Sri Lanka’s thriving start-up scene will get an additional boost with this year’s Disrupt 2.0 – Inter University technopreneur challenge specifically themed around applying tech innovations in addressing socio-economic issues in the country. The competition is organised in partnership with SLASSCOM and Zebra Technologies.

SLASSCOM, the principal partner of the event, envisages the IT/BPM sector to become a 5$ billion industry by 2022, creating 200,000 direct jobs. The 1,000 start-ups that SLASSCOM intends to achieve is an important part of the equation in making the IT sector a prime foreign revenue generator for the country.

Even though Sri Lanka’s start-up eco-system is vibrant and there is much to be enthusiastic about, it is still in its infancy. In contrast India has a much more advanced start-up culture benefiting from its large market and unlimited technical talent pool which has propelled some companies even to unicorn status. The past editions of the inter-university competition have experienced promising starts but failed to blossom in the commercial world.

“We had very good projects, but after the competition they did not go anywhere” said Zebra Technologies Director Anuradha Tennakoon. “In 2010 after the competition, University of Ruhuna developed a mobile motor reader project and the Water Board looked at it and said this is what they want, but that did not materialise. In 2012 a taxi hailing service called Taxi Buddy was launched at the competition. That too did not happen and today we see another company successfully implementing the same concept,” he added.

Reviewing the past performances of the competition, SLASSCOM and its partners are determined to ensure and provide additional support from capital requirement to mentoring for the top start-ups in realising commercial potential of their products.

In a 2014 survey conducted by Institute of Policy Studies on educational qualifications of owners of small and medium scale enterprises the graduate degree holders contributed only 2% and the lowest of the total responses whilst individuals with only G.C.E O/L constituted the highest at 45.7%. ParaQum Technologies Founder Dr. Ajith Pasqual who is also an academic at the University of Moratuwa reflecting on the low number of university students turning out to be entrepreneurs said: “The biggest issue is that many of the students who are about to graduate have multiple job opportunities with very attractive salaries.”

He believes that temptation among students is understandable given the huge monetary incentive in joining a private corporation. “It is extremely difficult to resist that. If you can resist that temptation of joining an established corporation and do your own project, it would probably be the starting point of your entrepreneurship career. I have seen many potential projects you can take and actually commercialise but nobody is interested because you have a Rs. 120,000 plus salary being offered.”

“Everyone won’t be an entrepreneur, but what it does is that people become more competent and even companies could benefit from it,” said SLASSCOM Chairman Mano Sekaram.

The competition will be held under four stages; initial submissions, idea pitch, critics’ day and demo day. After the applications are submitted the top 30 projects will be selected to pitch their projects. The highlight of the contest is the ‘critics’ day’ where the final 10-15 teams will get the opportunity to sharpen their product pitch with in-depth feedback provided from the judges.

Subsequently the panel of judges will rank the teams in five categories; business model, product demo, marketing plan, finance details and final pitch. According to the organisers this novel addition was included to enable the competitors to make them aware and better prepared as they stand before the final demonstration and evaluation from the judges.

The deadline for submission is 12 October and applications can be submitted at www.futurex.lk.