Mekin Maheshwari
Mekin Maheshwari, an early employee at Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart speaking at the event
  • Featured e-commerce experts Mekin Maheshwari, Amit Banda & Ramesh Shah
  •  Over 50 founders of start-ups participated at this highly interactive workshop

Organisers of Sri Lanka’s first Asian Business Angel Forum (ABAF) recently held a unique and valuable preview event, ahead of the main conference on October 11-12, 2017. Entitled “Tete a tete with Startups in Sri Lanka”, this exclusive opportunity to learn about building great start-ups took place on September 15, at the Kingsbury hotel, where a number of stellar speakers addressed the pressing issues of an audience made up of mostly of young entrepreneurs.

Giving advice at the workshop, on areas as diverse as growing across borders, when and how to scale up companies, valuation and funding options, as well as even tips on hiring staff, maintaining finances, most advantageous transport and marketing alternatives, fixing common mistakes by start-ups, etc., were three veteran entrepreneurs and well-respected e-commerce executives, Mekin Maheshwari, Amit Banda and Ramesh Shah.

Mr. Maheshwari, an early employee at Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart, who climbed the ranks to become the company’s Chief People Officer before leaving the company in 2015, indicated that e-commerce companies were not always focused on creating assets, as was the case with more traditional companies. Rather their main goal was to grow customer volumes, with the company’s valuation and profitability only becoming a concern later on.

Mr. Banda, a former senior executive at both Reliance Communications and The Future Group, revealed that when Amazon was developing its Kindle online book reader, the team in charge of book sales at the company was worried that it could kill the market for paperbacks. But they eventually decided to go ahead, because otherwise someone else would have beat them to market. This created a wholly new revenues stream for Amazon. Today, the reverse was coming into effect, where even though many people now bought books online, some e-commerce companies had identified omni-channel strategies to differentiate themselves, and opened up brick and mortar stores to adapt to different channels and their customers’ behaviors.

Mr. Shah, the Founder of the RK Group, a US$ 450 million-in-revenues textiles and e-commerce firm, commented that no matter what strategy one took for entry into India, the role of China played a big part. This was because China had fine-tuned shipping to a great degree, so much so that deliver of any small package from China to any part of India cost only INR 100 (approximately LKR 238.40). This meant that whoever wanted to compete in India had to always factor in this low shipping cost.

Apart of ABAF 2017, this highly interactive, half-day “Tete a tete with Startups in Sri Lanka” workshop comprised more than 50 participants from about 40 companies, both start-ups and growing concerns. This diverse group, which represented sectors as varied as e-commerce, manufacturing, apparel, transportation, jewelery, marketing, data sciences, technology, etc. made full use of the speakers’ experience, learning from not only anecdotes but also getting the personal input from the experts that was specific to their respective industries.

It is also noteworthy that ABAF 2017 has already gathered significant momentum in recent days, with more than 50 prominent foreign delegates having confirmed their participation to date. ABAF 2017 will welcome attendees from over 20 countries including Sri Lanka, USA, UK, Australia, Hong Kong, China, Korea, Israel, Dubai, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mauritius, Netherlands, Japan, France and Germany.

Along with a number of prominent business angels, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, policymakers, government officials and high net-worth individuals (HNIs), ABAF has also attracted interest from internationally renowned institutions such as the TVS Group, Proparco France, KfW Germany, DEG Germany, DGGF Netherlands, FMO Netherlands, Citibank Hong Kong, Blume Ventures india, Jungle Ventures Singapore, Gf in Mauritius, Cloudwell in Bangladesh, and Qlapa in Indonesia.

This is in addition to ABAF’s already impressive speaker line-up, which features Dr. Clarence Tan, former Ambassador for Singularity University; Dr. Yehoshua (Shuki) Gleitman, Chairman of GIBF (Guangzhuo Israel Biotech Fund); Dr. Samson Tam, Chairman of the Hong Kong Business Angel Network (HKBAN); Dr. Mark Hon, Chairman of Business Angel Network South East Asia (BANSEA); David Chen, Co-founder of AngelVest and Founding Chairman of Harvard Business School Alumni Angels of China; Brigitte Baumann Gervais, Founder and CEO of Go Beyond Early Stage Investing (Scotland); and Jayesh Parekh, Managing Partner at Jungle Ventures (Singapore).

Rajan Anandan, VP for SEA and India at Google; Padmaja Ruparel, President of the Indian Angel Network; Pankaj Jain, Member of the Investment Committee at Wadi Accelerator (New York); Jordan Green, Chairman of ABAF/Melbourne Angels; and Sanchayan Chakraborty, Partner at Aavishkaar will also speak at the event. A detailed ABAF 2017 agenda and speaker line-up, as well as information on how to sign up for the conference, is available at www.abafsrilanka.com.

Kicking off on October 11 at the Cinnamon Lakeside hotel, ABAF this year will also encompass the sixth edition of Venture Engine, Sri Lanka’s trailblazing program for entrepreneurship acceleration and empowerment, which will be held on ABAF’s first day. As a result, Venture Engine participants, both past and present, will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to directly access, via ABAF, investments, expertise, and mentoring offered by well-respected individuals in the field of global finance.

A strategic partner for this year’s Venture Engine, the Lankan Angel Network is the host of ABAF 2017. The Lankan Angel Network is Sri Lanka’s pioneering Business Angel Network with over 75 member investors who have collectively invested over Rs. 2 billion in 25 local start-ups, while Venture Engine is a product of a 2012 collaboration between BOVCapital and the Indian Angel Network. For 2017, venture capital firm Aavishkaar serves as Venture Engine’s Platinum Sponsor, while Orion City is the Silver Sponsor and Dialog Axiata is the Official Telecommunications Sponsor. Visit www.ventureengine.lk for more details.

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