John Keells Holdings (JKH), Sri Lanka’s largest listed conglomerate, has beaconed the startup space in Sri Lanka by creating an accelerator program unlike any other. The ‘John Keells X’ initiative was first launched in 2016 and has since provided many budding and mature entrepreneurs with the three pillars of startup success – skills, funding, and connections. With the kickoff of the 2022 rendition of John Keells X currently underway, here’s how three startups from the 2018 accelerator cohort stand a few years after their participation in the program.
Cofounded by Nuzhi Meyen and Shanaka Perera, Helios P2P acts as a marketplace of lenders and borrowers for short and midterm loans. As such, the platform aims at improving financial inclusiveness through several solutions. The list includes credit card refinancing, debt consolidation, education loans, and much more using blockchain technology. At present, Helios P2P provides three products – Helios for Public (HP), Helios for Employees at Registered Organisations (HERO), and Helios for Employees at Leading Organisations (HELO). The ideal product is selected for the user based on their requirements and eligibility. The platform also provides an attractive return on investment of 15% – 40% per annum to its registered lenders.
To date, the company has disbursed over LKR 50 million in loans. In the upcoming years, Helios P2P has its sights set on being the pioneer of peer-to-peer lending in Sri Lanka, with an estimated market value of US$ 25 million. “The John Keells X accelerator program set the foundation for Helios P2P with its Growth and Execution workshop. This support provided us with expertise and strategies for customer acquisition. In fact, the HERO product received an entire customer base within the JKH network itself!” Nuzhi shared. In addition to this, the program also presented the cofounders with two additional rounds of seed funding.
The initial learnings from the program were also useful in helping the company build its initial customer base to onboard employees from several organizations. Years after being a part of the program, the duo are still being mentored by Kelvin Teo, the cofounder of Funding Societies, due to the connections made through JKX. “Mr. Teo has been an asset to our company. We thank John Keells X for its support as we expand our fintech products and launch into other verticals in the consumer credit market.” Nuzhi expresses his gratitude. Alongside this success, Helios was also selected as a finalist for the commonwealth digital health awards (Fintech), formed a partnership with FriMI as a BNPL provider, and was accepted into the Microsoft Highway to Hundred Unicorns Program.
Yet another alumnus of JKX is DirectPay, which has made great strides toward accelerating the fintech revolution in Sri Lanka. Once seamlessly integrated into the backend of existing client finance systems, the platform allows multiple forms of payment. The list includes methods such as swiping credit/debit cards, scanning QR codes, or mobile authorization of fund transfers. Since its inception, DirectPay collectively explored and mastered several fintech verticals. As a result, the platform has received numerous awards, such as the 2018 Asia Pacific ICT Alliance (APICTA) award in the Consumer category and the Best Startup and Best Mobile Payment Application at the 2018 National ICT Awards (NBQSA).
“The build-up of DirectPay was launched through its runaway round of funding and expertise through the John Keells X accelerator program,” stated Chief Operating Officer of DirectPay, Sasindu Pathiranage. Elaborating further, he added that the platform was only doing LKR 2 million worth of transactions at the program’s onset. Now, it has crossed over LKR 9 billion in 35 months, with help from the recognition, networking, mentorship, and opportunities that the JKX program has provided.
Having crossed several milestones, the company now serves several organizations. A few notable names include AIA, Ceylinco Insurance, Daraz, Providore, Orange Electric, Aprico Insurance, Saaraketha, LankaBell, and many more. It has also expanded regionally into the Maldives, Nepal, and Dubai. DirectPay is now exploring new fintech avenues. Sasindu shared that a few areas they’re now eying are microlending, payday loans, ‘Buy now Pay later’ features and electronic KYC blockchain transactions as its immediate plans. “These products will be vital moving forward as we foresee the development of neo-banking in Sri Lanka. This phenomenon is where digital platforms available 24/7/365 will eventually replace the conventional brick-and-mortar institutions.”
Senzagro combines technology with nature by bringing the Internet of Things (IoT) technology to the agricultural industry. The platform offers crop-specific intelligence and solutions to farmers to optimize plant growth. One of its significant successes has been the continuous monitoring of coconut trees’ climatic conditions and soil texture in local toddy production. “The lack of skilled labor for toddy tapping had hindered the industry’s growth before introducing the Senzagro platform. However, with its analytics, we reduced human error by 10-15% and provided farmers with the necessary inputs for ideal fertilization and irrigation,” explains one of the founders.
Since then, the platform has been used to enhance the production of bananas, cucumbers, strawberries, and many more crops – creating over 6000 smart farms in Sri Lanka. In addition, through the JKX accelerator program, SenzAgro has been recognized by numerous institutions and awarding bodies such as SLUSH, LAND Accelerator, SDGIA Turkey, 4Rves, and the World Agrifood innovation summit. With this, StartUs Insight cited the platform as one of the 5 Top Irrigation Solutions impacting the agricultural sector and has also been listed as a top innovative company in ‘APAC AgriFood Tech Ecosystem Map 2021’. It was also accepted into the Microsoft Amplify program.
Through the John Keells X program, SenzAgro received mentoring from the President of Retail at JKH, Charitha Subasinghe. Working together with Keells, the company developed a start of the art Farmer Management System. Other prominent names amongst SenzAgro’s clientele are Magnifera, Elipitiya PLC, Oxfam, Kiwa Life, Hayashi Farm, AIT Global, and more. Senzagro is currently involved with the Ministry of Agriculture for several NGO projects and has raised a second round of funds from an international investor. In addition, the platform is introducing several new features, such as crop planning forecast, agronomic consultation, and crop insurance schemes. Further, it’s also looking at expanding into Japan with Hayashi Farm, Australia with a series of private strawberry farms, Ecuador with Kiwa Life, and the UAE with AIT Global, while forming research partnerships to promote agritech in Sri Lanka.
The John Keells X program today
The successful growth of its alumnus serves as a testament to the impact of the JKX initiative. Yet, the above are merely just those from a single batch of startups that went through the program. With JKX 4.0 in full swing, the program has three distinct tracks. The Accelerate, Innovate and Elevate tracks all offer unique opportunities for promising startups to accelerate their growth by leveraging the strengths of the John Keells Group. For more updates on the program, keep an eye on their official website www.johnkeellsx.com.