August 3rd was the day, the Launch Day for the 7 startups that came out of this year's AITI Program in Sri Lanka. After 7 intensive weeks 34 students of the University of Moratuwa were ready to showcase their mobile/web products to the world. This event belonged to these 34 students who spent days and nights during the past 7 weeks formulating ideas, identifying customer needs, and developing products, and were now at the Launch Day they will have a chance to present to the audience for feedback, mentoring, and possibly investment.
The Launch Day event was held at the Hilton Colombo Residence Hotel (formerly called the JAIC Hilton). With over 150 attendees, the event brought together local entrepreneurs, business leaders, and government officials under one roof. This event not only provided the startups a platform to launch their products but also served as the networking event for the burgeoning entrepreneurial community of Sri Lanka.
Each team had organized a booth to showcase their products to the guests. The teams organized live demonstrations for their mobile/web apps and setup posters detailing their businesses, technology, and target customers.
The agenda for the Launch Day can be found here.
The highlight of the event were the 7 startups presenting their products and business to the attendees and our panel of judges. The format gave the teams 5-7 minutes for the presentation, followed by 10 minutes of Q&A from the judges. The teams effectively answered questions ranging from application functionality, customers acquisition, financial projections, and future plans.
Our keynote speaker, Honorable Mr. Harsha de Silva, delivered a riveting speech in support of AITI and associated activities in helping the entrepreneurial community of Sri Lanka. He wished for AITI-type events to be more common rather than a one-off event. He personally committed to be being a champion of AITI and promised continued support from the government and its agencies. The AITI-Sri Lanka team is lucky to have a dedicated and enthusiastic champion like Dr. de Silva.
The team presentations and keynote speech were followed by an hour long showcase event where the guests and judges got a chance to interact with the student entrepreneurs, understand their businesses, and try their products first hand.
Our sponsors had lined up selected awards for startups based on Technical Innovation, Social Impact, Audience Choice, and Startup with the Most Promise. After the showcase event the judges announced the winners of the awards which were presented by the sponsors:
Dialog - Technical Innovation Award: BitWave
Etisalat - Audience Choice Award: GlassCUBE
Mobitel - Social Impact Award: ZoomEx
Faculty of University of Moratuwa - Most promising startup: GlassCUBE
Pictures from the event can be found here
The Launch Day event marked the finale of the AITI program in Sri Lanka. This event and the program itself at the University of Moratuwa would not have been successful without the continued support of our sponsors who made the event possible.
Dialog, Etisalat, and Mobitel. Along with LK Domain Registry and Dr. Gihan Dias.
Special thanks to Prof. Dileeka Dias of the University of Moratuwa. Prof. Dileeka was instrumental in making the AITI program a success and it was a privilege to work with her.
The Launch Day event on August 3rd marked the end of the AITI program in Sri Lanka but most importantly it marked the start of something great for the island nation. 34 students from the University of Moratuwa formed 7 companies with unique and innovative products. AITI program may have ended but the work on these companies has just started. We are excited, as should you be, about the potential these 7 startups have. The Launch Day provided these startups with the platform or boost required to touch the stars. We are extremely proud of the achievements of these students in the short timespan and eagerly look forward to seeing them grow into lifelong entrepreneurs forming the next great enterprise in Sri Lanka.
Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a kolikuttu.
i can't believe Launch Day is two days from now! Perhaps in the midst of organizing, refining, and stressing (I definitely had a nightmare about Launch Day going completely wrong last night. Something involving the Hilton falling apart during team presentations), we have neglected to look up and realize how close Launch Day actually was.
Regardless, I think I speak for us all when I say we are thrilled for Launch Day. Both the instructors and students have worked extraordinarily hard to make this event AWESOME! I've compiled a list of why this event will be amazing
- We have the best and brightest students of Sri Lanka presenting their products
- We have the country's top CEOs attending
- We have an assortment of investors looking to sponsor the students
- We have a member of Parliament as a guest speaker
- We have the country's top 3 mobile providers coming to look and potentially invest in the students' applications
All this in 7 weeks, too. Our students have broken our and probably their own expectations in the past whirlwind of weeks. All those nights coding until the sun rose, all those back-to-back meetings with executive were all worth it.
