The past decade has seen the rapid growth of the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem. Success stories like that of nCinga’s successful exit have highlighted the potential of the island nation. However, much of this potential remains untapped and a unicorn isn’t far from the realm of possibility. It’s a belief shared by many investors including Dr. Cornelius Boersch, who is is the most active tech investor in Europe and the largest venture capitalist in Latin America.
Recently, Hatch in partnership with Lion Ventures and the Council for Startups organised a roundtable discussion featuring Dr. Corenlius. During this discussion, he highlighted Sri Lanka’s potential for growth and shared first-hand experiences of startups overcoming challenges on their journey of growth. Having founded and invested in several companies, he was ready to drop nuggets of wisdom for the crowd in attendance.
Moderated by the Founder of VeracityAI, Jeevan Gnanam, the conversation saw Dr. Cornelius share several key ideas. One such idea was the concept of luck and the role it plays in the success of entrepreneurs, without which a business may not be successful at all. Another area in the life of an entrepreneur he stressed was the idea of finding the right product with the right timing. What this essentially elaborated was the idea that despite having a good idea, if the market is not ready you will likely starve before the business is successful. Alternatively, wait too long and there will not be a share of the pie left for you.
Over the course of the conversation, Dr. Cornelius shared many other lessons from his experiences as a founder and investor supporting startups. Ultimately, the growth of any startup ecosystem is driven by the success of its startups. Joining the panel, Managing General Partner at BOV Capital, Prajeeth Balasubramaniam, believes the key for such growth will come from product companies and there is huge value in supporting local talent to build such startups. Adding on these thoughts, Dr. Cornelius also communicated the importance of building a risk-taking culture where Sri Lanka can build for the future using the potential of the younger generation.
While the panellists explored ideas to drive its growth, they acknowledged the tremendous progress the Sri Lankan startup ecosystem has made. Prajeeth noted that when BOV Capital was launched in 2009, there was no infrastructure in place to support startups. It’s only after the collaborative efforts of several stakeholders that Sri Lanka now has a startup ecosystem to drive entrepreneurship. Moving forward, initiatives are being launched towards supporting more entrepreneurs to achieve success.
Joining the panel, Co-Founder of Hatch, Nathan Sivagananathan shared that Hatch is focusing its efforts towards supporting female founders by offering them funding, mentorship and other support to help them succeed. Sharing an investors perspective, Jeevan also mentioned a poignant need for support in the ease of tax regulations or direct financial support from the government to venture capital firms that are taking the initial risk to set up in Sri Lanka. The hope at the moment is that such efforts will help prop up the local economy, particularly given the rising pattern of female founders achieving great success in the region.
As the session reached a conclusion the overarching crux of Dr Cornelius’ philosophy for the nation became clear. He believes that there is almost a moral imperative for those with the capital to invest in companies and startups to do so, not only for the sake of financial returns but also to lay the foundation for the generations to come. With the next generation of Sri Lankan’s waiting their turn to take the reins, the best approach for growth is to support and build a startup ecosystem for these changemakers to thrive in, for the sake of today and tomorrow.