Disrupt Asia 2019 takes over Nelum Pokuna Stadium

By Pavani Jayasinghe Munagamage

With much anticipation, Sri Lanka’s premier start-up conference and innovation festival was held on 12 October 2019, from 2 p.m. onwards. Distinguished panellists and speakers delivered a variety of keynote speeches and panel discussions during the event.

The conference was organised by the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka to enable the gathering of an audience and several panels speak about entrepreneurship and innovation under one roof with this year’s theme of “Augmented Living”.

Twenty-five speakers joined an audience of more than 1,000 who came in throughout the day. The premises were also home to many start-up stalls and investors kicking off Disrupt Asia.

The conference began with an opening speech by Rohan Samarajeewa. He spoke about start-ups and how the community in attendance “was catalysing ecosystems”. He said that most importantly, Disrupt Asia was a festival and not a meeting, and explained to the crowds that everyone should definitely have fun while exploring with investors and the teams at various stalls. The stalls in itself were so many in number and included partners like PickMe, Hatch, Startupright, DirectPay, and more.

Following the welcome speech, the first keynote speaker, RISE Co-host, StartupsGBA Co-founder, and Dimsum Ventures Partner Casey Lau took to the stage. Dressed in comfortable attire and having received a rather grand welcome from the audience, Lau successfully engaged the audience. In the words of Lau: “Start-ups are here to save the world. Why? Because it is the future. Technology is the future.”

Lau also carefully pinpointed several key components curtail to making any start-up a great start-up: community, mentorship, bootstrap, remote work, building anywhere, transformation, new markets, and to keep innovating.

Next on the agenda was the panel discussion “Travel Tech: Travel Smart”, enabling personalised, connected, and sustainable travel for everyone. In the distinguished panel was Airbnb Public Policy Deputy Digital Lead APAC Rachel Bartholomuesz, TripAdvisor Group Head – Destination Marketing APAC Sarah Mathews, Yoho Bed Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd. CEO Hifnaz Jiffry, and Vorsprung Digital Ltd. Managing Director Mirko Behnert.

The discussion was moderated by Rocketeer Labs Managing Director Andrew Jebaraj and focused on travel businesses needing to adapt to the fact that now, the travel experience is increasingly conducted, planned, and decided through the internet and apps. Topics surrounding travel tech were also thoroughly discussed.

Following travel tech, the next topic discussed was “the lives of people – enhanced through technology enabling convenience and economic growth”. The list of panellists consisted of LenddoEFL Co-founder and Courage Rocks CEO Richard Eldridge, IronOne Technologies and BoardPAC Co-founder and CEO Lakmini Wijesundara, Lalamove Managing Director Blake Larson, and MiHCM Cloud/Micromage Holdings Founder/CEO Harsha Purasinghe. This discussion was moderated by Tresync CEO Imran Furkan and focused on the product-market fit which will determine whether a software platform sustains or not. The discussion also focused on how and why you should be securing a global footprint, the steps to be taken in an international go-to-market strategy, and on the next biggest challenge which is scaling platforms locally and going global.

Under the theme of “shaping cities through innovation”, the next topic discussed was “technology efficiently used to improve quality of life sustainably”. The panellists were CityZone Israel Startups Ecosystem Head Yael Malatskey, Dialog Axiata PLC Group COO Dr. Rainer Deutschmann, Visa Director – Digital Solutions and Transit Payments H. Gurumoorthy, and Birmingham City University Director of Innovation Prof. Rehan Bhana. The discussion was moderated by PayMedia (Pvt.) Ltd. Founder and CEO Kanishka Weeramunda focused on how the lives of citizens in different cities are transformed to a higher standard of living through the brand new ways of technology and posed the question of whether, even if we all believe it has developed our lifestyle, has it really? What is innovation shaping our lifestyles into?

The next panel discussion was titled “R” – of VR and AR – the technology that is able to augment human senses, immerse, and provide a higher level of experience. The panellists were Manzalab Group APAC CEO Gildas Coldeboeuf, Arimac Digital Founder and CEO Chamira Jayasinghe, Two Lane Founding Director Casie Millhouse-Singh, and Shadow Factory Partner Amit Chatterjee. The moderator for the panel discussion was ICT Agency of Sri Lanka Programme Head Sachindra Samarartne and the discussion focused on businesses that are still trying to grasp the real value of immersive and interactive technologies and how to go about it.

The last panel discussion was titled “Go Global: Strategies for Emerging Markets”, aimed to help aspiring start-ups accelerate their global expansion. The final set of panellists consisted of Seedstars Regional Manager for Asia Rosie Keller, Startupright Managing Partner Nio Liyanage, and Casey Lau. This panel was moderated by Crowdisland (Pvt.) Ltd. CEO Chalinda Abeykoon, and focused on going global or expanding beyond the local geography.

Ending Disrupt Asia 2019 was the famous Start-up Battle grand finale which was won by iLoan, but already having won the prize in another competition, in a gesture that blew the audience and panellists away, iLoan, without a second thought, transferred their win to the runners-up – Lunah Labs. This gave another meaning to competition.

The final keynote speech was given by Techsauce Chief Connection Officer and Co-Founder and HUBBA Executive Chairman and Co-Founder Amarit Charoenphan, concluding the rather eventful day.

Photos Saman Abesiriwardana