Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

Building a startup & who’ll help you with that: Inside Hatch Part 01

Hatch Collage Featured Image

What is Hatch? By now you probably know the answer. Over the past few months, it has hosted many events. But on the 24th of January, it marked its official launch. That included two full days of sessions to bring the entire startup ecosystem under one roof to share ideas. It all began with a typical ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday evening.

This was followed by a panel discussion featuring experienced entrepreneurs from a variety of industries. And then from Friday onward, we saw a variety of sessions that brought everyone from the startup ecosystem together. These kicked off with a session that introduced everyone to the institutions that offer support to entrepreneurs creating startups.

The quick origins of titans

Following a quick rapid fire round, the panelists touched on their origins and the challenges they faced early on. For Hanif Yusoof – Founder & CEO of Expolanka, one of his key challenges was there wasn’t any mobile phones or the internet. “Every morning I took my Atlas ballpoint pen and Weerodara textbook,” he said describing how things worked back in the day.

Hanif Yusoof – Founder & CEO of Expolanka at the launch of Hatch

Meanwhile, for Slava Rubin – Founder & CEO of Indiegogo, it was that his initial assumptions had been off. He had tried to raise money for cancer research using MySpace and PayPal. But that didn’t work. Instead it was an event with a musician where people donated $50 – $100 that raised the most money.

Slava Rubin – Founder & CEO of Indiegogo

“I thought I was on the cutting edge. I was supposed to be really good at this. But it’s so difficult to try to raise money using the internet,” said Slava. But after this, he’d meet his co-founders, build Indiegogo, and challenge the US government to update its 1933 Jobs Act.  Afterward, we heard from Shalin Balasuriya – Cofounder & Director of Spa Ceylon.

Shalin Balasuriya – Cofounder & Director of Spa Ceylon at the launch of Hatch

Shalin shared with everyone that he had learned what it takes to be entrepreneur as a child. His mother ran her business out of their home. “Her students were in our house. Her staff was always in our house. It was like a family and she treated them so well. She had such a strong relationship with the staff and that’s something she taught us as well,” said Shalin.

Otara Gunewardene – Founder of Odel and Embark speaking at the launch of Hatch

Finally, we heard from Otara Gunewardene – Founder of Odel and Embarak. She shared that when she had started Odel, she had no knowledge of business, finance, or marketing. All she had was a goal and began working towards it. “I think it’s important to tap into the people around you,” she said.

The lessons from these titans

Later, the panellists shared some key lessons on their journey’s. One of the key takeaways we got was from Shalin. He shared that Spa Ceylon was always a company with a vision to go international. But initially, they had tried a mass market product but the margins were too thin. So they decided to take ayurveda and its roots in Sri Lanka to create a product that met international standards and a unique experience. “It’s working pretty well for us,” he said as the company is opening new stores across the region.

“If you want to have a good positive result, you need to have a little bit of risk” – Slava Rubin

We also heard from Slava the importance of taking risks. He shared that after Indiegogo was born, many Fortune 500 companies had approached them. One of these was Honda, which offered money to use the platform. When Slava told them that all they had to do was just press some buttons, Honda said, “We can’t fail.” Slava responded by telling them that they were doing something wrong if they weren’t willing to take risks.

The panelists at the launch of Hatch

Otara too shared that a mistake Odel had made in the past was expanding internationally too soon. The company had opened a store in Singapore. But it wasn’t performing well. Despite the allure of being an international brand, Otara understood that the main customers were in Sri Lanka. Thus, the decision was made to refocus on the Sri Lankan market.

The institutions of entrepreneurship

Following the insightful panel discussion, Day 01 came to an end. The next morning of the Hatch launched kicked off with an introduction to the some of the active supporters of the startup ecosystems. During this session, we heard from Jeevan Gnanam – the cofounder of Hatch share what they’re trying to do to help local startups. Alongside him, here’s a list of other organizations that we saw.


The first to take the stage Sachindra Samararatne – Program Manager of ICTA. He opened by talking about ICTA’s efforts to introduce school kids to technology. Afterward, he moved to share the progress of the ImagineIF workshops conducted at universities with the support of the entire tech industry. Its purpose is to encourage them to think as entrepreneurs.

