The start-up ecosystem in Sri Lanka
By Janeeth Rodrigo
Top of the morning folks! This week, we continue our brain-picking session from last week.
We have with us the Programme Manager of the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), Sachindra Samararatne (pictured above).
As I have mentioned before, the start-up ecosystem in Sri Lanka is of keen interest to me and I have gathered most of my crucial learnings from others in this space. In this regard, Disrupt Asia, which is organised by the ICTA, is a pinnacle innovation initiative in Sri Lanka which made great strides to imbibe the entrepreneurial and innovation spirit amongst Sri Lankans.
Sachindra’s and my paths crossed over two decades ago, where we hiked and camped as scouts. But today, we are here to talk about how to start a company, not how to start a fire.
Q. As the Programme Manager at ICTA, you have played a crucial role in fostering the start-up ecosystem in Sri Lanka. What drove you to take on this role?
The role of the IDP (Industry Development Programme) Manager is to work towards developing the IT-BPM industry – something I’ve been passionate about since 2009, when I joined ICTA as a volunteer. That same passion still lives in me. I am but a facilitator of my dynamic team that implements the projects and gets involved with the start-up ecosystem work.
Q. In your opinion, why are start-ups crucial for the economy of a developing country like Sri Lanka?
I believe that the responsible usage of digital could bring about socioeconomic development.
Start-ups, as per the definition of the community, are new businesses with the potential to scale. We, at ICTA, focus more on technology-based start-ups as having higher growth potential. The ability to be lean and agile results in innovative solutions offered to businesses and consumers which increases the quality of life.
Q. You are a STEAM evangelist. What is STEAM and why is it important?
I learnt about the importance of STEAM from Cheryl Edison in the context of a makerspace. STEAM only makes sense when it’s in action. It’s the collaboration between Science, Technology, Engineering, Aesthetics, and Mathematics to bring about innovation. There is such beauty when diverse thinking comes together and the most amazing ideas are born.
Q. Sri Lanka is known for its dearth of angel investors and seed funds compared to even other Asian countries. Does this statement still hold true?
At the moment, I think we have many ways of raising funds if the start-up has a potentially scalable business idea with a positive impact to society. What we don’t have is funding for ideas which do not seem viable at the outset and are considered potentially risky investments. We don’t have funding for entrepreneurs to just TRY something out.
Q. If you could be a key decision-maker for a day, what law/system would you change to remove red tape and encourage entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka?
The community is working towards a vision of becoming an entrepreneur-friendly nation. Consistent strategies formulated with stakeholder engagement backed up with continuous government funding and policy changes where required will be key.
Collaboration between stakeholders of the entrepreneur ecosystem with a unified message to the Government is crucial.
Janeeth Rodrigo is the General Manager, Digital, of the Derana Media network. He is also the General Manager of IdeaHell, the first and only YouTube MCN and Creator Space in Sri Lanka.