In Search of Sri Lankan Unicorns

Here’s a Billion Dollar question!

Who is going to be the first Sri Lankan Unicorn? The first Sri Lankan startup with a billion-dollar valuation?

How many Unicorns can Sri Lanka produce in the next five years?

Merely asking that question changed my perception, from an “If” to a “Who” and a matter of time.

In the last five years, twenty more countries have joined the Unicorn Club. These include countries such as Indonesia, Colombia, Philippines, Estonia & even tiny countries like Malta.

Our next-door neighbour, India now has 19 unicorns with 5 more awaiting to be added to the list within the year 2019. By the end of this year, India will dislodge United Kingdom to claim the third spot in this prestigious club.

So, “Why not Sri Lanka?”

“Are we not a nation rich in intellectual capital?”

“Are we not a nation rich in creative capital?”

“We are the island of ingenuity!”

“We should be on that list!”

To understand the current context better, let’s look at some trends!

There is a proliferation of Unicorns around the world. Unicorn population is growing, and their birth rate is increasing.

In 2011 only 4 companies attained Unicorn status, but in 2018, 79 Unicorns were born. By Q3 of 2019, 76 companies have attained unicorn status. It is expected to cross 90 by the end of 2019

Unicorns are getting younger! Their average age has reduced from 40 months in 2011 to 20 months by 2018.

What is fueling this rapid proliferation and acceleration?

What is happening around us?

Are we actually in the midst of a revolution, the 4th Industrial Revolution?

In my view, it’s a little too early to be 100% certain. Usually, a revolution becomes a revolution when the revolution is over, when we see irreversible changes in the social, political and economic fabric around us.

But there are glimpses of credible evidence leading us think that we most probably are. Here’s why!

Any revolution, be it industrial or otherwise, has three key elements.

The disruptors that can challenge the status quo;

The ideology that draws masses into subscription;

And finally, the outcomes that change the social, political and economic fabric around us, permanently.

Currently, we clearly see three waves of disruptions!

The wave of Analytics which started around 2010, has already peaked.

The second wave, Augmentics is rising and it will crest within the next decade. Augmentics are technologies that enhance human capabilities; such as Computer Vision, Natural Language Processing, AI and Brain-Computer-Interface.

The third wave of Autonomics is just emerging. Autonomics are technologies that make machines self-sustaining, self-governing; Self-driving cars are just the start.

We envisage these disruptions to take place over the next 25 to 30 years.

If we are convinced that we are amidst a revolution, here’s another intriguing question!

“What are we revolting against, and Why?”

This leads us to the ideology which is fueling the revolution.

The past industrial revolutions, among many other ideologies, had one in common. This is the utopian ideology of liberating humans from labour; work less and live more.

liberating humans from both physical and mental labour is an underlying ideology of the fourth revolution as well. But this time around we see three libertarian ideologies taking over and spreading across the world.

For libertarians of the world, concentration of economic, political and military power are the sources of all evil.

They foresee a just and equitable world through decentralization.

Our value chains are infested with intermediaries, taking the lions share out of them, which fuels the call for dis-intermediation.

The ideology of true democratization is gaining momentum around the world to give choice back to everyone in everything we do.

The long-term outcomes of the 4th industrial revolution are too early to predict, but we can see three key aspects of our lives are changing; Work, Wealth and Wellness.

Work will change drastically in the future, not only the type of work humans will do, but also how much work humans will do.

We see countries and companies trialing out 32-hour work weeks at present.

But, 30-hour work weeks will be the norm of the future, across the globe.

The wealth of the world is changing. This is mainly due to fact that the assets that we leverage to create wealth are changing.

We see three new asset classes emerging; Data & Insights, Community & Influence and Collective Intelligence.

All exponential growth companies leverage at least one class of these assets, even at present.

Finally, the very meaning of wellness is changing. Advances in healthcare, new thinking in welfare, leisure redefined by digital experiences, convenience brought to us by technology are elevating our quality of life.

Everything we discussed so far present us with both challenges and opportunities. The opportunities are immense as these are the times the status-quo is challenged.

These are the times the rules are broken, and the new ones are re-written.

These are the times an unfair advantage awaits the bold.

These are the times countries like Sri Lanka can gain that unfair advantage.

Isn’t this the most opportune time in our lifetime to put Sri Lanka back on the world map?

So, how do we capitalize on these transformations and disruptions?

We don’t have a crystal ball to see the future, but we should be ready to capitalize on any challenge thrown at us.

We need to be agile to respond to the rapid changes in technology, markets, consumer behavior and everything else around us.

We need to be creative to find answers to humanity’s toughest problems.

Here’s why we at MillenniumIT ESP are transforming ourselves to be an Agile Creator!

So, how can we be a part of this exciting journey?

At present a vibrant startup Eco-system is emerging in Sri Lanka. A lot of companies, industry bodies and angel investors have come to fore to create this.

But we see a considerable void; lack of adequate support for startups beyond seed stage.

We want to join hands with the existing incubators, accelerators and angel investors to elevate Sri Lankan startups to the next level.

Our proposition is not only to provide next level of funding but also to provide market access and technology.

Over the last 25 years MillenniumIT ESP has built credible relationships and robust channels in many markets. We want to partner with you to carry your products and co-sell.

We are also bringing Technology Providers, Knowledge creators and communities together to build skills and competencies in technologies of the future, such as Machine Learning, Data Science, Cognitive computing and IOT. We want to partner with you for technology to co-build your products.

We invite everyone to join hands to co-build, co-sell and co-own and elevate Sri Lankan startups to the global scale.

Now, let’s ask ourselves that Billion Dollar question again!

Who is going to be the first Sri Lankan Unicorn?

It is us!

It’s here!

And the time, is now!

Here’s to us, the future unicorns!

 

By Rahal Jayawardene (Head of Technology Alliances and Innovation)

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