Sri Lanka Summer 2014 Blog

University of Colombo School of Computing
June 16, 2014 to Aug. 1, 2014

on pitching

Sarah Edris

July 5, 2014

Ah, the famous elevator pitch. Given one to two minutes, can you quickly capture someone's attention and win them over so that by the end they want to learn more, help you out, buy something, or spread the word to others?

One fun activity we've been doing in class to get participants more used to doing this is giving them some object to pitch to a specific customer. We've had them pitch a speaker set to the bread sellers that drive around in small trucks playing Für Elise (aka, choon paan), and dry erase markers to tuk tuk drivers (tough one!). These pitches often turn into more of a comedic skit though, with a back and forth between the two sides. One of my favorites was when Harshi pitched a USB to our resident king coconut seller, Yohan. She focused on his needs, and started by asking how many coconuts he will usually sell in a day. She then introduced her USB and described how it could hold hundreds of songs, which he could easily then put into his radio to play advertisement-free music. Why is this so great? She gave the convincing example of couples being drawn in by romantic music, and easily drinking numerous coconuts while blissfully talking to each other. She also gave further use cases of the USB and how it could draw in and keep customers around for more coconuts. In the end, she stated that the coconut seller could double his customers each day, with just this one tiny USB. She gave the price, and showed how it would pay for itself soon enough, especially with all those couples constantly drinking coconuts. By the end, Yohan -- and the class -- were pretty convinced.

At the Venture Engine pitching contest the other day, one of our own instructors, Tiffany, really exemplified how to give a true elevator pitch. Instructors and GSL participants were going down the elevator (from the 10th floor) after the event. We'd been talking about elevator pitches and having everyone practice their own pitches a lot lately, so one person joked that someone should try to do one. There was an investor from the event in the elevator with us as well, and he just chuckled, saying there wasn't much time left, as we'd already gone down a couple floors by then. The seconds ticked by as everyone just silently and nervously looked at each other, and it seemed like this opportunity was just going to be lost. With six floors left, Tiffany quickly jumped into her own enthusiastic pitch of the GSL program. She could only get a couple sentences in, but definitely impressed everyone in that elevator in that short amount of time. Determined to finish, she found the same investor later that night and continued her pitch, even having a conversation with him and receiving a business card. :)

These are just a couple of my favorite examples from the last week. But I think they really show the power of the elevator pitch. So keep practicing and make sure to have your own elevator pitch ready -- you never know when you'll need it.

halfway there!?

Sarah Edris

July 5, 2014

Apologies for the late blog post, but things have been pretty busy here

We're coming to the end of week three of six, and teams have progressed quite a bit. A quick intro to GSL Sri Lanka 2014, for those unaware:

This is the fourth year GSL is in Sri Lanka, but the first year the program is being operated over seven months and is open to all students and professionals in the country. Previously, it was only seven weeks, and open to just students from the University of Moratuwa. Because the program is much longer, it's also been split into three phases. Phase one was led by MIT instructors and occurred over January, focusing on team formation and idea generation. Phase two was led by local industry experts and occurred from February to May, focusing on conceptualization, visualization, and initial creation. Phase three is what we're currently in, and teams are focusing on refining, fine tuning, determining funding, and readying for the final demo day at the end of the month when they'll be pitching to investors.

A recap of the first few weeks:

Week One
We kicked off the program on June 16th at the University of Colombo School of Computing, introducing outselves and meeting the teams. On the second day of class, participants took part in the Marshmallow Challenge, as a fun way to learn about not only collaboaration and innovation, but also about concepts like "failing fast" and "pivoting" when one method of thinking just isn't working. Participants largely focused on continuing to refining their ideas, and really figuring out what their problem, solution, and customers are.

Week Two
We stepped things up a few notches, and had participants do elevator pitches to each other, as well as the many guests brought in. Notable guests included Yasas Hewage, founder of SkillSalad, who gave an electric talk titled “Think BIG, Start Small, Scale Fast”, Hasitha Liyange, Chief Architect at Infoshare Ltd who gave practical technical advice to each team, and Hiran Embuldeniya, Director at York Street Partners, who gave them valuable and actionable feedback on validating their proposed business models. Dhanika Perera, founder and CEO of Bhasha and Ruwan Dissanayaka, co­founder and CEO of Extrogene, both successful alumni of GSL 2011 visited and gave participants great advice from the perspective of someone who has gone through the program before. And shout out to Ruwan -- Extrogene just got second runner up at Venture Engine! We love seeing alums succeeding after GSL, and hope that we'll be seeing current participants in the future doing great things.

Week Three
We focused more on business models and funding, as well as had teams create their initial draft pitch deck. Venture Engine, a pitching competition and incubator program, had their final demo day this week, which lined up perfectly with our own introduction to pitches. Most participants were able to attend the event, which was a good idea of what our own demo day will look like (...happening in just under four weeks! :o). Guests for the week included Sohan Dharmaraja, Founder and Chief Data Scientist at Socialroo (and an MIT grad), and Jeggan Rajendram, Chief Business Development Officer of SocialRoo and cofounder of Together, they gave a well balanced perspective from the tech and business side on entrepreneurship in the tech field.


I think that about sums it up. We have tons more speakers and pitching events planned for the second half of the program, so stay tuned! :)