May is known across Sri Lanka as the month of Wesak ‒ but this year Wesak celebrations were forced to take a backseat. Following the torrential downpours that lasted for days on end, some parts of the country got flooded, while landslides that occurred upcountry resulted in the massive loss of lives and property.
Although the armed forces were mobilised immediately, there were many ways in which state authorities seemed ill-equipped to deal with the disasters at hand. The government institutions which had been established to deal with such occurrences provided little assistance or assurance at first ‒ there was a lack of centralised coordination on the part of the DMC and plenty of horror stories surfaced about helplines that went unanswered and helpline operators who treated the disaster and calls for help as just-another-day scenarios. Well, where exactly are we going with this?
We would like to start off the Startup Bundle for the combined months of May and June with a quick word of thanks to the startup/entrepreneur community who rose to the occasion with unprecedented haste and enthusiasm. Apps were tweaked, ration logs were updated and shared in real time, while teams of people were deployed to distribute food and aid to those in need. In short, the startup community worked with everyday Sri Lankans to address the emergencies that state institutions were not equipped to handle. If anything, this proves to be an excellent insight into how community-minded the startup ecosystem in Sri Lanka is, and being a startup ourselves, we can’t help but feel some pride in knowing what the community is capable of when we come together.
Without further ado ‒ let’s jump right into the list of promising startups for May and June.
All you tech enthusiasts may be familiar with Dhanika Perera of Bhasha, a Sri Lankan startup that has its sights set on localising software for Sri Lankans. PayHere happens to be another brainchild of Dhanika’s ‒ and this time around he aims to bring more value to the software services associated with the e-commerce sector of Sri Lanka.
PayHere debuts looking to offer online payment facilities for Sri Lankan merchants. But what sets PayHere apart from the plethora of services that are already available in Sri Lanka? For starters, it’s free to set-up (unlike established banks, which charge users when integrating payment gateways to websites). The only charge that is incurred is when accepting payments through the platform.
Another aspect that PayHere appears to excel at is with regard to ease of integration. Incorporating PayHere services to a website can be as simple as placing a PayHere link or a Checkout button to the interface. Additionally, it also includes a vast variety of payment options that are utilised in Sri Lanka, ranging from credit/debit cards, eZcash, mCash and internet banking payments. PayHere also features Facebook integration going as PayHere Links, which allows a user to accept payments directly from a Facebook page by placing the integration into posts made on the social platform.
A local startup which aims at taking buying and selling to a new level, LookApp is (as the name suggests) an app which will let users access a highly visual mobile marketplace through their handhelds. But don’t we have enough of those already?
Well, LookApp has a few tricks up its sleeve too, one of them being the added layer of anonymity where neither the buyer nor the seller has to disclose their personal phone numbers/details, as the platform lets people interact through its interface. Although some may argue that this could be a scammers’ paradise, there’s also the people who will be happy to not share their personal details on a public forum.
“When it comes to Sri Lanka there are only a few players for classified marketplaces, and we feel there’s been a lack of innovation in the local classifieds sections ‒ especially so in the mobile domain,” said a founding member of LookApp when we contacted them.
LookApp also boasts a clean design and a modern user interface and features an integrated chat service which eliminates the need for users to disclose personal information. There will be no integrated payment option in the solution, however, as LookApp gives the users the liberty to decide which payment platform they would like to use ‒ which in turn eliminates commissions and processing charges.
LookApp is free to use, and although only available on the Android platform for the time being, it will be making an entry to the iOS and Windows mobile marketplaces in the near future. LookApp is self-funded at the moment. You can check out the app for yourself here.
For those of you who may have noted that most of the startups in Sri Lanka are either based in or around Colombo, here’s a bit of a change. LAW|Envoy is a Sri Lankan startup that’s based way out of Colombo, as far as 200 km away from the tech capital in Bandarawela, as a matter of fact. They also happen to be (from what we know) the first Sri Lankan startup that’s helping lawyers through a widely available, secured cloud platform.
So how exactly does LAW|Envoy help lawyers? The big picture is that this is a cloud-based intelligence platform which assists lawyers and paralegal officers with various aspects of their professional practices such as research. The inspiration for this innovation, as usual, lies in everyday observations made by a creative mind. “I have an uncle and a cousin who are lawyers and I’ve seen the huge piles of paperwork that they have to manage,” said Kalinga Gunawardhana, co-founder of LAW|Envoy, when speaking to Roar. “They were lacking that digital enablement for them which is available across so many industries already, such as medicine and engineering, and this was the spark ‒ and then Damith Amarakoon and I got together to build this platform,” he explained.
LAW|Envoy seems to follow in the traditional course of a startup too: in the beginning it had just been Kalinga and Damith. Emerging as venture engine finalists and having received funding, the LAW|Envoy team is now seven strong, including shareholders.
“It’s going to be a monthly paid service which will cost less than $20 a month, and there will be no free version,” said Kalinga, speaking about the versions of the platform which will be available to use once LAW|EnvoyLawenvoy gets released. “Legal tech is a tough nut to crack ‒ and focusing on Sri Lanka, we had to put in lots of hours to research on how best to tackle certain issues and also [on how to go about] getting professionals onboard,” he added.
Commenting on the local startup sphere in general and the culture that’s associated with it, Kalinga has some valuable advice to anyone who is thinking of setting up their own. “To be honest, I don’t like to go around saying we are running a startup. In reality, we are running a business and as all businesses go, it has real problems involved too. As far as the popular image goes, this is definitely not about raising money from people and burning it, we have a lot more respect towards what we do and for those of you who want to start, beware. It’s not as pretty as it looks and the only way to do it is to just start, learn your lessons, and keep moving forward,” he said.
Speaking of trains, another transport-related startup that made a blip on our radar this month was MTracker, a product of Thiken. Those of you who are in the know would probably recognise Thiken as the web and mobile application development company based out of North Dakota who have their engineering division in Colombo, Sri Lanka. For a company that kicked off operations in 2015, Thiken has come quite the distance, featuring interactive selfie walls and Augmented Reality apps for industry giants such as Mitsubishi and Jamwar, an app specialising in live video streaming for artists.
So what exactly is MTracker, and what does it do? We managed to get in touch with Vindya Vithanage, Digital Marketing Specialist of Thiken, to find out.
Aimed at providing users with a personalised experience where bus schedules are concerned, MTracker is a mobile app mainly targeting commuters of Fargo, North Dakota, where Winters can be harsh and waiting outdoors for a bus can be painful, to say the least.
MTracker utilises the MATBUS API and Google Maps, which notifies you when a bus is arriving at a predefined destination so you can walk out to the bus-stop rest assured that your wait is going to be a short one.
Thiken is releasing MTracker as a community project, and there will be no usage charges for it.
And that brings us to the end of the startup bundle for the months of May and June. Stay tuned for the next one and in the meantime, if you happen to know of any cool local startups striving to make a change, do let us know!
Feature image courtesy glassdoor.co.uk