The Yarl Geek Challenge concluded last week. This was an event conducted by the Yarl IT Hub along with Lanka Angel Networks to get geeks on the peninsula (Jaffna) connected with venture capital. As an event I think it went really well and they got some fundable ideas out of it.
Above is an idea from Team Strikers, A.P.Yasindhu and Sajith Dushmantha from the University Of Jaffna. They’re using an Arduino motherboard thingy to connect a computer to a light switch. They’re then running some basic voice recognition to turn on a lightbulb. A long way from a marketable product for, say, hotel rooms, but basically a perfect demonstration of invention. Turning on the lightbulb and all.
Some of the other ideas that got thru:
- Tracklers (T.Jeyjenthan, A.C.Johnnirajh and U. Sajeev) – these guys made an automatic or app-controlled temperature/sprinklers/etc control system. Useful for agriculture. The investors were basically like ‘when can you start’ on this one.
- Red Kites (S.Prasanth et al from U. Moratuwa) – this is bus booking system, like RedBus. They’re going to start with the Jaffna/Colombo route, which sorely needs it.
- Elite (Muditha Kumasri, Suguneshwaran Nidershan, Balasubramanium Nilkashan from U. Jaffna) – this is a physical product, a GPS box that sits in a bus and displays/reads aloud the next stop as well as possibly displays advertising. Arduino and cheap computer sets have really opened up a world of real-world products and it was cool to see these demos.
- Cyber Knights – (Thilanga Ariyarathna, Upul Jayasinge, Probodha Silva, Northshore) – I actually helped these guys, or at least say with them. Their product is something called Brizo, essentially like Waze, a crowdsourced traffic thing. They built the main parts but were also well presented.
- Tuna Labs – These guys made a product which is basically like Google Docs for enterprise docs management (in this case it was actually sitting on top of Google Docs). What’s surprised me was that they actually made the interface for Google Docs much better. UX usually isn’t a strength at this sort of hackathon.
Regarding these ideas. For Tracklers, the investors saw a viable product and an obvious market for it. Lanka Angel Networks is a network of 70+ dudes so if the product works they can basically sell it. We saw a really pro demo showing them turning on a sprinkler from a smartphone. If they can connect it to temperature sensors, etc it really can be a cost savings to agribusiness.
The bus stuff, there are always hackathon ideas about buses and the investors are always interested in something that’s making money in India (like RedBus). The Sri Lankan bus sector, however, is highly cartel-ized and resistant to change. That said, the dudes doing bus bookings are focusing on the popular Jaffna/CMB route which is both popular and highly inefficient. That could be an opportunity. The service that reads the next location is pretty cool and it’s hardware, so they could just go bus to bus and sell.
The GPS traffic and docs things are very close to existing products (both Google), but the have angles. One is that Waze doesn’t really operate here and Sri Lankan roads are weird and somewhat immune to foreign solutions. The other is that Google Docs gets very expensive for large organizations and the UI for managing documents sucks.
Some teams didn’t get through the first round but they had the chance to refine their pitches and try again. Of those, these guys have gotten through to the finals:
- Azers (Deepika Bhasgaran, Shiranga Rupasinghe, Thirumalai Jayanath) – these guys built a cool system that reads a car license plate (via a photo) and can then take action based on that. ie, opening a gate, maybe a toll-booth, etc. It works on a photo of a car, though yet to see it work on a real car. Pretty cool.
- Spacey (V Prasanna, J Sinthooran, R Kirushan, NA Premkumar, M. Alagarasan) – This is something like Breather which lets people share meeting rooms, office space, etc.
- Ezy (Anusha Harshani, Ahmed Imad, Fathima Safrana, Nilmini Nawarathne, Mohammed Rajjaz) – This is a service like, I dunno, it lets users submit a request and find a service provider for it. Didn’t actually see much of this.
- Phoenix (Arunn, T. Piranavan, Brunthavan) – This is an ecommerce platform, like shopbox.lk.
One team which didn’t make it was Armates, who had a virtual reality overlay system. You could use an app to point at a press ad and then a 3D image would pop out of it. I thought that was pretty cool, but they passed on it. LAN passed on YAMU as well so it’s not a death sentence.
Firstly, this is more than came out of the recent CMB Hack, and a lot of it is properly fundable. Also the presentation skill, tech and UX were really high quality. There were a lot of teams from the south that came up to pitch, which is also cool. Jaffna really is a good place for tech and I hope the Yarl IT Hub keeps promoting it.
What I also learnt/saw for presenters was that pitches need to be simplified (and we really should have helped them with it before hand. Some teams talked so much that they never got to show their demo. Teams should just demo first, go through a quick market sizing (which very few teams did) and then whatever. That’s all the judges seemed to care about.
All in all, this Yarl Geek Challenge was awesome and I think some real companies are going to get funded out of this. Much respect to everyone at the Yarl IT Hub and LAN for organizing this. It’s just the beginning. The finals are on November 22nd.
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