Sachindra Samararatne speaking at the launch of Hatch

To date 765 undergraduates have gone through the first stages of the program with 465 forming joining teams of five with mentors. Sachindra then listed other programs ICTA runs like Disrupt Asia and Spiralation, which is their oldest one. Additionally, they also support various other initiatives such as Seedstars and the many Startup Weekends.

BOV Capital & The Lankan Angel Network

Afterward, we saw Prajeeth Balasubramanium – General Partner at BOV Capital take the stage. He opened his presentation by sharing that he returned to Sri Lanka in 2006 believing it had potential yet to be tapped into. To tap into this potential was why BOV Capital and Lankan Angel Network was born.

Prajeeth Balasubramanium speaking at the launch of Hatch

The Lankan Angel Network ever since its inception has focused on investing in startups in the early stages. Its angel investors bring their money and expertise to help startups with MVP’s and a few customers become businesses.

Where BOV Capital comes in is after that when startup businesses are established and are looking at scaling up to expand beyond Sri Lanka. Yet, in tech this can be challenging. But in the past it was more so because nobody wanted to risk everything by becoming an entrepreneur. This is why the Lankan Angel Network started and continues its annual Venture Engine Program.

Mora Ventures & Venture Frontier Lanka

We then saw Heminda Jayaweera – Cofounder of Venture Frontier Lanka take the stage. He opened by introducing us to Mora Ventures. The initiative, which he leads was started to encourage entrepreneurship at the University of Moratuwa. The students here perform strongly at competitions like the Google Summer of Code and Microsoft Imagine Cup.

However, they never continued working on these ideas after the competition ended. Thus, Mora Ventures was born. Since its inception, it has expanded to include startups beyond the University of Moratuwa. It’s seen startups in agriculture, food, fashion, and more.

Heminda Jayaweera speaking at the launch of Hatch

Heminda shared that the university also opened a co-working space. “We want to be the most enterprising university in South Asia,” he said. And then he moved onto share the progress of Venture Frontier Lanka. Launched last year, this is an accelerator that looks at supporting a startup throughout its lifecycle.

Throughout 2018, it hosted entrepreneurship caravans, which are regional events at universities to encourage and identify entrepreneurial talent. Similarly, it also hosted entrepreneurship bootcamps to help those with an idea take it forward to execution. Finally, all of these culminated in the Venture Frontier National Startup Challenge.

Lanka Impact Investing Network (LIIN)

Next up was Chandula Abeywickrema – Chairman of LIIN. This is an organization that aims to invest in small and medium businesses that are social enterprises. Chandula explained that they aim to help such businesses gain access to capital through impact investors. Its ultimate goal is to create economic transformation with a positive social impact.

Chandula Abeywickrema – Chairman of LIIN speaking at the Hatch launch

To that end, LIIN is currently pursuing two initiatives. One is Ath Pavura, which is a TV reality show that airs on ITN every Sunday. While based on the concept of Shark Tank, it features social enterprises and impact investors. Currently its in on its second season and has connected over 100 entrepreneurs with private equity from impact investors.

LIIN also has two funds for Sri Lankan social enterprises. One is a $5 million fund and another is a $20 million fund. Additionally, LIIN has also formed global partnerships with bodies like UNDP.

StartupX Foundry

Bursting onto the scene in 2017, StartupX Foundry is a startup incubator and accelerator based in Colombo. Its aim is to help startups grow and succeed from ideation to exit with the support of its global partners. They focus on collaborating with everyone in the ecosystem.

To that end, they work with Crowd Island and the Lankan Angel Network for funding. Similarly, they’ve also formed partnerships with SLINTEC. Speaking at the Hatch launch, Aloka Gunasekara – Program Manager of StartupX Foundry emphasized on the importance of going regional.

He added that StartupX Foundry is now looking at forming connections with the Scandinavian ecosystems. He concluded his session by reminding everyone that as an ecosystem we should celebrate our achievements. And we should work towards building greater things on top of these achievements.

