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During the civil war that ravaged Sri Lanka for almost 30 years, many families left the island to find work abroad and give their children better opportunities. Of course, not everyone had the chance to do that. Even though the ones that stayed and the ones that came back have their differences, the children of the war are now in their 30s. Many of them are now startup entrepreneurs and creative business minds, from tech moguls to online resellers and innovative food industry managers. Read on to find out how the startup generation is changing Sri Lanka for the better.
With international education and a broader worldview, Sri Lankan entrepreneurs are focusing on the younger generations, the new tourist influx, and the growing digital nomad boom. From restaurants with good wifi, online tech stores, food delivery services, wellness centers, walking tours, online magazines and taxi apps, these young entrepreneurs are growing and the island is seeing results. Let’s take a look at some of the best startups on the island right now, these are not even 5 percent of all the Sri Lankan startups, they are just some of our favorites.
Foodie is the brainchild of Mike Soertz, a Sri Lankan who is a real life rocket scientist, but thankfully, also an entrepreneur. He created Foodie to fill the gap of good food and restaurant delivery services around the capital. Foodie solves the problem of wanting to order food fast and conveniently. They also house the menus of hundreds of other restaurants that do not deliver. Ordering from Foodie is extremely easy and has literally revolutionized the way people order food online. Mike bootstrapped his business and is still very much involved with everyday workings from his office in one of the business hubs in Colombo.
Shana Dandeniya was born in Sydney, Australia, grew up in the UK and came back to Sri Lanka for holidays every year. Her connection to the island and her heritage always made it feel like it was home. As soon as she finished her studies in creative marketing, she came back to Colombo and opened the now famous Cafe Kumbuk in Cinnamon Gardens. Named as one of the favorite digital nomad spots on the island; the food is healthy, the ambience is amazing and the service is good. Now with a little extension called Kumbuk Kitchen at the Good Market flagship store, Shana has created a little empire which locals and tourists love equally. All her marketing has been done through social media, which is why it has become so popular on Instagram!
Well kept secrets like the Kopi Kade in Colombo 6 are the kind of places that you will only find if you are actively looking for them. Quietly nestled in a busy street of the boisterous Havelock Road, Kopi Kade serves the best coffee in town and amazing matcha lattes. The owner, Nim, created Sri Lankan specialty dishes which are perfect to accompany a Bolivian ice latte or an impeccable hot chocolate. The little cup of mulligatawny soup is out of this world. How is this little bootstrap startup part of the way Sri Lanka is changing? Because it’s these kinds of places, owned by Sri Lankans, that have seen more of the world, that cater to the young and expats. Nim and Kopi Kadem make you realize that Sri Lanka is more than just beaches, temples and elephants.
Sri Lanka is an island of tea drinkers and tea manufacturers. Ceylon Tea is famous across the world since the British started growing it on the hills around Kandy. Through the years, the tea companies have spread like wildfire; some growing bigger and more international while others stay close to home. There is a new kind of tea company though that has its eyes on the new generation. Dushyanta and his TEALI tea innovation is a new step into newer and fresher tea identities on the island. He started off with SOZO, a bottled tea refreshment company that sells across the island in stores, restaurants and hotels alike. TEALI is his latest brainchild, a collection of amazing blends like ‘after dinner mint’ and ‘caramel brulee’. This is the first and still the only designer tea in Sri Lanka, and has already been recognized internationally.
Before Uber arrived in Sri Lanka, locals and visitors already had a great option for hiring cars and tuks via a smartphone app. PickMe is the best taxi app in Sri Lanka and it’s easy to see why. Jiffry Zulfer created PickMe after having a few other tech startups that did okay but he really put his all into PickMe and created a great team. The app is easy to use, the cars and tuks are usually on time and the prices are reasonable.
Other startups worth mentioning are Yamu, a local online magazine that showcases new businesses in Colombo and publishes travel pieces about lots of places on the island. WTF by Danu is a video series of Danu exploring the city and the cool new places. Takas is an online electronics store that delivers and offers cash payment on delivery. Business Hubs was the first co-working space in Colombo and is now expanding to the south of the island.