“It’s crazy man. Just walk around and you’ll meet so many interesting people,” said our cofounder Enosh. As I’m seated at the coffee shop, I look through the glass into the room across. Inside that room I see one of the many startups here pitching to Prajeeth Balasubramaniam – General Partner at BOV and getting his feedback. At that moment I realized Enosh wasn’t exaggerating. Welcome to the crazy entrepreneurial world of Hatch.
But what is Hatch?
In one sentence, Brindha Selvadurai – Director describes it as, “A hub for all things startup.” Hidden inside one of the colonial buildings of Fort, in a functional sense, it’s a coworking space, accelerator, and startup fund right now. “But it’s definitely so much more,” says Randhula de Silva – the CEO of Hatch.
Beyond these functional elements, both Brindha and Randhula emphasized that they want to create a community. This tight-knit community at Hatch would be one defined by a culture of entrepreneurship. “We want to make Hatch a place where people could come for anything from mentorship to networking. So to describe it in one sentence is tough,” adds Brindha.
“Our strength lies in our community. The community shapes us and we strengthen the community in return. ” – Randhula de Silva
Thus, the philosophy of Hatch is you can walk in with an idea. You can get a desk with all the facilities from electricity, morning tea, and a quick shower. While you’re there, you can meet people that’ll give you feedback or even join you. If you need to build a prototype you can head to the makerspace. If you need funding then you can walk around, meet a bunch of investors, and finalize the details over a cup of coffee.
It’s a grand idea. But with tenants like Dialog Ideamart, WSO2 Telco, CrowdIsland, the Lankan Angel Network, SLASSCOM, GIZ and more it’s possible for that grand idea to be a reality. That’s the power of the community at Hatch.
The origins of Hatch
Its launch is only a few days away at the time of writing. But the idea of Hatch was conceptualized over two years ago by its co-founders: Nathan Sivagananathan the former CEO of MAS Holdings & Jeevan Gnanam the former CEO of Orion City.
Beyond their corporate jobs, the duo has been actively involved as angel investors of startups. Alongside them is Chalinda Abeykoon – CEO of Crowdisland who manages the Hatch Accelerator. So what was the motivation behind building Hatch?
The specifics of the answer naturally varies depending on who you ask. But the common factor amongst all the answers was to bring about a change in Sri Lanka. This would be by bringing together people that bring about the positive economic change. And all of them believe that the key to doing so lies with the startups.
To that end, they sought to create Hatch as a space to make things easier for entrepreneurs. But finding such a space was easier said than done. Brindha shared that they had looked at multiple options. Ultimately they settled on the building in Fort hidden behind the Cargills Building.
Originally built in 1910, this building was said to be tallest in Fort when it was built. Legend has it that it was originally owned by Harrisons Tea company and later by a ministry, which used its cellars in the basement as a prison at one point. But now these cellars are about to become a makerspace.
“There’s so much history to the building that I felt I had to do it justice. We restored it back to its original state and it was beautiful so it didn’t need too much work.” – Brindha Selvadurai
Today, the iconic building in Fort is a work in progress towards a brighter future. Once completed, this building will offer a space of approximately 60,000 square feet over 7 floors housing 900 entrepreneurs trying to change the world.
Designing a space for startups
In its current form, Hatch offers the basics you’ll find at any coworking space. There are hot desks open to everyone, dedicated desks, and closed partitioned office spaces. Alongside these options, they also offer monthly memberships.
This membership gives you a dedicated space. As with the other options that include utilities like electricity, internet, and a shower. Additionally, it would also give you free access to the many events hosted inside Hatch. Brindha describes it as “It’s plug and play. You can just come in and get started.”
But that’s merely the functional aspect of Hatch. As I look at the ceiling above me in the lounge, I see a portrait of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet and other icons. Hidden behind a giant green wall is a ping pong table in a breakout area. This leads to the auditorium, which resembles the one at MAS Hive. All this is not counting that the ground floor has a coffee shop by Commons.
At first glance, the design of the space might seem chaotic to the untrained eye. But there’s a theme on each floor. to each floor. For the ground floor, the idea to create an experience akin to an entrepreneurial museum since the building itself has so much history. That’s why the theme for this floor was the history of entrepreneurship.
Brindha elaborated on this saying, “So you have all these amazing people on our ceiling who have made it big and one of our objectives is to have a unicorn in Sri Lanka. So this is a space to motivate people. You could be having a horrible day and look up to see Mark Zuckerberg and tell yourself, “Hey if he could do it then I can too.”
Similarly, the theme of the first floor is being outdoors. That’s why in a sea of office tables, the first floor has a treehouse for a meeting room. Brindha also shared that many of the elements on this floor were inspired by Viharamahadevi Park. Similarly, other floors also incorporate as many elements as possible from Sri Lanka.
