Mending mindsets

Mind-blowing ideas won’t go far without the right attitude and mindset. Changing the way we educate youth, giving them implementation skills, and better government support for startups are necessary to yield those game-changing innovations that catapult companies to iconic status.

By Echelon.

Published on April 08, 2014 with No Comments

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Isura Silva: The basic challenge right now is transferring technology because it is changing very rapidly. When I started the journey in 2006 it was all about what the internet is and what the internet can do to the communities. We were talking about mobiles in 2009 and now it’s all about smart devices people are using and what applications can drive them – for education.
And the other thing is the incredible lack of understanding about the financials. I’m working with the small and medium entrepreneurs and local communities. When you devise a product which is socially conscious, to have a surplus out of that is really, really hard. If you do not have that financial aspect, just because you have passion and a great idea doesn’t mean it will be implementable. And that lack of understanding goes right from the bottom of the pyramid sometimes to the corporates as well. You need to have passion but if you don’t have the discipline to be financially sustainable – that is where we are lacking a lot of time.

Jayomi Lokuliyana: When it comes to disruptive innovation, especially in the Sri Lankan context, of large blue chip organizations, one issue is the mindset of the management – whether they are willing to basically kill their main revenue streams and go for new technology disruptions. They might put a team together and give responsibility to the engineers to do the new technology. Instead of that the approach, I think setting up a company itself, with the new technology, would give a seriousness to the new technology adaptation, and speed up the adaptation curve.
I was recently in Barcelona, the world’s mobile capital, whose government is inviting large mobile technology companies to come and set up offices or R & D centres where the government would fund 20-30% of the employees’ salary. That’s allowed Barcelona to have lots of innovative companies. So these are some of the large initiatives a government can provide.

Chandika Jayasundara: In general I think the local startup ecosystem is moving in the right direction. There are lots of initiatives like the Lankan Angel Network, lots of funding events, lots of startup tech meet-ups. But most people trying to do new stuff are people who are uncomfortable in their current surroundings. People who have stable jobs at a software service provider don’t actually move much. Some one has to have an itch. These usually are students, new graduates or people who have a little bit of ability to dream or people who have gone into education again, may be doing a Masters – because you need detachment from your day-to-day life to be able to think creatively. So building a startup ecosystem has a lot of these things that people think are unrelated – that require the general population to have a little bit of more free time, particularly in our industry because people work 14-15 hours a day in most companies.
Because of their limited exposure, people think of things that are very generic, that have been done elsewhere before, particularly in online businesses. For us to have that exposure people need to think on a global scale. We hear so many startup pitches that will work here but will not work elsewhere. Trying to find problems to solve that apply everywhere is a challenge when you don’t know what’s happening. You need to understand markets to build solutions which is lacking in most people who try to do stuff here. But that sort of education is coming. Then we’ll have great ideas that can be world-beating.

Dr Romesh Ranawana: For me, one of the biggest differences about working in Sri Lanka compared with the West is the mentality of the people. There’s a big divide between people who are management-oriented or administrators and technical people. If you’re someone in the technical field and if you talk about money or business, it’s almost taboo among our community. So people tend to ‘niche’ themselves, saying ‘I’m technical, this is all I do’.
But we can’t have pure managers, pure sales people, pure marketing people or pure technical people. You need people who know the technical side and also can think from the business side. And that I find has been really lacking in Sri Lanka. That’s also to do with the way they are taught right at the start. In the West even A/Level students are given entrepreneurship training, taught about developing business models right at the start. Everybody is taught to think to become an all-rounder instead of a specialist in a particular field.
I find it really hard to get good product development people. People who think of the customer experience, think of the technical side, can also contribute to the architecture of the product.
If you look at some of the most successful companies like Google, Microsoft – even if those products were not developed in university at least the ideas for these game-changing products were born while these guys were in university. The reason for that as Chandrika said is these guys were free of encumbrances. For me, if I was thinking of starting a company now with my two children and my wife and my house and my car loan, I’m not going to take a risk like what I took.
We have to try and encourage these guys who are 18-30 to start thinking of these new ideas. It’s the time when they are free. But just getting the idea is not enough. Most guys in university get ideas but the problem is they don’t know how to execute it. But the difference in the West is, they get training in entrepreneurship, business development, accounts, administration along with the technical side as well.

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