Sri Lanka ‘Women-led Startups’ braving C19 now vie for next level

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How good is betting on a South Asian startup incubator dojo aimed at would-be-entrepreneur females with only a burning passion for their crafts and launched in the smack middle of the gloomy pandemic?

Wagered by Hatch Works, the knowledge and growth hub for Sri Lanka’s nascent startups, a “business development program” series called “Kickass Bootcamp” has been creating quite a buzz. It has now anchored itself in the country’s startup ecosystem since its capricious birthing in the smack middle of the Pandemic just five months back.

With three events in its series already under its belt since the pandemic, 30 female entrepreneurs linking to each other, and transforming to a strong network of women affecting changes across different parts of Sri Lanka, the month-long “Hatch Kickass Bootcamp” and its participants is worth a closer look.

By its third run, the Bootcamp was boarding female founders from such a diverse range of startup dreams as DV+ Architecture (architecture, design and project management services consultancy), Butterfly Effect Training Partners (a personal growth and grooming startup), The Cake Box and Platter It Up (two food-based businesses), Shoba Garments (a second-gen clothing manufacturer), Candle House Ceylon (hand-made scented candles), Kikasho Twins (visual thinking startup), Yoga with Aisha (wellness) and Apé (a wellness and lifestyle brand).

Speaking on her company’s growth since the completion of the Bootcamp, Shobija Luxmikanthan, now managing Shoba Garments-her mother’s company in Vavuniya -says that their immediate goal was to survive the Coronavirus. “Keeping our social media activities during the pandemic lockdown was essential. I regularly advertised on Facebook and Instagram and kept my followers updated on the new designs we were working on, so as to not to lose momentum. I also targeted niche customer segments, which helped me generate new orders. The Kickass Bootcamp also helped me look into the prospects of expanding into the local market by collaborating with well-established brands for a higher reach”.

The pandemic necessarily did not mean bad for all…for some, it ushered in a new start. Aisha Wahab and Himali de Silva, started Yoga with Aisha and Apé, their respective startups. Aisha founded an online yoga class by leveraging her hobbies into use to keep herself occupied during the early days of the pandemic. She gradually began growing her platform through Instagram by posting content that created a strong brand through visuals. What started as an online-based class has grown to a business. Aisha soon learned through the Bootcamp that if she wants to sustain her business, she will have to switch from a virtual model to an in-person class, which she now plans to launch in September 2020.

Himali de Silva founded Apé at the start of lockdown. Tired with the linear consumption, Himali aims to educate and transform people towards adopting a circular economy. Apé predominantly uses Instagram and currently functions as a virtual marketplace. Himali says the Bootcamp helped educate her on previously not thought of areas of her business and helped her refine her business model for its longevity.

Bhagya Iddamalgoda, of Candle House Ceylon, has been having a successful candle business for the past few years using Facebook and Instagram to market her products. However, after joining the Kickass Bootcamp, she mentioned that after a few years of running her business, she needed guidance on changing and navigating the next phase, which included managing her finances and social media as well as streamlining her operations. “The Kickass Bootcamp helped me understand the business landscape as a whole and I have since taken steps to get needed certifications and contracts in place when dealing with both B2B and B2C transactions.”

Nima Faiz, founder of catering startup Platter It Up, says: “I was confused about where my business was headed in the long term, hiring, and general finances. Kickass really cleared things up for me because I never had a business plan, and I never really gave much thought about finances at a deeper level or my business in general in such depth. Kickass made me take a step back and analyze my business in a way that I’ve never done before. From managing social media, thinking about growth, and making finances less scary.”

A trend that was seen during the pandemic was the growing demand for cakes and confectionaries as people were locked in their homesteads. Murshida Iqbal, the founding owner of Kandy based The Cakebox, is positive that since her business is based on catering to those who have a sweet tooth it would sustain. Murshida manages her own social media as she sees herself as the best person to put her love and effort that goes into baking her cakes, into words. “My photography skills needed improvement, and the Bootcamp taught me how to. Also  to manage my finances and also measure my social media growth…” she says.

Kithmi Weerantunga runs Kikasho by Twins with her twin sister Kalasi. Their Instagram resonates with the authenticity of twins, and since the pandemic, the twins are even more keener on building a business that resonates “with the love and warmth they provide” through their venture. The twins went on to add that they leverage their brand through social media, especially by putting out visually creative posts and collaborating with influencers who would add value to their businesses. “The Bootcamp helped us a lot in terms of managing our finances” they agree.

Tiza De Vas, who owns and runs DV+ Co. Architecture, says: “As a consultancy, skill, knowledge, and experience are large components of what we offer here at DV+. All these are qualitative, but a quantifiable way need for pricing. Kickass gave us the tools to build a sustainable pricing strategy.”

Fazla Razak & Ranmali Wickramasinghe of Butterfly Effect Training Partners had a bigger vision for their startup. “The pandemic inspired us to open up our social media pages for the business. The program gave us the foresight needed to expand into different markets and regions as well as on utilizing social media to market us” they say.

The Kickass Bootcamp will be on its fourth successive run now scheduled for September 2020. If you are a female entrepreneur and need extra guidance -and also like to be part of an amazing group of women –then fire an email now to sasmini@hatch.lk to apply.

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