A startup hub founded on collaboration
As she shared how Hatch was designed, Brindha told me, “Everything apart from the chairs and tables is something upcycled from Sri Lanka.” She went onto share that one of the key pillars of Hatch is to create a social impact. To that end, Hatch works with local artists and startups like Bud to fit their space with cactus plants.
“There’s all these startups doing incredible things. So throughout the space, it was really important for me to work with startups wherever possible” – Brindha Selvadurai
But the collaboration doesn’t merely stop at decorating the space. Brindha also added, “We’ll have open canteens where we’ll invite food entrepreneurs to have test kitchens.” Similarly, the basement will be where you’ll find a makerspace and a gaming space run by Gamer.lk.
Yet, the prime example of the collaboration at Hatch is arguably its mentorship program. This program would give the startups at Hatch access to experienced leaders from different parts of the world. And this is through collaboration with other co-working spaces across the world.
Brindha explained the program saying, “If someone is looking for mentorship in a particular area we’d reach out to our network. Then you’d get a mentor with a minimum amount of office hours that they’d spend with you.” Furthermore, alongside this membership program, Hatch also has an accelerator and investment fund to help its startups grow.
Hatch Kalam and going beyond Colombo
But as it gears up for its official launch, Hatch was already operational in a sense. Far away from Colombo in Jaffna, there is Hatch Kalam. Famously known by many as the space where the Yarl IT Hub hosts many of its events, this is a partnership between Hatch, GiZ, and the Yarl IT Hub.
“It’s a different model to see how the collaboration works. So far it’s worked really well,” says Randhula. She went onto share that it has a vibrant community. She also credits the Yarl IT Hub for introducing innovation and entrepreneurship in the Northern Province. Yet the challenge has been with the older generation.
Randhula elaborated on this saying “In Jaffna, it’s so difficult to break that stereotype shared by the parental generation. They still have so much influence over the kids’ lives of where they go to study, where they go to work, or who they marry. I’ve heard so many stories of how being an entrepreneur is such a bad prospect for marriage. Yarl IT Hub with Hatch Kalam is doing so much to change that perspective.”
The greatest example of this according to Randhula was the latest Yarl Geek Challenge. It saw many icons such as Rajan Anandan travel to Jaffna. The parents of Jaffna saw their kids interacting with such people and building things inside Hatch Kalam.
“I think the youth of Jaffna are ready. I mean even behind closed doors there’s so much coding and building. But it’s really a game changer having the parental community change their perspective” – Randhula de Silva
Seeing this unfold in front of their eyes, many of stereotypes were shattered. “They’re forcing their kids to go and be a part of the challenge! They ask what else they can do to help,” shared Randhula. Needless to say, the collaboration is a success.
So is Hatch planning to use this model to expand islandwide? They’re exploring options in other cities. But the main focus at the moment is to get Hatch up and running in Colombo.
But should everyone be an entrepreneur?
For Randhula, the answer to that question was that anyone can be an entrepreneur. “For me, an entrepreneur is someone who takes something and creates something bigger, not just for oneself but also for the community. It doesn’t necessarily mean opening a business. It’s a way of thinking whatever you do or whoever you are, be it a founder, lawyer doctor.,” she explained.
Thus, she argued that while everyone doesn’t need to start their own business, they should adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. However, many Sri Lankans are afraid of the risks that come with such a mindset. Yet, Randhula emphasized that all Sri Lanka needs is the right push and examples of success as inspiration.
To that end, Hatch wants to make it easier to fail. Both Jeevan and Nathan have been actively investing and involved in startups for the past 15 years. They found that many of them repeatedly make the same mistakes. Brindha elaborated on this saying, “In a space like Hatch it’s all just a conversation away. There’s Chalinda from CrowdIsland over there. You can just go and get his help to strategize.”
To avoid the same mistakes is another reason why Hatch has a mentorship program. This is also why the philosophy behind its many events is to ensure that anyone attending learns something. That’s why these events feature a variety of topics ranging from tackling GDPR to personal branding and feature big names like Indiegogo and Facebook.
Nonetheless, Brindha emphasized that it’s still the responsibility of the individual to have that hunger to learn from all of the people that come to Hatch.
Okay, so what is Hatch really?
In a functional sense, it is a coworking space, accelerator, and startup fund. In the future, it’ll also be a makerspace and with open kitchens. But by merely looking at the functional elements, you’d miss the one thing that makes Hatch powerful: the community.
Inside this one building in Fort, you’ll find entrepreneurs, corporates, investors, developers, artists, and so many more. More importantly, they keep coming back and not just for its many events. And this presents a powerful opportunity for you or anyone else with an idea.
You can find people to work with, build a prototype, test it, get funding for it, and mentors to help scale it. All of that under a single roof in Colombo is insane. So what is Hatch? It’s a crazy world of startups built on collaboration.