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John Keells X: A Potential Launch Pad For Innovative Startups

While there may be any number of hackathons and coding events happening in Sri Lanka, it does not always mean that successful startups will emerge from them. There may be plenty of great ideas out there, but without a way to secure funding, there’s no way to actually implement the idea and create a functional company out of it. That’s where John Keells X comes in.

On July 20, John Keells held the first casual meet up for its inaugural Open Innovation Challenge. The John Keells X Open Innovation Challenge is a competition for any person or team to come up with a disruptive business model or innovative idea that will be pitted against the ideas of other teams. At the end of the challenge, the winner and runner up get to go home with a pocket full of cash to be used to develop their ideas into a viable company. John Keells X is putting their money where their mouth is, and that is great news for potential founders.

Although there are a great many innovative startup ideas out there, without necessary funding, you can’t go very far. Image courtesy: assets.entreprenuer.com

Although there are a great many innovative startup ideas out there, without necessary funding, you can’t go very far. Image courtesy: assets.entreprenuer.com

Despite buzzwords like “disruptive” being tossed about like there’s no tomorrow, it really is a pretty good deal for a founder. The winner gets to take home a prize to the tune of Rs. 2 million while the runner up gets Rs. 1 million. That’s a pretty significant amount of seed money to jump-start a company and to develop a functional business model and product. It’s not the easiest thing to raise money in Sri Lanka for a new startup, and this competition is a pretty good starting point. John Keells X also promises that the prize money comes with no strings attached, which leaves a lot of freedom for founders to act.

John Keells X

John Keells Group Finance Director, Ronnie Peiris, was also present at Wednesday’s meetup. The Innovation Challenge has received strong support from the organisation’s top brass. Image courtesy John Keells X

Applications for the Challenge are open to all, including members of the John Keells Group. Applicants can develop any sort of business plan, but those linked to existing business interests of the John Keells Group would be preferable. All applications will be screened and those who get shortlisted will take part in the Open Day. At the Open Day, the teams will get to learn more about what’s happening, listen to a keynote and some presentations, and get a chance to network with everyone involved in the challenge. During the two or three month development window, applicants will get to talk about their product, get feedback and advice on how to proceed and how to deal with investors. Finally, the Challenge culminates in an event called the Demo Day, where teams present their business plans and a minimum viable product to an audience and judges who will decide the winners.

All things considered, it’s a pretty good deal.

JKH Chairman Susantha Ratnayake was also present at Wednesday's meetup. Image courtesy JKH

JKH Chairman Susantha Ratnayake was also present at Wednesday’s meetup. Image courtesy JKH

A question raised by some of the attendees was on the number of ideas a team could submit to the competition. Multiple ideas were encouraged by JKX, but the ideas must be submitted under separate applications by different founders in the same team.

In addition to the whole process of going through the challenge and being forced to refine an idea, the participants also get support from the John Keells X team in areas of marketing, strategy, and networking. They get the opportunity to meet key decision makers within the Group, get insights from industry experts in leisure, consumer foods, retail, financial services, transportation, IT, property, and plantation, while at the same time, build a relationship with the Group itself. John Keells also promises to open up its business APIs for things like its hotel availability and bookings to help developers solve real-world problems.

Applications for the Innovation Challenge opened on July 1 and will close on August 10. The shortlisted applicants will be announced on August 22 and the Open Day will be on September 1. The culmination of the Challenge on Demo Day will be on October 31, 2016.

John Keells X

Wednesday’s startup meetup gave founders – and potential founders – the space and opportunity to ask questions, discuss ideas, and engage in some networking. John Keells Holdings’ top management were also present, including Deputy Chairman Ajit Gunewardene. Image courtesy: John Keells X

A key highlight of Wednesday’s meetup was the opportunity for participants to casually interact with senior leadership of JKH including Chairman Susantha Ratnayake, Deputy Chairman Ajit Gunewardene, and Group Finance Director, Ronnie Peiris. With the presentations concluded, the meeting dissolved into one big networking session. There were about 120 people in attendance, and while not all were applicants for the challenge, there were quite a few who had come interested in putting their ideas to the test. There were also quite a few founders of existing startups, media professionals, and a number of experts involved in the startup industry itself. Part of the value of these gatherings is the networking opportunities it allows for founders to connect with experts in the industry.
With a couple of weeks to go to the application deadline, there is still time to put in your application for a chance to develop your own product and create your own company. To apply for the challenge, head over to the John Keells X website and send in your application. It’s a great opportunity and we recommend that you grab it as early as you can.

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