Funding, skills and connections are the three most sought after things by any founder seeking to build a successful startup. Lose one element and the chances of success drop dramatically. Hence, since its inception in 2016, the John Keells X programme has been helping startups obtain funding, training and the right connections to scale and grow into successful companies. Popularly known as JKX and now in its fifth year, the programme has evolved with three unique tracks: Accelerate, Innovate and Elevate, which are poised to help Sri Lankan startups open doors and secure opportunities to build successful businesses.
John Keells Holdings PLC (JKH) is Sri Lanka’s largest listed conglomerate in the Colombo Stock Exchange operating over 70 companies in 7 diverse industry sectors, with a rich history spanning over a century. From a budding startup to a mature business, there are immense opportunities to be gained by working with such a corporate giant. Likewise, JKH has recognised fast-moving startups’ innovative potential that can rapidly respond to changing market conditions. With the JKX programme serving as the bridge between the two, it’s the gateway to success.
Sharing his thoughts on the launch of the latest edition of John Keells X, Chairman of John Keells Group, Krishan Balendra said, “We are excited to relaunch John Keells X, which will give the opportunity for both early-stage and mature startups to integrate with the John Keells Group’s ecosystem. We are encouraged by the progress that we have seen over the years and are keen to build on this positive momentum, with the objective of incubating and nurturing startups and giving them opportunities to align and integrate into our group’s business portfolio where relevant and driving open innovation as a key strategy for the group.”
Speaking to Arteculate, Assistant Vice President at John Keells Group and Head of John Keells X, Wishanth Wijesinha, said, “JKX is a startup for startups. From our learnings over the past 5 years, we’ve refined our model to help founders succeed. Today, we offer them critical seed investment to validate their ideas and business assumptions. We’ve also developed a strong curriculum focused on growth and execution amongst other essential topics for entrepreneurs. With unparalleled access to the John Keells Group and its leadership, the programme helps founders secure leads, connections, and mentorship to ensure they scale rapidly and succeed.”
John Keells X 4.0 with a difference
Since its inception, the JKX programme has connected startups with funding, training and connections within the John Keells Group’s corporate network and its partners. Now in its latest iteration, the programme has opened its doors to a new batch of startups. Applications for the accelerator program “JKX Accelerate” opened on the 1st of December 2021. After the application period ends, a short-listing process will take place to identify the most promising startups from the pool.
This year the programme has evolved with three unique tracks. All of which are designed to support budding startups and fast-growing scale-ups. Describing the philosophy of this year’s programme, Group CIO & Executive Vice President, John Keells Group, Ramesh Shanmuganathan added, “It’s been 5 years since we launched John Keells X. Every time we had looked at the next point of inflection for the programme to become one of its kind so that the participants can leverage and benefit from the larger ecosystem that JKH continues to build as a conglomerate. This year our programme, JKX 4.0, is very unique in that we will be launching 3 tracks that are uniquely poised to attract and nurture disruptive startups, solve use-case led challenges as well as scale established players. We also have aligned strategic partnerships with organizations that will broad base this ecosystem in Sri Lanka and beyond. We are elated and ecstatic about this new programme and look forward to building a truly global platform to drive open innovation at scale.”
JKX Accelerate: The accelerator programme helping startups grow
This first track is the one most would be familiar with. Here, the startups formally accepted into the programme would first enter the pre-accelerator stage. Over three months, the focus would be to help the startups reach a stage where they’d be investor-ready. To that end, the JKX programme would offer them relevant training and support.
By the end of this process, the startups would showcase their progress, growth and traction to highlight their promise to investors. The culmination of the pre-accelerator would be the demo day, where the startups would pitch their businesses to a panel of judges. This time, the winning startups will receive a seed investment of LKR 5 million for a 10% equity stake and be accepted into the formal JKX accelerator.
Once in the accelerator, they will receive further support in the form of mentoring, training, office space and also connections to the networks of the wider John Keells Group to help them grow rapidly. The startups will also have the option of follow-on investment opportunities during or after the accelerator, which can be up to LKR 50 million. All of which will help the founders scale up much faster than if they were to do so independently.
JKX Innovate: The bridge between startups and corporates
A new addition to the JKX programme is a series of business challenges. These business challenges are specific problem statements posed by companies in the JKX corporate network and its partners. Any startup interested can apply to solve these challenges and work with the dedicated teams of challenge owners from the corporate entities over eight weeks. This is irrespective of their acceptance into the pre-accelerator or accelerator.
At the end of this period, depending on the success and adoption of the proof-of-concept demonstrated, the startup and corporation can get into a mutually beneficial agreement to proceed either as a commercial agreement or investment. Through this initiative, startups can take their first steps into an industry by securing a solid corporate client.
JKX Elevate: Growth capital for scale-ups
Another new addition to the JKX programme is the third track, designed to support promising scale-ups, which refers to startups with some degree of a repeatable and scalable business model, whilst having demonstrated YoY growth. Here, JKH would come on board as investors, injecting that crucial growth capital needed. Thereby, the scale-ups would receive funding, which, when paired with the access and support offered by the John Keells Group’s corporate network and its partners, makes for a powerful combination to grow exponentially.
What kind of startups is the programme looking for?
The JKX programme is open to technology and tech-enabled startups from all industries, not simply those in which JKH has an active presence. However, the programme is keenly aware of the type of startups it’s looking for. Elaborating on this, Wishanth shared, “An ideal startup for us is one with a strong founding team. They’re committed to a long-term vision, have complementary skill sets, are knowledgeable about the problem and are focused on building a large and scalable business.”
With this focus, JKX is committed to pushing its founders to grow. Throughout the programme, each startup has a series of milestones to meet. Unique to each startup, these are meant to help them scale and test the execution skills of the founding team.
A glimpse of the programme’s success
Ultimately, the JKX programme offers much of the resources a startup would need to scale rapidly. From funding to knowledge to connections, all of it is available in one place. Further, the unique corporate accelerator allows its startups to gain valuable insights through mentorship and connections with the John Keells Group’s leadership. The programme has developed a strong track record of helping startups from several industries grow rapidly from these efforts. These include rising names such as HeliosP2P, DirectPay, Urban.lk, SenzAgro, and Blue Lotus 360, to name just a few.
Describing what the fast-growing Agri-Tech startup gained from the programme, Founder and CEO of SenzAgro, Miller Alexander, said, “JKX is one of the best accelerators for a Sri Lankan startup who wants to grow fast. The programme provides support to overcome the many barriers an early-stage startup could face such as finding that early adopter, dealing with clients in a formal way and especially opening up doors for that crucial first meeting! The John Keells name, brand, and accessibility allows any startup to have a strong footprint in the market. Highly recommend giving it a shot.”