01st March 2012, , www.ft.lk
Venture Engine, a project aimed at creating ‘real opportunity’ for Sri Lankan entrepreneurs and providing a boost to the country’s emerging economy by promoting and supporting entrepreneurial spirit, was launched yesterday.
“With the economy set to grow, the time is now to foster entrepreneurship,” declared Blue Ocean Ventures Ltd. Managing Director Prajeeth Balasubramaniam yesterday.
The project, conceptualised by Blue Ocean Ventures and the Indian Angel Network with the participation of Dialog Axiata PLC and Expolanka Holdings, creates a platform for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas directly to potential investors while receiving comprehensive mentoring.
Said to be the first of its kind in Sri Lanka, the project is modelled on the Indian Angel Network, India’s first, and Asia’s largest, business angel network. The Indian Angel Network invested Rs. 1 billion in India last year, and brings budding entrepreneurs together with nearly 200 successful entrepreneurs and CEOs. “We don’t have enough of anything,” he claimed.
Dialog Axiata Group CEO Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya, citing Dialog’s small beginnings and Sri Lanka’s lack of a “next step” between entrepreneurs who have good ideas and investors, stated: “Behind the future of seed investment, Dialog will help in whatever way.”
Expolanka Group CEO Hanif Yusoof added: “I am pleased that the journey has begun.”
According to Blue Ocean Ventures Chairman Rajan Anandan, Venture Engine is looking to assist not only entrepreneurs who have an idea and require seed capital and mentoring support, but also existing start-ups that require capital and advice for expansion.
Indian Angel Network President Padmaja Ruparel stated that the ‘Angel Investors’ would invest their time, networks and money. They will mentor entrepreneurs as well as open up clients and opportunities, she said.
Benefits to participants include access to mentoring and the opportunity to pitch business concepts and tie up with leading entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. The program also offers media exposure to all selected participants and start-up gifts to the top three places.
As of 1 March, an ‘open call’ has been made for entrepreneurs to submit applications for the program, with a submission deadline of 7 May. Applications must include a business summary, venture stage, required investment, value proposition, sales strategy, competitive analysis and risk strategy.
Thereafter, a panel of leading Sri Lankan and Indian businessmen, entrepreneurs, and investors will whittle the candidates down to 10. On 29 May, the 10 candidates will present their proposals and the field will again be cut down, this time to five. The five remaining candidates will have access to workshop sessions and will work towards the finale on 20 June, where the top three candidates will receive their start-up gifts.
The entrepreneurs’ ideas will be judged on uniqueness, marketability, the service offered and the financial forecast. The entrepreneurs will be judged on selling skills, self motivation, attitude, flexibility and willingness to take risk.
However, according to Ruparel, Venture Engine should not be thought of as a “business competition,” but as a platform for “cultivating the entrepreneur”. She went on to say that the biggest value created would be the “entrepreneurial spirit”.
Balasubramaniam echoed this sentiment, claiming that the “cash prizes are insignificant in the overall picture,” and that while the top 10 will have access to the business angels in India and Sri Lanka, if an investor liked the 20th application, then the investor could pursue that project.
As participating investors will be taking significant risk, they will acquire a stake in the companies. Citing an illiquid market in Sri Lanka, Anandan foresaw only a few methods for investors to withdraw their money from successful companies, including a strategic acquisition by another company, a buyout by the entrepreneurs or a buyout by other venture capitalists. The panel stated that investors engaging with entrepreneurs would not take a majority stake or seek to control the companies.
“Hopefully in the next few years we will see a transformation in how start-ups and entrepreneurs are viewed,” noted Anandan, adding that there were lots of opportunities out there.
Image: Blue Ocean Ventures Managing Director Prajeeth Balasubramaniam (second from right) briefs journalists yesterday. Others from left are Blue Ocean Ventures Chairman Rajan Anandan, Indian Angel Network Board Member Sunil Kalra, Expolanka Group CEO Hanif Yusoof, Dialog Axiata Group CEO Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya and Indian Angel Network President Padmaja Ruparel. Pic by Kithsiri de Mel.