27th July 2017: Sri Lanka’s Premier Startup Conference and Showcase, Disrupt Asia 2017 (DA17) concluded on a successful note recently helping the country establish new startup ecosystem paradigms. Organised by the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), the nation’s apex ICT Institution under the Ministry of Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure, the event included 52 star-studded foreign and local speakers, well-known resource persons and over 350 attendees.
This year’s conference was unparalleled and unique in that it united thought leaders, entrepreneurs, investors and avid community members for keynote talks, interactive workshops, speed mentoring and showcasing startups, all united in their mission to radically change our startup ecosystem. Notable highlights of DA17 included:
Keynote Speakers – Setting the tone for the conference, the morning keynote speaker Cheryl Edison, Serial Entrepreneur and Global Business Expert, observed, “We are standing on the edge of one of most the important times in the history of Sri Lanka. We need to work together to make Sri Lanka the superpower startup ecosystem that it intends to be.”
The American innovation guru and serial entrepreneur noted that local entrepreneurs were hemmed in due to a lack of an official payment gateway. She said, “The entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka have one hurdle that they cannot overcome on their own; a payment gateway system that will empower every person in Sri Lanka to move money, make a business that works for them and their local communities.”
She elaborated on the need to build ‘Makerpaces’. “We need to build places which serve the needs of our entrepreneurs – Makerpaces, where entrepreneurs come and create a community and create links between their creativity and commerce.
The keynote speaker for the evening session was Kevin Petrovic, Partner of CustomSpace and President of Carbon70 Holdings. Taking the audience through his journey as an entrepreneur and founder of several startups, he said, “The ideas came from improving the value for the customer. Make something people actually want. If you don’t have a good idea copy one.”
He advised the audience on getting help. Kevin noted, “Everyone needs a lot of help when they start out so do not be afraid to go after help. Find people who know your industry, who have an interest and who want to help. It acts as a big driver in the success of startups.”
On being entrepreneurial he said, “Entrepreneurship means you don’t have to come up with your own idea to be an entrepreneur and work on startups. You can help grow a company as well as be part of that. That too is very entrepreneurial.”
In conclusion he said, “Start now and make steps towards the goal. Only you can decide your success. If you don’t try you definitely won’t succeed.”
The Conference – The main conference included nine discussions on a range of topics with exceptional presentations sharing a wealth of knowledge with a captivated audience. The conference provided attendees opportunities to express, share, understand and explore insights into navigating through the transforming startup ecosystem.
‘Is Sri Lanka Ready for the Digital Age,’ ‘Diversity in Tech – How well we are doing’, ‘Opportunities and Obstacles for Fast Scaling Startups’ were among some of the thought-provoking sessions giving all participants the opportunity to actively contribute to the conference agenda.
Parallel to the Main Conference was ‘Stage 2.0’ which also provided many insightful discussions with attendees having the opportunity to learn firsthand how to drive innovation in their businesses.
Investor Strategy Round Table – Over 40 participants including high-net-worth individuals in the investment domain and investors looking to invest in tech startups attended. Both foreign and local resource personnel including Daniel Goldman, Inspirational Speaker, Entrepreneur, Futurist, Investor and Managing Director of Ignition Angels held sessions and panel discussions engaging the audience on the significant opportunities that have emerged in early stage investing in startups.
Workshops – While participants attended several stimulating workshops, a novel feature of DA17 was the Academic Workshop segment. Held in partnership with the University Grants Commission (UGC), this session included two foreign resource personnel; Dr. Neelam Saxena and Prof. Rehan Bhana and ICTA Senior Consultant Indika de Zoysa.
20+ Universities representing both public and private academia participated in this workshop. The main discussion was focused on how to develop the student entrepreneurship ecosystem within universities. Importantly during the workshop a draft framework and action plan, for building and developing the student entrepreneurship ecosystem in the country was also developed.
Showcase – During DA17 Exhibition, 27 technology startups showcased their products. Visitors were able to meet vibrant local startups and entrepreneurs and observe new rise of Sri Lanka’s Startup Ecosystem. In turn these startups met and networked with potential clients and investors as a result of participating and showcasing their innovations. Startups in the financial technology, health technology, education technology, space provider and e-commerce domains participated.
Startup Battle – With exponential growth of the local startup culture, the Disrupt Asia 2017 Hemas Slingshot Startup Battle was the ideal platform for startups to competitively pitch their business ideas. Olivescript was adjudged the winner and received a cash prize of Rs. 200,000 and six months co-working space by Business Hubs, sponsors of the event. The Runner-up Direct Pay received Rs. 100,000 and six months co-working space.
Disrupt Asia Partners – DA17 witnessed an overwhelming response not only from the participants but greater support from all the sponsors and supporters. The event was supported by the Ministry of Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure. Other supporters included Visa (Platinum partner) Sri Lanka Business Hubs (Workspace Partner) Edulink International Campus (Supporting partner) Edison International (Investor Forum partners) US Embassy in Sri Lank and GTZ (Community partners) Hemas Slingshot (Startup Battle Partner) and Gudppl (Volunteer partner).