Here's to a great MIT AITI 2012 Sri Lanka Launch Day!
One of our fledgling teams of entrepreneurs has already taken the initiative to seek out press coverage! Here's an article featured in one of Sri Lanka's national newspapers about GlassCUBE and their app DriveMode:
It has been a while since my last post here. We've been pretty busy putting everything together for each of of AITI Olympics event. In the meantime, these are the startups that have been created by our students:
Bitwave's product, Customizerlk, is Sri Lanka's first online t-shirt customizing website. They address the problem of the lack of an efficient, easy, and inexpensiveway to customize t-shirts by creating a website that allows users to design t-shirts without fancy software and without the need to outsource the design process. Bitwave has a lot of potential because many university clubs and companies look for customized t-shirts. The current process of creating a customized t-shirt is tedious-- one must describe a design to a manufacturer and then visit them to confirm that your design is good. Customizerlk will greatly expedite and simplify this process.
FireLimeZ's vision is to become the pioneer in child health mobile solutions by providing healthcare features to parents. Their product, Senehasa, is a mobile application that will track a child's vaccination times and provide a height-to-weight ratio chart. Additionally, they will also provide information about medical centers nearby to the user, in case of illness in unfamiliar areas. Senehasa is a pioneer in their field because they are the first to bring a localized child health solution application to Sri Lanka.
GlassCUBE is a group of six engineers who are very transparent (hench, GlassCUBE) about their goal of providing solutions to everyday problems at a fraction of the cost. Their product is DriveMODE, a mobile application that provides a hands-free solution to taking phone calls while driving. This simple product is a simple alternative to more expensive bluetooth headsets and clunky hands-free sets. It also promotes safe driving, as driving with both hands on the wheel is the law in Sri Lanka.
Weddings in this part of the world are very elaborate and take years to plan out. With innoWIDE's product Dehadak, wedding planning in Sri Lanka will become much more organized and easier. Their mobile and application provides a collaborative environment for couples to plan their weddings, step-by-step. Features include a collaborative to-do list and notification system, a budget management tool, and a business directory and review system. Brides-to-be in Sri Lanka are probably breathing a sigh of relief, as Dehadak provides an exhaustive checklist of everything couples must do before the wedding right at their fingertips.
NIC2 Solutions' product Katha Puncha, or Little Storyteller in English, is a mobile application designed to give parents of Sri Lankan children a database of Sri Lankan stories that will teach historical, cultural, and literary values to their children. As the world becomes flatter, and as economic forces drive cultural change, many cultural stories and values are lost. Katha Puncha helps parents preserve culture and entertain their kids at the same time.
Reach is a product developed by Velox, that provides bus route information to anyone traveling in Colombo. Currently, there is no system for bus tracking, and alternatives (taxi, tuk-tuk) are much more expensive. If one finds himself in an unfamiliar area in Colombo, he can use Reach to determine what the best route to get to his destination is. Velox hopes to add value to Sri Lanka's transportation sector with Reach.
ZoomEx envisions themselve to the world's most dynamic waste management company. Their product Green Mart is Sri Lanka's first IT-based waste management solution. Essentially, companies who have waste can sign up on Green Mart and list what they have. Recycling centers will then bid upon the trash. This innovative product is the first of its kind and will promote eco-friendliness and build value recognition in companies who are green.
Wow, yet another week here! On one hand, it feels like time flies by so fast--we've been here for nearly two weeks now. On the other hand, when we take in to account how much we've taught and how far the students have progressed, it feels like we have been here for months.
Since my last post, students have finalized their ideas for their startups. Today is the elevator pitch contest, where students have 30 seconds to pitch their ideas to the representatives of the largest mobile operators in Sri Lanka. This contest will be held tournament style, with the winner earning Rs.7000 and runner-up earning Rs. 3000. It's going to be like March Madness, compressed into five exhilarating hours.