Crowd Island

We also saw Chalinda Abeykoon – CEO of Crowd Island take the stage at Hatch. In case you’re lost, Crowd Island is a platform that aims to connect great Sri Lankan startups with global investors. In 2018, they raised Rs. 57,000,000 from 12 angel investors.

Chalinda Abeykoon – CEO of Crowd Island speaking at launch of Hatch

The aim of Crowd Island is to make fundraising more accessible to startups. But before Crowdisland connects startups to its angel investors it has a process. Rather, it’s built mechanisms to identify and curate promising startups. Why? Because investors want to see performance.

Export Development Board (EDB)

Later, we saw Saman Maldeniya – Director at EDB take the stage. He opened by stating that EDB was not a regulator. However, it is still a government body. One that wants to see the ICT/BPM sector grow as part of the National Export Strategy. As part of this, they launched the Island of Innovation marketing campaign and various other initiatives.

Saman Maldeniya speaking at Hatch about the EDB’s initiatives to support tech startups

For startups, the key one being an Rs. 1.5 million loan that’s interest and collateral free. The payback period for this can be up to 7 years. The main requirements are to have a degree and be younger than 35 years. Alongside this, Saman shared that EDB also has programs to assist startup incubators as well.

World Economic Forum

Anushka Wijesinha was up next representing the World Economic Forum. He shared that he had recently been accepted as a council member of its Global Future Innovation Council on Innovation Ecosystems. He shared the World Economic Forum is conducting various initiatives in Sri Lanka to help the country be ready for the fourth industrial revolution.

Anushka Wijesinha speaking at Hatch on how the World Economic Forum aims to support the local startup ecosystem

Similarly, Anushka shared that they’re also looking at how they can help the startup ecosystem. Currently, they’re looking at 4 areas. These areas are: understanding what it takes to accelerate emerging new ecosystems, mapping ecosystems and measuring helpfulness, improving procurement tools for startups, and driving new funding options to encourage innovation.

Hemas Slingshot

Afterward, we were introduced to Hemas Slingshot by Sarit Fernando – Senior Manager – Business Development at Hemas. In case you’re lost, Hemas Slingshot is the startup incubator/seed accelerator run by the conglomerate. It has been running for a few years now and focuses on the industries that Hemas operates in.

Sarit Fernando introducing Hemas Slingshot at Hatch

Sarit shared that they’re looking at startups that have gone beyond the ideation stage. Lately, their investments have focused on the healthcare and leisure industries. But the initiative is constantly running and anyone can apply for it at any time. The exact amount Slingshot invests in startups vary on a case by case basis.

“We’re very open,” said Sarit on the topic. He shared that they’ve invested in businesses that already had existing shareholders. Similarly, they’re also open to co-investment options with others. But for Slingshot, the key requirement is a strong team that can execute with minimal supervision. If you’re interested in the program, you can sign up on their website here.

John Keells X

The final speaker at the Hatch launch on who’s doing what for startups was Wishanth Wijesinsha – Head of John Keells X. What initially started as a business idea competition has now become a fully-fledged corporate accelerator run by John Keells. We learned about how the program works in-depth at their recently held first meetup of the year.

Wishanth Wijesinha – Head of John Keells X

But in a nutshell, 30 startups will initially be selected to join the pre-accelerator stage. Here their focus will be to deliver an MVP. The startups will then be given the chance to pitch for Rs. 2.5 million at the demo. 7 teams will receive this investment and will then get support on all aspects of running their business.

Additionally, the startups will also have a chance of pitching for Rs. 50 million later on. The program is currently accepting applications until the 06th of February. They encourage applicants to have ideas in line with the verticals of John Keells. But they’re open to ideas from all industries. If you’re interested in applying, click here before time runs out.

What else unfolded at Hatch

As you can see, Hatch brought together many people together under its roof to mark its official launch. But this was merely the first half of the events that occurred across three days. There were many more insightful sessions that occurred. So stay tuned to learn more of what unfolded at these sessions.

Check out part 2 here.

By Mazin Hussain

Arteculate is your guide to the Asian tech industry. We give you unparalleled insights, accurate, local tech news, thoughtful features and sometimes scathing opinions on where things are headed. Stay tuned for the best of Asia!

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