Top of the morning folks! Hope those New Year’s resolutions are still standing well into the third week of 2019. In this week’s column I delve into a pet subject of mine; startups and entrepreneurship.
While I was lamenting for the last few years over the dearth of angel funding and seed funding opportunities in Sri Lanka, it is hard to dismiss that things are slowly but surely taking a turn for the better.
While we are no Silicon Valley yet, but initiatives such as Venture Engine, Spiralation, and John Keells X have made great strides in setting the entrepreneur mindset amongst Sri Lankans.
This week, we will focus on the latter John Keells X (JKX) as the deadline for applications will close on 6 February for the 2019 leg of the programme. I tracked down the man behind the show, John Keells X Head Wishanth Wijesinhe, to shed more light on why most of you should consider applying this year and what’s in store for those who show potential.
Why did a conglomerate like John Keells initiate JKX?
John Keells X is a programme aimed at harnessing the creative and intellectual talent of the public, in competition format. We seek teams with imaginative minds, a sense of design, and a high degree of self-motivation. The purpose of the programme is to provide a platform for innovative ideas that can disrupt traditional business models, and open new markets and new avenues to enhance customer experiences and improve operational efficiencies of businesses.
No single company has a monopoly on the best ideas and “open innovation”, although a fairly new concept, is the way forward. JKX is viewed as an avenue in which JKH could embrace this concept, whilst supporting and collaborating with the dynamic startup ecosystem in Sri Lanka. GE, IBM, Tata, and Virgin are some global giants that have adopted a similar approach.
JKX has taken learnings from and benchmarked against successful accelerators such as Y-Combinator and 500 Startups.
What exactly is JKX? Is it a seed fund, startup accelerator, or incubator?
JKX is a corporate startup accelerator that provides seed funding, training and mentorship, and access to the JKH network. Our model is different from similar programmes you would come across, such as business plan competitions, incubators, and commercial accelerators, the difference being the carefully structured nature of the programme and that we offer startups access to the JKH network to aid and accelerate their customer discovery process.
We offer training based on “Disciplined Entrepreneurship”, a 24-step entrepreneurship curriculum curated at MIT delivered by Marius Ursache, a teaching fellow and mentor at MIT and Singularity University.
We also offer Growth Hacking training delivered by Growth Tribe, Europe’s first growth hacking academy. The startups are also trained on the basics of legal and finance, delivered by JKH Corporate Services.
What are the benefits of the wider JKH network to a potential startup that gets selected through JKX?
This is where we add immense value to the journey of any early-stage startup. All startups that get selected for our programme get direct access to all JKH companies, customers, channels, and also to our data and systems where possible and applicable.
We want to offer “JKH in a box” to these startups and encourage them to experiment and innovate with their products and services to gain feedback and insights. If they are successful, the opportunities are endless for commercial deployment and they also get the benefit of a blue chip company as a reference customer. We want promising innovations to have the best chance at wider adoption.
All startups are mentored by senior leaders within JKH who possess a wealth of knowledge in terms of running successful businesses and domain expertise. They also get direct access to our corporate services such as legal, corporate finance, and HR. JKH employees are also directly accessible to them as potential customers, especially in the case of B2C startups. On top of all this, free office space is provided at Crescat Boulevard for the duration of the accelerator period.
Some success stories?
We have seen significant progress in a number of startups that have been through the John Keells X programme, especially in the teams that received funding from us and entered the JKX Accelerator. Teams like Greasemonkey, Helios, SenzAgro and DirectPay are making good progress and are poised for their next level of growth in 2019.
The opportunity is huge for these startups in terms of their total addressable markets and the problems they are trying to solve and we are excited to be a part of their journey. It has been a fascinating experience so far and I’m sure there are many more interesting challenges ahead.
It’s interesting to note that some companies that entered our programme as mere ideas and concepts are now steadily growing businesses, generating revenue.
Deadlines for application close on 6 February, who should apply this year?
All early-stage startups with passionate founders who are serious about taking their business to the next level should apply. If the idea is truly innovative, or it’s an absolutely unique business model and if they have effective solutions to solve real problems, John Keells X will be the ideal launch pad for them to truly put their startup to the test and gain valuable insights. It is a comprehensive programme which covers all aspects of entrepreneurship.
Any startup that has the potential to add value to the current industry verticals of John Keells will have an added advantage in terms of synergies with JKH and the potential to accelerate growth at scale.
By Janeeth Rodrigo
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.