Ministers, officials, and key entrepreneurial leaders will participate in panels and breakout sessions in the Global Connect Lounge, a dynamic, multi-faceted space where conference attendees can connect with other attendees and share their experiences with participants beyond Kuala Lumpur. Perera, a graduate of the University of Moratuwa, started up his company in his third year as a virtual start-up. After graduation and a few awards, he launched his company in a physical office and started offering a few new products which focus on local language software solutions. Their first product was a Sinhala and Tamil-enabled web browser for Android devices, followed by apps they created for local language news stations and banks such as Derana and Union Bank. The mission, Perera states, is to “empower the masses via ICT by overcoming the language barrier. Sri Lanka’s English literacy is only 10%, which means we need the local language to engage the masses.” Hisham, previously in the corporate sector, saw an opportunity for a management buyout and took a gamble on creating a new company. Predominantly a business process outsourcing company, linked to law, accounting, IT and contact centre support, Tellida works with a large number of medium-size enterprises. One of their most recent achievements is having earned the National Chamber of Exports Gold Award this year within just two years of operation. Hisham said that his company’s success was due to varied factors: “We had a great management team and we knew the clients well too. But more than that, it is the people. Within the first year of operation, we just had a handful of clients but we invested a lot into our team, ensuring that it was solid. Creating that confidence built a family culture and motivation. Over the second year we worked on more formal aspects and processes such as standards and recognitions. We now project ourselves as a boutique outsourcing company.” Both participants emphasised that not only the workshop but also the networking and experience of the interactions and peer learning were aspects that they were looking forward to. Perera added that there was a certain non-entrepreneurial culture in Sri Lanka and a lack of mentoring for young start-ups and entrepreneurs, so he was looking forward to the learning experience and inspiration of the vast range of speakers and leaders at the boot camp. Commending the Sri Lankan creativity and enterprising spirit, the two entrepreneurs added that they hope to somehow carry on the message of innovation to young hopefuls in the country upon their return. Their key bit of advice was to balance out the head and the heart to follow their dreams and be passionate but also take criticism and failures into account in order to make sure what they’re offering is of high quality. They also mentioned that a lot more needs to be done in terms of policy push and financial backing for entrepreneurs. Hisham insisted: “As an entrepreneur in Sri Lanka it can sometimes be difficult, so you really have to love what you do.” Pix by Lasantha Kumara