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Putting the Sri Lankan Startup Ecosystem on the Map With Startup Genome

Earlier this year, the 2020 Global Startup Ecosystem Report by Startup Genome, highlighted the impact of the coronavirus on local startups. Now, the leading innovation policy advisory & research firm is expanding its efforts. With the aim of benchmarking Sri Lanka with global startup ecosystems, Startup Genome has launched an in-depth assessment of the local ecosystem. In doing so, promoting the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem while identifying how it can attract more money and talent. 

Since 2016, Startup Genome has been actively working with the ICTA under a membership agreement to explore and highlight the untapped potential of the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem. In the 2017 and 2020 editions of Startup Genome’s Global Startup Ecosystem reports, Sri Lanka was featured and benchmarked against other global ecosystems. Most recently, ICTA assisted Startup Genome in identifying the impact of COVID-19 on local startups as part of its Sri Lanka COVID-19 effects survey.

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Jayantha De Silva – Chairman of the ICTA

The collaboration is in line with ICTA’s vision towards creating 1000 startups and Sri Lanka becoming a startup nation by 2025.  As previously stated by the Chairman of the ICTA, Jayantha De Silva, “The value of Sri Lanka’s startup ecosystem has more than quadrupled from LKR 5.4 billion to LKR 21.8 billion in the past two years. ICTA is committed to facilitating the continued growth in ecosystem value and startup output.” With the findings from Startup Genome’s report, ICTA is committed to removing impediments and accelerating the growth of the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem as a whole. 

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Chalinda Abeykoon – CEO of the Lankan Angel Network

Commenting on the initiative, CEO of the Lankan Angel Network, Chalinda Abeykoon said, “The Startup Genome Ecosystem Study comes at a critical point in our journey. Firstly, it helps us understand the fruits of our efforts for the past decade. Secondly, it helps us envision our future and the work that was required to get us there. Finally, it’s an announcement to the world of our intentions of becoming a startup hub and a catalyst, connecting South and Southeast Asia.”

Over the past decade, the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem has come a long way. In the past, founders may have struggled to find funding, support, and guidance for their startups. Today, there’s a host of investors, accelerators, and other programmes eager to help young startups grow. Further, these efforts aren’t limited to Colombo, as seen by the likes of the Yarl IT Hub, Uva Startup Hub, and the UNDP HackaDev programme to name a few. In recent years, even large corporations like John Keells, Dialog Axiata, Hemas, and others have launched their own efforts to support startups. 

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Wishanth Wijesingha – Head of John Keells X

Sharing his thoughts on the Startup Genome study, Head of John Keells X, Wishanth Wijesingha said, “For a startup ecosystem to thrive, it’s important to benchmark against and be connected to our regional and global peers. This helps us push our boundaries and aspire for greater levels of excellence. Participating in global startup research efforts such as the Startup Genome report helps us achieve this. Importantly, it also provides much-needed visibility for Sri Lanka as a thriving startup ecosystem with greater potential to be tapped. This visibility will help draw in more investments and facilitate market expansion.” 

Commenting on this progress, Director of Partnerships & Programs at Hatch Works, Randhula de Silva said, “Our ecosystem has evolved and emerged so much over the years and a lot has happened in the past couple of years, which created a direct and indirect impact on startups itself, and also the communities connected to it and benefits from it and learns from it and grows from it.”

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Randhula de Silva – Director of Partnerships & Programs at Hatch Works

“I think it’s a very significant year for the study to take place. A lot of young/new businesses proved to be resilient and agile enough to react swiftly amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been a lot of new avenues that have been explored and old avenues that have closed up. We are at a juncture where all the work that was put together by everybody for the past decade into the startup ecosystem has come to define a lot of things. It’s an ideal time for the Startup Genome report to showcase it in an analytical manner while also reflecting the impact of COVID-19 on startups as we venture into new territories like Fintech for instance,” added Randhula. 

Looking back, the previously released 2020 GSER looked at the impact of COVID-19 on startups globally. The report stated, “Globally 4 out of every 10 startups are in the red zone: they have three months or fewer of capital runway.” In Sri Lanka, over 80% of startups were said to be in this situation. While many have been forced to close their doors, others have gone through an arduous journey of reworking everything, including their business models, to adapt the challenges posed by COVID-19. 

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Lakshan De Silva – CEO of iLoan

Reflecting on the impact of the pandemic and the Startup Genome survey, CEO of iLoan, Lakshan De Silva said, “The COVID-19 pandemic will be looked back as the great equalizer of the 21st century. In this new normal, digital transformation has become a top priority for all industries across the globe. For a country like Sri Lanka, which often gets overlooked in the global startup scene, the new normal has given us a unique platform to be seen and heard as an equal contender. Startup Genome has done an amazing  job connecting and creating a collective global startup community, in this backdrop, it is a pleasure to partner with this great initiative to display  solidarity and help showcase our Sri Lankan startup ecosystem to the world.”

Ultimately, to ensure Sri Lankan startups receive the support they need, it is essential to have an overview of the entire ecosystem. Highlighting this, President of the FITIS Software Chapter, Prasad Hettiarachchi encouraged startups to participate in the Startup Genome survey saying, “Supporting startups is one the best avenues towards the creation of local IP. This survey will provide information that is vital for government policy geared towards startups and creating local IP as well to attract investors to fund the local startups and enable them to go global.”

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Enosh Praveen – Director at Founder Institute Sri Lanka

Reflecting on the growth of the ecosystem and looking towards the future, Director at Founder Institute Sri Lanka, Enosh Praveen said, “Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed the startup ecosystem grow leaps and bounds. Startup founders today have several avenues through which they can obtain financial and other forms of support. It’s important to recognize that some of the largest companies today did not have this support system. Through this ecosystem, startups have much-needed support to accelerate their growth. The Startup Genome report will help us obtain a bird’s eye view of the ecosystem and further develop these enablers to help more startups.” 

Community Manager at Colombo Cooperative, Aisha Wahab added, “Supporting Startup Genome is critical to us in the modern-day as information is key! The model of the survey enables startups to effectively assess their positioning objectively, not only in Sri Lanka but against the world. Data is our biggest asset in the modern age and using it effectively can help our local start-ups accelerate by attracting investors and scaling up.”

Armed with a detailed overview of the ecosystem itself, it is then possible to remove any barriers that hinder growth while also accelerating enablers. Looking towards the positive impact of the Startup Genome survey, CoFounder of HomeTree Coworking, Semal Luthra said, “We are excited about the work Startup Genome is doing for the Sri Lankan Startup Ecosystem. Their expertise in helping 40+ governments accelerate the growth of their local Startup Ecosystem will be invaluable in helping the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem advance and come on the global scale. We look forward to their research and learnings which will help us serve the startup communities better.” 

Sharing a similar perspective, Entrepreneur in Residence at SquareHub, Kanishka Weeramunda added “We at SquareHub envision a tomorrow for the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem, where innovation becomes the driving force behind every initiative and our collaboration with Startup Genome on this survey is a step towards our mutual goal of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of this ecosystem to further enhance it in the global arena.”

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Aloka Gunasekara – Program Manager at StarutpX Foundry

In closing, Programme Manager of StartupX Foundry, Aloka Gunasekara said, “Having visibility about what happens in a startup ecosystem and being able to independently evaluate all these happenings is perhaps one of the most important things that will help everyone. Startup Genome is exactly that and it allows everyone within the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem and more broadly, within the global startup ecosystems to learn from each other and grow together with a true sense of solidarity.”

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