Technically, we have exhausted Django and started programming Android. Yesterday, students made their first Android application. They grow up so fast!
Last night, Amber, Wesley, and I decided that we were sick of spicy Sri Lankan food. In particular we wanted Chinese food. We had noticed a sign a few hundred meters down Galle Road advertising Shanghai Hotel and Restaurant. We walked there only to realize the small print: '800 m -->'. We walked the 800 meters down a road with no lights, to find another sign point us another few hundred meters down yet another dark road. We stopped in front of a very classy, very suave restaurant, our clothing clashingly incongruous with the atmosphere: here we were dressed for and expecting take-out, but what stood in front of us was a restaurant meant for large business banquets. Regardless of our slovenly attire (with parfum de sweating while walking down a dusty road), we went in. The food, although understandably inauthentic (no bok choi in sight!) was a very much needed change. It was heaven on earth for Wesley and me (veggies galore!), and some kind of happy place for Amber too (mango milkshakes galore!). We called Ali, who was heading back from a meeting in Colombo when we left, to come join us, but he said he was feeling sick, so we brought him home some delicious veggie soup (Wesley and I strongly believe that you can never have too many vegetables).
That brings us to today. In approximately four hours, the pitching will begin. Five hours after that, we will be on a bus to Galle, on our way to a much needed beach weekend.
Peace out, cub scouts.
Today marks the one week anniversary of us (Ali, Wesley, Amber and me, Emily) all being here. in the past week, we have blasted through our entrepreneurship and technical curricula, synced our circadian rhythms with Indian Standard Time, and explored a good deal of the local area.
Wesley, Amber, and I spent the weekend settling in our apartment and figuring out the logistics of cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping. Although our city of Ratmalana (located just outside of Moratuwa) is small, and overall quiet, we live right on Galle Road, a very long and busy artery of southwestern Sri Lanka traffic. There are grocery stores less than 2 kilometers (yes, we use metric measurements now!) away and dozens of fruit stands just a few stone's throws down the street.
Ali joined us on Sunday night and we went straight into teaching on Monday. At 1:00 PM, we met our 34 students. After an introduction of the course, we had each student come and say a few things about him/herself, as well as what he/she hoped to accomplish in this program. It was confirmed that everyone was bright and passionate about innovation.
On Wednesday, we held our first full day of classes. After a brief intoduction to entrepreneurship by Ali and Amber, we sent the students out in teams, armed with only chocolates and instructions to make as much money selling them. After this steep dive into a real world challenge, the teams returned, having sold the chocolates at a much higher cost than we bought them for. The teams were allowed to keep the money they made, as small seed funds for their potential startups.
Come Friday, a mere two days later, our students had processed a great deal of Python and started Django. They have also already picked their startup groups and assigned company roles to everyone. Over the weekend, they have been bouncing ideas around, and by the end of the tomorrow, Brainstorming Day, they will have an idea of what problem they want to resolve and how they will resolve it. We are inviting four panelists, one person representing the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka and three entrepreneurs who have started their own businesses in Sri Lanka to assist our students and provide valuable feedback.
During our downtime, we have watched sunsets from Mount Lavinia, a picturesque beach-town/resort a few kilometers away from our apartment, visited Buddhist temples in Colombo, and tested our taste buds against the spciy local foods. We've bargained for tropical fruit that would have cost a small fortune back in Boston and squeezed into a single tuk-tuk driving wildly on a wet and slippery Galle Road. It's at once exhilarating and exhausting. But we wouldn't have it any other way.
We are incredibly thankful for the University of Moratuwa for hosting us, and for going out of their way to make us feel comfortable (we even have a charming chef named Percy who makes us authentic Sri Lankan food!), especially Professors Dileeka Dias, who helped arrange our living situation and handled most of the Sri Lankan side of logistics before we came.
Excited for what tomorrow will bring!
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