Prajeeth Balasubramaniam: Empowering Sri Lankan Youth by Fostering a Startup Culture

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A few months ago, I came into contact with an individual who relocated to Sri Lanka in 2003 to launch a venture capital firm. I was curious to find out why he returned and to discover what his business was all about.

The man I came to know was Prajeeth Balasubramaniam, Co-founder, Managing Director and Founding General Partner of Blue Ocean Ventures (BOV). As outlined in BOV’s website, it is a Sri Lankan based venture capital firm “set up with the aim of assisting innovative Sri Lankan start-ups to accelerate their growth.” Having seen a lack of seed-stage capital for Sri Lankan start-ups, Balasubramaniam and his partner Rajan Anandan saw a void in the Sri Lankan business community they believed they could potentially help fill.

Rajan Anandan, Head of Google India

Despite 20 years spent abroad leading established businesses in the UK, Japan, and Australia, Balasubramaniam had always felt a desire to return to his place of birth. Since the launch of BOV, Balasubramaniam’s company has provided investment to young and mature businesses throughout Sri Lanka, allowing them to get off the ground with market validation.

Following the establishment of BOV, the Lankan Angel Network (LAN) was created in 2012. A member of the Asian Business Angel Forum, LAN has helped approximately 20 startups with 5 million dollars in funding, and today has over 75 members from different industries. “Comprised of individual investors, venture capital funds and corporate sponsorship representatives from around the world . . . LAN identifies key challenges that entrepreneurs face at each stage of their life cycle, and aims to enable them to overcome those obstacles and accelerate their business to the next level via access to potential investors and mentors in various disciplines.”

With the goal of building the start-up ecosystem in Sri Lanka, LAN has hosted several “Hackathons” throughout the country. The 36 hour idea-incubation session for start-up enthusiasts, developers, designers, marketers, and managers, aims to encourage like-minded individuals to share ideas in building a start-up. Winners of the program are selected to enter the Venture Engine Program which gives them direct access to overseas investors and mentors.

As mentioned in “This Tech Hub Wants to Turn Jaffna into the Next Silicon Valley”, BOV has gone even further in its encouragement of Sri Lankan based start ups and unique business ideas with its support of the Yarl Geek Challenge, a technology competition directed towards Sri Lanka’s youth.

Although Balasubramaniam was quick to point out that his business ventures have “a long way to go” in shaping the development of the country’s start-up environment, it cannot be denied that Balasubramaniam and his partner have made great efforts in fostering the growth and education of numerous Sri Lankan businesses.

When asked where he would like his businesses to be 10 years from now, Balasubramaniam shared his dream of seeing BOV as a pioneer and model on which many more companies will mushroom to help further the development of Sri Lanka’s start-up industry.

I am certainly left curious to see the impact of Balasubramaniam’s companies on Sri Lanka’s future business and technology landscape.

If you would like to read more about BOV, LAN or the Yarl Geek Challenge:

BOV: www.bov.lk/portfolio.php

LAN: lankanangelnetwork.com/default.php

Yarl Geek Challenge: tamilculture.ca/this-tech-hub-wants-to-turn-jaffna-into-the-next-silicon-valley/

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Author

Shanelle Kandiah

Shanelle Kandiah

A graduate from the University of Toronto, Shanelle recently completed her Master's in Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University where she wrote her Master's Research Project on the state of Sri Lanka's democracy. Born to a Sri Lankan Tamil father and a Filipino mother, Shanelle has always been eager to learn more about her cultures and to find opportunities that will allow her to give back to her community.

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2 thoughts on “Prajeeth Balasubramaniam: Empowering Sri Lankan Youth by Fostering a Startup Culture

  1. Excellent initiative. Sri Lanka has huge potential. 

    Will Sri Lanka become the first and only developed country in South Asia?

    Sri Lanka’s economy has averaged 7% annual growth since the war ended in 2009: 

    http://tinyurl.com/p48ulex

    All the vital stats are there: High literacy rate, high life expectancy, low population growth, good infrastructure, excellent geography and location.

    From the IMF: Sri Lanka just reached “middle-income country” status. Sri Lanka’s GDP Per Capita (PPP) is $6,046 (India’s is $3,843).

    From the World Bank: “The Sri Lankan economy has seen robust annual growth at 6.4 percent over the course of 2003 to 2012, well above its regional peers. Following the end of the civil conflict in May 2009, growth rose initially to 8 percent… Sri Lanka experienced a big decline in poverty between 2002 and 2009 – from 23 percent to 9 percent of the population.”

    From the UN: Sri Lanka is categorized as “High Human development”. On the UN’s 2014 Human Development Index, Sri Lanka ranks 73, above several European countries including Serbia (77), Ukraine (83) and Macedonia (84).

    Sri Lanka’s population is only 20 million and population growth has stabilized. Sri Lanka doesn’t have the crippling poverty or overpopulation of India/Pakistan/Bangladesh. Far easier to lift a country of just 20 million people to First World status than 1.2 billion.

    Colombo is an impressive city: http://tinyurl.com/qcg88s4

    So will Sri Lanka become a developed country within our lifetimes?

  2. Pandit “So will Sri Lanka become a developed country within our lifetimes?” I think so- as you mentioned that vitals are there. The shift in gov’t, early signs of unifying the country by addressing the grievances of Tamils and strategic, but careful (unlike during Rajapaksa’s reign) partnerships with neighbours like India/China provides a good foundation to do so.

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