A staple event of the Sri Lankan tech calendar, Season 9 Finale of the Yarl Geek Challenge (YGC) has come to an end. A competition organized annually by the Yarl IT Hub, the YGC is known to attract the best in entrepreneurship and technology from the Northern part of the country. Over the years, many of the ideas at the Yarl Geek Challenge have become successful startups. Today, the YGC alumnus consists of over 25+ successful companies in a variety of industries.
The Yarl Geek Challenge is one of many initiatives conducted by the Yarl IT Hub. A community-based volunteer organization, it focuses on supporting innovation and entrepreneurship in the Northern Province. Its vision is to work with the community and make Jaffna the next Silicon Valley. Towards this vision, beyond YGC, it’s pursuing numerous initiatives.
Among them is Uki (meaning catalyst in Tamil) is a coding school for underprivileged youth in the Northern Province. It exists to empower them with the skills needed to enter the IT industry. Another is Cutar, which is an initiative working towards encouraging women to join the IT industry. Notably, it also runs a makerspace in partnership with Hatch called Hatch Kalam. While these are only a few examples, the common thread tying together of the Yarl IT Hub’s initiatives is the focus towards empowering the youth of the Northern Province through entrepreneurship opportunities.
The journey of YGC Season 9
As always, the Yarl Geek Challenge consists of teams of 5. Each of these teams submits their proposal outlining the concept they’d like to work on for the competition. These proposals are reviewed by the organizers. Afterwards, a number of teams are shortlisted to participate in the competition.
Typically, the Yarl Geek Challenge consists of a 3-day hackathon. Over the course of these 3 days, teams would work towards building prototypes for their ideas. However, unlike the last 8 years, this years competition took place rather differently. Much like life in most of 2020, this years’ edition of YGC was held online.
The 9th Season of the Yarl Geek Challenge saw 45 teams participating in the initial hackathon. Of these participants, 12 teams were selected to proceed to the finale. After having a brief period to refine their ideas, the teams pitched their ideas to a panel of judges at the finale. The teams that were shortlisted to participate in the Grand Finale at this year’s Yarl Geek Challenge are as follows:
- Mullai Then
- Make Me Stun
- Pollos Hermanos
- School Bag
- Team R3ACT
The startup founders not only had the privilege of a diversified pool of mentors from multiple tech companies but also got invaluable feedback from notable judges. Namely Rajan Anandan, Ratheesan Yoganathan, Prajeeth Balasubramaniam, Mano Sekeram, Chandi Dhramarathne, Tamara Dunne, Velan Thillairajah, Shan Nantha Kumar, Prof. Roshan Ragel, together with the judges for the qualifier rounds including Giritharan Somasundaram, Siva Ahnantham, Randhula de Silva, Chalinda Abeykoon, Alagan Mahalingam, and Sivam Krish.
At the finale, the judges analysed the pitches. Scrutinizing the participants and their startup ideas into detail. A common focus by the judges was to identify the market potential of the startups towards measuring their likelihood of success. Ultimately, 3 lucky teams were selected as the winners of the Yarl Geek Challenge Season 9.
The winning startup idea was Trackee, a management software promoting operational transparency. In doing, aiming to help businesses build better relationships with their clients. The platform allows businesses to map their processes and customers will receive a link that allows them to monitor the status in real-time. Currently, the startup is targeting the SME market and has already launched an MVP.
The 1st runner up was AgXSpot, which is a done-based service aiming to assist farmers. Focusing on the issue of spraying crops, the team has developed a crop dusting drone. It also allows the farmers to get a birds-eye view of their farm. Targeting large scale plantations, the startup aims to offer them drone-based and IoT-based solutions that meet their unique requirements.
The 2nd runner ups saw a time. One was Mullai Thean, which is a startup specializing in the collection of natural honey in Mullativu. With a bottle of honey priced at $25 each, they aim to keep a 30% profit with each sale. To date, they’ve built a customer base of 200. During the Q&A the judges impressed with their month-on-month growth were curious about their production capacity and encouraged the team to share their story during the pitch.
The other 2nd runner up was Podi. Officially a restaurant, Podi aims to offer its customers fresh homemade food. At an average price of LKR 300 for each of its meals, Podi maintains a 20% profit margin on each sale. Currently focusing on Kilinochchi, it allows customers to place orders through a website. Moving forward, the startup aims to set up a centralized kitchen and then expand its footprint across the island.
Following the announcement of the winners, Co-Founder and CEO of the Lebara Group, Ratheesan Yoganathan, shared the feedback from the judges with the participants. Commending the finalists on their remarkable progress amidst the challenges of the pandemic, he shared, “Our decisions weren’t based on the presentations. Each of you had great pitches. It was decided purely based on the products, their need in the market, and if the founders showed the drive needed for execution.”
With that Season 9 of the Yarl Geek Challenge officially came to an end. It’s a commendable feat given the pandemic has prevented physical gatherings. Yet, despite the odds, the Yarl IT Hub shifted the entire initiative online. Ensuring the youth of the Northern Province still received this chance at entrepreneurship.