By Marianne David
HSBC and the British Council launched ‘HSBC Youth Enterprise Awards 2012’ yesterday, a business plan contest aimed at recognising young entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka.
Open to Sri Lankan undergraduates, postgraduates and students aged 16 to 26 representing universities, private higher education institutions, technical and vocational institutions and professional training bodies in Sri Lanka, this time the awards are not limited to sectors and can fall into any industry sector in Sri Lanka. HSBC is sponsoring the award for the second year.
Addressing the gathering at the launch, British Council Country Director Tony Reilly said: “This is a program to recognise and stimulate entrepreneurship… this year unlike last year we are not specifying sectors for this competition – we think that innovation and entrepreneurship can come in many forms and can cover many sectors so there are no restrictions on sectors this year in terms of the business ideas that will be submitted. We are particularly pleased with the HSBC partnership that the financial contribution available to young entrepreneurs this year has increased quite significantly.”
The winning individual/team will receive Rs. 500,000, the first runner-up individual/team will receive Rs. 200,000 and the second runner-up/team will receive Rs. 100,000 as cash prizes, to be utilised to implement their respective business plans. The winners will also be mentored by professionals for six months.
The deadline for applications is 15 June 2012. Application forms can be downloaded from www.britishcouncil.lk/YEA. The competition is language neutral.
The competition format is that of a business plan, where individuals or teams need to develop their idea into a robust and feasible business plan, which would be looked at by a panel of judges, said Reilly.
Teams and individuals are invited to submit their business ideas, after which there will be a screening process including interviews to interrogate their business ideas, followed by an awards ceremony where they receive their cheques and their awards, leading to the mentoring program for winners to nurture and guide them from idea through to the implementation of their start-up businesses.
The two key criteria the panel of judges will be looking for in terms of application screening are innovation and feasibility, said Reilly. “There must be a creative spark that the individual or teams have in coming up with their business idea. We are looking very much for evidence of innovation. Feasibility is also important; we all have wonderful ideas but we need to be able to take them to the market, they need to be realistic and you need to have a sensible approach to the financial aspect and a whole range of other considerations, so feasibility is important.”
HSBC CEO for Sri Lanka and Maldives Nick Nicolaou said: “Welcome to yet another great opportunity for young people of this country to benefit from some of their innovative ideas. HSBC is obviously a bank; we are doing lots with many entrepreneurs in many fields and we more than anyone understand the absolute necessity for a successful and thriving private sector to develop this country. Private sector businesses, ideas, skills and innovation are what drive economic growth. Governments can do so much but the private sector has to do the heavy lifting. So it’s entirely appropriate that HSBC again sponsors the Youth Enterprise Awards.”
Sri Lanka needs entrepreneurs
Asserting that the country needs a lot of entrepreneurs, Ministry of Higher Education Secretary Dr. Sunil Jayantha Nawaratne said it was high time to take Sri Lanka to the world.
“As my Minister always says, the universities are producing only job seekers, but it is high time to produce job givers. That means entrepreneurs. If we can develop 10 per cent of entrepreneurs from all our students, that 10% will provide employment to the balance 90%. That is our reasoning. That is a dire need of the country. British Council and HSBC are jointly doing a great job and I wish them all the best for this great event because this is the need of the hour.”
Unfortunately, entrepreneurship or innovate thinking is still not inculcated or promoted in Sri Lanka’s higher education system, noted Nawaratne. However, he added that the vision of the Higher Education Ministry was to make Sri Lanka an education hub in Asia: “Goals under this vision include: firstly, producing globally employable graduates who are good entrepreneurs; secondly, producing 100% employable graduates; thirdly, producing enterprising graduates; and fourthly, producing professional graduates.”
“I am very happy that this kind of program is being sponsored by the British Council and HSBC. The Ministry of Higher Education endorses this and gives its fullest cooperation and once you announce the winners, we might fund them to do their businesses in the future,” Nawaratne added.
Meanwhile, former contestant Udana Warnakulasooriya outlined his experience and his team’s idea that won last year, which envisaged converting PET bottles into surfboards.
“Youth Enterprise Awards is a platform that gives you motivation, recognition and enhances the business network, which I have personally felt. The business idea was developed by Prasanna Ariyaratnam – one of my batch mates – and myself, along with teammates Thilini and Chathura. Some of my colleagues are afraid to enter such competitions; they fear that their ideas can me misused by these companies. But I have to tell people that these two world class brands won’t do that to you – they want to uplift you so that everyone can appreciate you.”
This is an opportunity for all undergraduates, he asserted, adding that his parents had told him they had no such opportunities when they were university students themselves.
Lead Judge for HSBC YEA 2012 Chandra Embuldeniya said: “I think this program is the only one of its kind in Sri Lanka that I can see that will elevate the ordinary student from his studentship to the level or preparing him to getting into a business and becoming an entrepreneur. What HSBC and the British Council are doing for Sri Lanka is what a lot of other companies should be doing for Sri Lanka, because Sri Lanka needs entrepreneurs to develop and they should come, as many as possible, from the university system. Unfortunately, not even 5% of university students become entrepreneurs.”
Embuldeniya asserted that our innovations should come from the university system and be transformed into enterprises, which should be supported by the corporate sector. “There should be funding, which is the key to making entrepreneurs, because these students don’t have the money. I think this opportunity has to be given the highest visibility and is a good example for others also to emulate.”
Promoting graduate entrepreneurship
The British Council has pioneered a number of initiatives to promote graduate entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka. By working closely with the Ministry of Higher Education, University Grants Commission, vice chancellors and lecturers in Sri Lanka and UK’s entrepreneurial universities the British Council is helping to develop policies and programmes to develop entrepreneurship education within universities.
The British Council currently funds a number of academic partnerships between universities in Sri Lanka and the UK, all of which are aimed at developing new training modules and teaching methodologies on entrepreneurship.
IDEATORS – Next Generation Entrepreneurs is a popular reality TV enterprise competition organised by the British Council that has created mass-scale awareness about the importance of entrepreneurship education. Graduate Enterprise Challenge organised in partnership with SLASSCOM is another contest which aims at developing ICT entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka.
Pix by Daminda Harsha Perera