Sri Lanka amidst the turmoil, will a Start-up Nation still emerge?
Images of political complication and economic strife are the norm across world media coverage of Sri Lanka this year. After a recent market study visit however by Vikram Bharati, founder of Draper Startup House—having links to Tim Draper, the billionaire investor, known for his bold bets like Hotmail, Tesla, and Coinbase—he is confident the entrepreneurship ecosystem Sri Lanka is building presents the country’s greatest opportunity in overcoming its hardships.
“Sri Lanka has tremendous potential to emerge a true start-up nation. It has all the ingredients we’ve seen before, so we’re betting on it,” Vikram said in an interview.
In Colombo, Vikram met with Jeevan Gnanam and Brindha Selvadurai, creators of the award winning Sri Lankan co-working space, start-up incubator, and accelerator, “Hatch”. Together, they envision an economy fueled by purpose driven innovators and are on a mission to develop a thriving startup ecosystem by empowering budding entrepreneurs.
Jeevan’s passion for disruptive innovation and supporting the startup ecosystem in Sri Lanka as a means to build the economy started when he was growing Orion City, Sri Lanka’s largest IT-park. “Innovation is known to breed in crisis, Sri Lanka must focus on adopting a growth mindset and remaining resilient as they have done several times before. The community at Hatch and the ecosystem we are building represents the hope that still remains in Sri Lanka.” says Jeevan. He added “Sri Lanka has the potential to produce pioneer innovations as elements of the crises we are currently facing head first are being seen across the world”
Hatch runs several incubator and accelerator programs aimed at building a strong local ecosystem by creating new paradigms for idea commercialization in Sri Lanka. Hatch encourages local entrepreneurs to build start-ups which can be taken to the global stage. For Sri Lanka to emerge as a start-up nation, it is important that ecosystem players work together, hence partnerships with local universities and start-up hubs across the country allow Hatch to reach as many aspiring entrepreneurs as possible. In addition to this, Hatch collaborates with local government institutions in Sri Lanka like SLASSCOM and the ICTA, the apex ICT institution of the Government mandated to drive digital transformation.
In 2021, Sri Lanka’s start-up ecosystem was valued at USD 132 million with year-on-year growth of 13% since 2010. Although the current economic situation has seen the ecosystem take a hit from hyperinflation to increased taxes, and brain drain, Sri Lanka’s potential and promise can reverse this. Sri Lanka needs to successfully leverage its unique selling points, such as its educated, english speaking, resilient human capital and its advantageous geopolitical location, with several key Asian and Middle Eastern economies within a short, five-hour flight.
Organizations like Hatch are front runners in driving Sri Lanka’s startup ecosystem. Having grown from just 40 members to over 800 in just four years and rapidly bouncing back to 100% occupancy, despite Covid lockdowns and mass protest movements in the area – a testament to the strength of a community which organically developed through a set of shared values and the belief in building something greater than themself.
As a female entrepreneur herself, Brindha is passionate about empowering other female entrepreneurs and one of the core programs of Hatch is AccelerateHer aimed at addressing barriers faced by women in entrepreneurship through mentorship, business development, and investor matching. AccelerateHer has reached over 140 women entrepreneurs across Sri Lanka since its inception in September 2021 with alumni going on to win local rounds of global programs like SheLovesTech 2022, launch their brands and expand their distribution channels locally.
The Hatch community has generated many firsts in the Web3 and Artificial Intelligence space. Its recent partnership with IFS, a global tech firm to launch Sri Lanka’s first AI-Machine learning Incubator, is yet another example of Hatch leading the way in facilitating market disruption and supporting Sri Lankans in developing solutions with global value. This along with facilitating regular Web3 meetups and an NFT auction through a startup called Hyperglade to raise funds for medical supplies, shows that the community is focused on solutions for the new economy and building a new way forward.
Hatch also led the Green Energy Champion Accelerator program as part of the Green Energy Championship. This program was designed to identify businesses actively trying to implement energy-efficient projects and give participants the opportunity to tap into global markets. The program accelerated South Asia’s first route optimization solution as well as Sri Lanka’s first electric smart bicycle – Rhoda which went on to partner with Pickme, a local ride hailing service during the fuel crisis.
Despite the hardships that Sri Lanka continues to go through, organizations like Hatch remain a testament to resilience and hope for the start-up ecosystem in Sri Lanka which will be a major determinant of Sri Lanka’s economic recovery.