Start Ups going North with the Yarl Geek Challenge

The Yarl Geek Challenge (YGC), an annual hackathon and highly anticipated event in the country’s tech and startup calendar, is about to go down in the Jaffna Peninsula for the fourth year running. According to Dhananjeyan Balaretnaraja of the Yarl IT Hub, the organisers of YGC, this year’s event will see the participation of about 25 teams from all parts of the country in the senior category alone.

What is the Yarl Geek Challenge?

Essentially, the YGC is an extended hackathon, held in Jaffna ever year. The objective of this event, says Dhananjeyan, is to encourage entrepreneurs to launch their businesses in creating new technology products and/or services that will address gaps in the market.

How is it different from any other hackathon?

This year’s YGC is set to take place in three stages.

Firstly, there’s the launch in Jaffna (already held on September 12), where the organisers officially declare the competition open to the public.

“This is where the closing dates for the applications and any changes to the game format or any news relevant to YGC are announced.  As soon as it’s announced teams register and start working on their ideas. They are not expected to wait till the hackathon,” says  Dhananjeyan.

The second stage involves the actual hackathon that is scheduled to take place on three consecutive days – Junior Category in October, and Senior in November – in Jaffna.

However, says  Dhananjeyan , it won’t be the 24-hour marathon that you’d expect. It’s 9 to 5.

“It’ll be from 9am-5pm for three days, during which teams hack and present. Teams are eliminated based on each day’s performance, as decided by a panel of eminent judges. Some teams are given feedback to improve on and pitch the next day,” he explains.

“Basically, we will look for the right team that has the potential to launch their own business. On the third day, a few teams will be selected for the grand finale,” says Dhananjeyan.

And finally, teams will be given two extra weeks to improve on their product and pitch it to a group of prominent investors, both local and foreign, at the grand finale to be held in Colombo.

Who is eligible to take part? What requirements do they need to fulfill?

Two categories – namely Junior and Senior.

Junior will be for school kids aged 13 and above from the Northern Province.

Senior: anyone with a groundbreaking idea hoping to come up with their own startup

YGC Junior

Application submission date –  September 19
Zonal level  selection – October 3 and 4
Hackathon – October 16 and 17

YGC Senior – Open to anyone who’s out of school island wide

Application submission date – September 30
Hackathon – November 6, 7 and 8
Grand Finale – November 28

Is it strictly limited to Jaffna?

“Not at all,” stresses Dhananjeyan,the event is held in Jaffna, but it’s open to everyone irrespective of their background.”

He adds that many of the participants this year are from outside the Northern Province and anyone from any part of the island can volunteer with them too.

What’s in store for the winners/participants?

The winner will receive a cash prize, but keeping to the objective of the event, they will be encouraged to form their own startup while going through a mentoring process.

“We had two companies form during the last season,” says  Dhananjeyan.

Emerging tech hub

Jaffna has long been considered an important location in the IT landscape of this country. And what with the influx of investments to the district, along with the rest of the Northern Province following the end of the war, there has been an encouraging increase in startup activity in the peninsula. (The Lanka Angel Network being a good example).

Attendees of the launch event

Attendees of the launch event

Dhananjeyan believes that the YGC could play an integral role in the development of IT in the area.

However, there is a lack of awareness on the opportunities available out there. As he points out, their sole objective is to enlighten students and entrepreneurs of these opportunities and get them connected to the right people in the tech industry.

“Jaffna has the potential and the human capital. There is no shortage of ingenious ideas in the peninsula,” he says.

Yarl IT Hub is a volunteer driven, not-for-profit organisation established with the intention of creating a startup ecosystem in the Jaffna Peninsula by promoting innovation and entrepreneurship.

“People can come and help us organise events. Or they can join as sponsors or donors.  If they are in a technology-related field, they can always come and share their expertise with the community in Jaffna,” says Dhananjeyan.

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