Disrupt Asia 2019: Expert insights on building a thriving startup ecosystem in Sri Lanka

Monday, 11 November 2019 01:08 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sustaining a healthy startup ecosystem in Sri Lanka continues to be an important quest for everyone involved in the community. Since 2016, the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) has successfully hosted Sri Lanka’s premier Startup Conference and Innovation Festival looking to stimulate innovation, bringing together a collection of interconnected organisations, programmes, people and resources that collaborate and support startups within the community.

This year’s event, Disrupt Asia 2019, which focused on Augmented Living, also attracted key ecosystem mentors keen to spark new thinking and spur passionate local entrepreneurs onward.

Panellist, STARTUPRIGHT Managing Partner Nio Liyanage explained, “Sri Lanka’s startup ecosystem has strong fundamentals and vast potential – abundance of capable entrepreneurs, tech talent and the general quality of startups are very impressive. Strong fundamentals in location, infrastructure, livability, high quality education and talent can propel the nation as a hub or even launchpad with solid potential as a curated source of high-quality talent for the South Asian region.”

For Lalamove Managing Director Blake Larson, Sri Lanka’s startup ecosystem appears thriving with “really passionate people, comfortable with building tech and understanding how important all the stakeholders are to drive the success of the ecosystem.” 

Echoing similar sentiments were Richard Eldridge, Co-Founder, LenddoEFL and CEO Courage Rocks who, “felt a real strong commitment (among participants) to make it happen”, and Casie Millhouse-Singh, Founding Director, Two Lane noting that “the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem is very open to ideas and is collaborative, filled with an intelligent and driven community.”

Advising on the next steps required to continue to grow Sri Lanka’s ecosystem, Nio said, “Continue to iterate the existing great initiatives, and gradually ramp up awareness and intensity. Begin to integrate more in a structured way with other ecosystems such as India and those in South East Asia, both in terms of providing exposure to Sri Lankan startups as well as attracting talent, expertise, resources and capital. Another critical phase is to ensure key stakeholders such as investors, corporates and government are aware, aligned and incentivised to drive the ecosystem forward. Concerted initiatives are vital in educating and integrating these groups, providing the right structure and resources for them to transfer value and directly benefit.”

Agreeing that that coordination among stakeholders is vital Richard said, “Finish the roadmap, get stakeholders on board and implement.” While Casie noted, “Keep connecting with outside ecosystems while strengthening ties between industry leaders, sectors and Sri Lankan people.”

Encouraging the local community Blake added, “Don’t give up. A certain way to fail is to lose faith in the midst of challenges. Continue pulling in people that care about building the ecosystem together and the energy will catalyse and invigorate those getting started or thinking of joining the startup scene.”

In pursuit of success, Nio urged startups to stay focused and listen to their market. He said, “Try to address a big problem that many people or businesses are experiencing, ideally one for which you have an advantage in solving. Validation and product-market fit are always the early priorities, and grow in a sustainable way with a clear path to profitability. Lastly; be ambitious, challenge the status quo and take calculated risks.”

Providing further clarity and valuable direction Blake advised, “Define what success is to you, find a product market fit before you scale and be willing to do the things other competitors think are too difficult. He added, “Value is best created by solving the hard things. Don’t spend too much time over thinking in the early stages. Ideas aren’t worth anything until you execute them and see if you are actually correct.”

Offering actionable advice for entrepreneurs and startups, Casie said, “Do not spend money on marketing until you have market fit,” while Richard added, “Find a product market fit in Sri Lanka first, try and boot strap before raising funds. Think big and bold and build a great business.” 

This year’s Disrupt Asia 2019 brought the best of the startup ecosystem community together, including decision makers, investors, mentors, accelerators, corporates, entrepreneurs, aspirants and students keen to learn, partner and grow.