When Hatch opened in 2018, it quickly became a hub for innovators. It enriched the entrepreneurial spirit within its walls by offering generously curated regular programmes of mentoring sessions, learning workshops and events. In April 2020, Hatch in partnership with Lankan Angel Network (LAN) and through the support of the Ford Foundation, will officially launch the first chapter of its start-up accelerator programme ‘HatchX’, establishing Sri Lanka’s first fintech accelerator. The programme’s strategic partner will be the Fintech Association of Sri Lanka (FASL). It has also received the endorsement of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL).
This first chapter will stay true to HatchX’s unique vision of moving beyond the traditional accelerator model by linking six innovative start-ups with financial regulators in order to bridge the divide between the two in the start-up ecosystem. The programme is being launched at a time when Sri Lanka is urgently looking towards fintech solutions to address essential needs, especially as businesses and financial institutions are seeking digital solutions to deliver timely services to their customers in order to meet unprecedented demand.
HatchX acts as a platform that supports start-ups and mature companies to scale their products and services in Sri Lanka and the region, while also opening up opportunities for collaboration, encouraging sharing and enabling access. Through HatchX’s foundational pillars focused on education, investment readiness and networking, entrepreneurs can access knowledge, expertise, collaboration and investment opportunities- all within the safe space of a curated accelerator programme designed by an internationally experienced expert team.
Commenting on the accelerator programme, Hatch co-founder Jeevan Gnanam said: “This will really put our cohort of start-ups through the mill. They’ll learn everything they need to about making it in a tough space and emerge stronger and more investible. They’ll be linked directly with banks, investors, and service providers as well as CBSL. Eventually, they will become products that will hugely improve how we access finance in Sri Lanka and beyond. Especially now, that the country is waking up to the need for digital financial solutions to meet their daily needs. Everyone benefits, and everyone learns.”
The fintech chapter of HatchX is funded by the Ford Foundation through LAN, a platform for angel and private investors who invest in high-growth early stage Sri Lankan ventures. Since 2012, LAN has supported more than 30 start-ups via funding and mentored over 1,000 start-ups. Recently, LAN launched Sri Lanka’s first Angel Fund to back early-stage start-ups via a structure fund.
Commenting on the venture, Kasturi Wilson, Board Member of LAN and Managing Director of Hemas Pharmaceuticals, Surgical and Diagnostics as well as its Logistics & Maritime Cluster said: “We’re thrilled to support the first FinTech start-up accelerator in Sri Lanka and deliver the same free of charge to start-ups. Thanks to the support of Ford Foundation, we’re able to back start-ups addressing challenges around inequality in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, it has helped us attract global experts with extensive experience in running accelerators. We hope that this learning and exposure will accelerate the growth of fintech start-ups in Sri Lanka.”
Speaking on behalf of both FASL and the fintech community, FASL President Rajkumar Kanagasingam noted that this was an important first step for fintechs in Sri Lanka, “This program will nurture our eco-system. Since FASL is an MoU signed partner of the Singapore Fintech Association, Fintech Association of Hong Kong and the Fintech Association of Japan, we try to connect the community here with the experiences of other ecosystems, especially on how the regulators have enhanced fintech innovation. So, it’s very encouraging that the CBSL is working with such programs and builds regulations around it.”
“The FinTech Chapter” is an unusual opportunity for fintech innovators to accelerate and grow their product in a secure environment. ‘Fintech’ or financial technology, can include anything from mobile payment apps to crowdfunding platforms and cryptocurrency. It has changed how consumers access finance. Fintech in Sri Lanka is at very early stages in comparison to regional peers such as India and Singapore, with regulators cautiously approaching products and services to ensure the stability of the country’s financial system. Chief regulator CBSL operates a fintech regulatory ‘sandbox’ that provides a safe space for selected innovators to test their products and services without the risk of infringing on regulatory requirements.
The HatchX Fintech Chapter will provide the ecosystem necessary for these entrepreneurs to go through their business model with a curated programme and curriculum, enabling them to envision their life cycle and avoid the finality of ‘business death’. The programme would also provide regulators with an intimate perspective of the type of problems that start-ups are attempting to solve with fintech solutions. Moreover, it will help entrepreneurs fortify and develop their business models in the space of a few weeks by linking them with regulators, banks and investors immediately, whereas traditionally it would take many years to access such opportunities. Eventually, all Sri Lankans will benefit- easily accessible fintech is key to creating sophisticated financial markets and remaining globally competitive.
HatchX is currently reviewing applications to shortlist six start-ups that will take part in the accelerator programme. All applications received are well beyond the idea stage, say the organizers, noting that the programme is an accelerator and not an incubator of ideas. These companies are at the prototype stage or higher, with many products already launched or at the scaling stage. Refreshingly, their solutions look beyond just payment gateways- a traditional metric associated with fintech in Sri Lanka. They will receive bespoke guidance and access to experts in numerous areas; including business modelling, banking & fintech nuances, data protection, internal processes, entrepreneurial finance, legal, marketing and fundraising.
The accelerator programme will deliver three primary components of business support, education and investor-readiness through a programme structure, curriculum and advisory platform specifically designed by Programme Director Nio Liyanage. Nio is the founder of STARTUPRIGHT and specializes in growing technology start-ups through hands-on guidance in strategy, growth, and capital raising. Over a 10+ year career, he has supported over 200 start-ups and led more than 15 accelerator programmes across the region including South East Asia, Australia, and Africa, guiding numerous companies to profitability, scale and market expansion.