Most young entrepreneurs get lost in the wave because they lack proper mentoring which is the backbone to steering a business to sustainability and progress, Varatharaja Kumaraguru, the Chief Executive Officer of Youth Business Sri Lanka (YBSL) told the Nation last week.
He said that there are plenty of investors keen on investing in start-ups, but whether the local entrepreneurs were ready to grasp the opportunities by convincing said investors remained a question.
“What we notice about most youth who start businesses is that they need mentoring not just in terms of how to run a business but also with regard to how to ‘pitch’ or project their ideas properly to potential investors,” Kumaraguru said.
In this regard, he said that YBSL which is the entrepreneurial wing of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce has been organizing several trainings over the last three years facilitating a platform for aspiring entrepreneurs to meet with business leaders and mentors and have one-on-one consultations.
According to Kumaraguru, YBSL currently also has sessions for entrepreneurs where they can meet peers or other entrepreneurs facing the same challenges, but with new ideas, tools, and contacts to solve them.
“This initiative is called Y-club where entrepreneurs between the ages of 18-40 can meet with other entrepreneurs and network and work together to find solutions to common problems,” he said. He also noted that YBSL currently provides a desk at their office in the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce premises for entrepreneurs to come in and work alongside peers. Y-club meets on the first Wednesday of every month.
Apart from the Colombo-centric start-ups, SMEs in rural areas are also beneficiaries of YBSL. “It is a different ball game altogether,” said Kumaraguru.
He added: “Apart from training the businessmen and women in rural areas on how to run their respective businesses, we also provide them with seed capital through our district offices. The approach is different to what we do with start-ups here in Colombo. Here what we do mostly is linking them with potential investors.”
“There are a lot of investors who are interested. What happens at most meetings is the start-ups get to pitch their ideas to these investors – like in the reality show Shark Tank. Most of these investors are seasoned entrepreneurs themselves who can tell even before the presentation starts how the venture will fare and whether or not a person has what it takes,” he said.
Commenting on Sri Lanka’s entrepreneurs in general, Kumaraguru said that a businessman or woman can only identify him or herself as such if they are taking risks and doing something that has not been done before by anybody. He said that the word ‘entrepreneur’ has become one of the most misused words in Sri Lanka at present.
A part of Youth Business International, YBSL is the entrepreneurial arm of the CCC and its partners include state and private organizations such as the Department of Labour, The British Council, the British Asian Trust and the EU. Youth Business International is a global network of organisations dedicated to helping young people to start and grow their own business and create employment.
Some trustees of YBSL include Chamber Chairman, Samantha Ranatunga, Hemas Holdings PLC Group Director Abbas Esufally, DSI Samson Group (Pvt) Ltd Managing Director Kulatunga Rajapaksa and Annika Senanayake, Directress, IWS Holdings Group.
A unique service offered by YBSL would be that it matches entrepreneurs with mentors based on requirements and preferences. At the point of signing up, the entrepreneur has to fill a form and then they are matched with a mentor who has the specific skills and expertise to groom the applicant. The CEO said that the forum is open to aspiring entrepreneurs and anybody interested in starting a business on their own. Accordingly, he said meetings with investors and delegations can be arranged for ‘very serious’ candidates. At the moment, YBSL has over 2000 registered members and a pool of around 170 mentors.
Another initiative that supports small businesses and start-ups is Entrepreneur Hubs Sri Lanka which is a project initiated by Michael Moonesinghe who is also the founder of Ex Pats Furniture Services Sri Lanka a popular Facebook-based community that has around 40,000 members at present. Entrepreneur Hubs Sri Lanka which was formed around August 2016 is a community for entrepreneurs and start-up businesses who are seeking office accommodation.
“I am genuinely passionate about supporting entrepreneurs (of any age – not just young people) and the start-up community here in Sri Lanka and ‘giving a little back’ to help others embark on the amazingly exciting journey of becoming your own boss, creating real value for yourselves, your families and for the country too,” says Moonesinghe. “Investor evenings will also be arranged to enable selected start-ups to make presentations directly to the local angel investment community to raise seed and development capital. The Hubs’ mentors will help you (without charge) to prepare professional and convincing pitches to give you every opportunity of success with these,”
When contacted, an official attached to Entrepreneur Hubs said that their plan was to open 10 hubs in Colombo and around the country. Apart from providing an office space to work from, this venture also aims to create a ‘vibrant and mutually supportive business community’. The most recent of their networking sessions was held last week at the Nugegoda Hub. By signing up with the community, members get the opportunity to network with experienced business people to get advice and guidance on most aspects of setting up and running a business.