Need to go somewhere? Book a PickMe. Hungry? Why not order from quickee.lk? Need a job? everjobs.lk is your friend. And the list goes on. Sri Lanka is increasingly shaped by online start-ups, who are changing the business landscape by disrupting the traditional ways of doing everyday tasks and getting people used to smoother, easier and cheaper methods for basic activities.
Internet coverage has risen tremendously over the last years and will certainly not stop at around 30 percent, where it is at the moment. This provides an increasingly attractive field for tech-savvy entrepreneurs, who dive into conservative markets and change the playing field.
As explained by everjobs.lk Managing Director Rushabh Sheth, “Gone are the days where you send your CV via post to apply for a job and wait for weeks to get a reply, if you get one at all. Now thousands of jobs are accessible on everjobs.lk and all that a job seeker has to do is apply to as many as he or she wants with just one click.”
The Sri Lankan Internet start-ups receive a lot of external support from organisations like the Information and Communication Technology Authority (ICTA), a government-owned agency that aims to foster the economy through ICT. It runs several initiatives, such as its Spiralation Seed funding programme, which provides seed funding of US $ 5,000 per start-up along with training by industry experts.
The Federation of Information Technology Industry Sri Lanka (FITIS) is another organisation that strongly promotes entrepreneurship in the IT space. With its annual Infotel, an exhibition at the BMICH, it helps companies in the IT space to showcase their services and products, a good way for Internet businesses to gain publicity.
The Sri Lanka Association of Software and Service Companies (SLASSCOM) launched ‘Start-up Sri Lanka’, an initiative, and plans to launch 1000 Sri Lankan start-ups by the year 2020. The SLASSCOM ran a survey in 2015 among 215 aspiring or existing local entrepreneurs and analysed their demographics, as well as the barriers for growth for start-ups.
Lack of affordable workspace, missing online payment solutions, poor access to capital - most of the start-ups are internally funded - and unreliable and expensive Internet access represent the biggest obstacles. Numerous banks are currently working or introducing payment solutions, which will take away one of the worries.
It is inevitable for Sri Lanka to support the start-up industry, given that eight out of 10 jobs come from the private sector. And while cities like Singapore, Bangkok, Beijing or Ho Chi Minh City are regulars in lists for attractiveness for start-ups, Colombo is nowhere to be found.
However, as the SLASSCOM’s survey pointed out, this is certainly not due to lack of talent in the country. More than 50 percent of the respondents had no issue at all with finding technically proficient talent. It is therefore evident that Sri Lanka has some structural, financial and legal obstacles ahead that need to be tackled in order to be mentioned with the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong.
(Omar Hmaoui is Head of Business Development at everjobs.lk)