“A Pitch for the Times”

When CIMA Sri Lanka, the local chapter of the world’s leading and largest professional educational body set out with ‘Hundred & 10%’, the first ever ‘Virtual Career Festival’, it was an ambitious mission. A never before seen line up of online programs over a week’s time, preparing the youth of today for the world of tomorrow. Of this line-up, the Elevator Pitch on Day 5 of the festival, was arguably one of the most looked forward to events.

Entrepreneurship has gained in leaps and bounds over the past years, with the youth eager to join the startup bandwagon. An opportunity to pitch their ideas to some of the most sought after names in corporate and entrepreneurial Sri Lanka; including Ajit Gunawardena, founder and CEO of Bluestone Capital and former Deputy Chairman of John Keells Holdings PLC and Jeevan Gnanam, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Hatch, therefore, was not to be missed.

Kicking off at 6 PM, the Elevator Pitch session live streamed online with four budding entrepreneurs that made the final cut out of a total twenty five, pitching their business ideas: Hemal Tennakoon – “HELP Foundation – A Social Enterprise”; Kailayapillai Arunruban – “SHARE ME – Simple Solution to Solve the Supply Chain Struggles”; Mohamed Nafees – “WORKSPACE – Sri Lanka’s premium freelancing platform”; and Nuzrath Nazar – “LAB ON WHEELS – Let your lab come to your doorstep”. Moderated by Abdul Qadir, a Digital Entrepreneur, the panel of judges for the ‘Shark Tank’ inspired competition consisted of Ravi Edirisinghe, CEO, GAC Group; Jeevan Gnanam, Founder/Managing Director, Varcity AI & Managing Director Digital Realty;  Ajit Gunawardena, Founder, Bluestone Capital; Shehara Jayawardana, Jt. Managing Director, McLarens Group of Companies, Kishan Nadarajah, Principal, BOV Capital; and Rishini Weeraratne, Consulting Editor, Daily Mirror Online.

Watching the event unfold, one could not help but notice the passion with which the young entrepreneurs presented their businesses, in contrast to the focused, technical, bare bone essentials the seasoned veterans sought from them. The process would certainly have taxed the minds of the presenters, but was also essential to separate the speculative from the definite. This juxtaposition of concept versus practicality was likely the biggest lesson the viewers and the young entrepreneurs both walked away with, as the professionals laid bare their years of experience to make us understand the grit and depth it takes to make it in a competitive business world.

Nuzrath Nazar, the founder of ‘Lab on Wheels’ – an innovative take on revolutionising medical laboratory services – won the high stakes competition, receiving the cash prize of Rs. 100,000.00 courtesy of Imperial College of Business. According to Nazar, his idea for an outsourced mobile laboratory sample collection service through the use of a dedicate app, is based on his experiences carried forward from being involved in the establishment of Sri Lanka’s first reference laboratory.

While the judges deliberated on the winner, the audience was treated to an energetic panel discussion on, “Becoming Entrepreneurial” featuring Hifnaz Jiffrey – CEO/Co-Founder, Yoho Bed, Lakmini Wijesundara – Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Iron One Technologies & BoardPAC and moderated by Indika Liyanahewage – Chief Executive Officer- Eskimo Fashion Knitwear.

The panelists’ focus on the high-power 30 minute session was on developing the right mindset to succeed as an entrepreneur.

Speaking about the idea of ‘entrepreneurship’ Lakmini said that once you start, the potential of what can be done is endless if you’re willing to put the time. Her advice was that one has to take the risk to achieve. Simply put, “Find a way!”. Following up was Hifnaz, “You need passion and persistence; there will be many roadblocks, however if you don’t start somewhere you will fall off.” he said, adding “Believe in a bigger cause.”

Both panelists were in agreement that the smart entrepreneur will have an eye on the market, and be able to cater to the current market requirement. For example, in the scenario of COVID related lockdowns, the whole market landscape changed with opportunities opening up for those ready to supply everything remotely. From online shopping to medical care to everything in between. The ones who made it during this period were those with the competence to handle the demand, and took the opportunity to cater to it.

The panelists touched briefly on risk, always a big factor in entrepreneurship “it is Important to have ultimate optimism, as to grow you have to take risks.” Said Lakmini, while Hifnaz affirmed it saying “Every day is a risk, accept it and be ready for it. The journey will involve a lot of risks and failures, but you need passion and persistence to continue.”

Wrapping up their session, even as the judges prepared to announce the winners of the elevator pitch, the panelists had one last piece of advice summing up the entire enterprise: “Start it – your business – for the right reasons, it can be a product-based business or a service, but you have to have a core competency to want to get into that space. And you need a product with an addressable market. Believe in yourself and take that risk.”

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