Rajan Anandan: Google Summer of Code Sees Highest Numbers from Sri Lankan University
Nope, not even the IIT’s came close as Sri Lanka sits on the brink of its own ‘Startup’ moment
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It’s a small country with a lot of talent as Rajan Anandan said at ABAF 2017. ABAF, the Asian Business Angels Forum, is an annual investor gathering bringing together influential investors and entrepreneurs from across the world. Pegged as Asia's only investor conference that brings together angel investors, high net worth individuals, venture capitalists and other key stakeholders, the event discusses global startup trends, best practices, and the best investment techniques.
That such an event was held in a country long known for its tea, beaches and not much else is a positive sign that Sri Lanka is finally gearing up to reach its economic potential. Gearing we say, not about to happen next year, but maybe in the next 15.
As Rajan Anandan says it’s a long term vision. “It’s very early days. But today in the room, there investors who have 50 billion dollars under management; Sri Lanka’s economy is only about 80 billion dollars. We will be an extraordinarily vibrant ecosystem 10-15 years from now…that’s the bet we are making.”
Anandan is a cofounder, founding partner and managing director of Blue Ocean Ventures, Sri Lanka’s first venture capital fund. He is best known as Google’ India head and as vice president for Google in Southeast Asia and India.
Google Summer of Code is a global program focused on introducing students to open source software development. Students work on a three month programming project with an open source organization during their break from university.
According to Anandan, Sri Lankan computer science students are at the top of the heap for Google’s program.
“IT graduates from Sri Lanka are on par absolutely and completely with any top IT graduate in the world.” Google Summer of Code, Anandan further said, presents projects where scientific principles are very much applied to specific problems. It’s not about solving theoretical or abstract problems.
“There were more submissions from University of Moratuwa [Sri Lanka’s leading technological university] than from MIT or Stanford or an IIT from India. And that’s a big deal, because they [Sri Lankan universities] only have a 100 computer scientists in each class. In other universities you will have thousands of students; to have this happen is very interesting.”
It’s indeed a notable feat for the island nation given there are only two public universities which stand out for computer sciences – the University of Colombo and the University of Moratuwa.
And a sign of the vibrant economy Sri Lanka was supposed to have had. Back in the day, before Singapore became the powerhouse economy it is now, the legend told to all middle school children and perpetuated by politicians is that Lee Kuan Yew was in Sri Lanka in 1956 and was inspired by how the state of Sri Lanka’s public infrastructure. Decades later Singapore is a 297 billion dollar economy with a population of 5.6 million and Sri Lanka is recovering from bloody civil war with external debt hitting highs and ebbing levels of FDI.
Resting on laurels is done with and that’s a good thing as Sri Lanka is about to have a startup moment similar to the one India witnessed in 2016 with the budget recognizing for the first time the existence of startups and its benefits to the country. Sri Lanka’s Minister of Finance and Media, Mangala Samaraweera has said that the 2018 budget will look to create a “robust, flourishing and modern economy and will focus on a startup culture”.
The Minister had made the comment following a meeting with the Director for South Asia of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank, Mengistu Alemayehu, on the sidelines of the Annual Meeting of the International Monetary Fund/World Bank in Washington DC.
The IFC has promised to support infrastructure development, eco-tourism and affordable housing initiatives in Sri Lanka while the Lankan Angel Network (LAN), a pioneering business angel network with over 75 members has collectively invested more than 1 billion Sri Lankan rupees (around Rs 42 crores) across 25 Sri Lankan startups.
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