Imagine Sri Lanka as the IT hub of the world; creating the hippest social networks, software and gadgets. A bit far-out, you say? Well the team spearheading Refresh Colombo think different. They believe Sri Lanka has all the potential and more but no forum where ideas, resources and expertise can be catalysed.
With innovative ideas from people who lack the know-how, IT professionals who’ve got the proficiency to make these ideas reality and companies that have the resources and can invest in these ideas, being scattered and isolated, project manager of Refresh Colombo, Milad Mubarak says Sri Lanka could be well ahead in the IT world if only these three entities had a forum to connect in.
“There are several popular and widely used software programmes of which the creators can be traced back to Sri Lanka,” says Milad adding “most of the IT professionals go abroad because they feel they there’s no scope here in Sri Lanka. Refresh Colombo was started to bring these people together and bridge the gaps.”
Modelled after Refresh Miami, Refresh Colombo was the brainchild of Samir Husain (CEO). “Refresh Miami- is a free monthly networking event, which takes place every month in Miami Florida. The concept of Refresh is very simple, bring together like minded individuals and help grow a vibrant tech community.
“For Refresh Miami the larger goal is to grow a tech community that would rival Silicon Valley, CA. The Silicon Valley tech community has created the likes of Facebook, Google, YouTube, Ebay etc. My dream is that Refresh Colombo would someday grow a community that would rival Silicon Valley,” expresses Samir.
“Silicon Valley thrives on great ideas— inventors & engineers, backed by solid venture capital—business investors. With Refresh Colombo, we’re hoping to create an environment where the inventors of great ideas could be matched with Sri Lankan investors with the hope of one day creating the next Facebook or YouTube,” he adds.
Certain that Sri Lanka possesses that much potential, he elaborates “When I came to Sri Lanka in 2003 to hire programmers to develop a fingerprint system, I was amazed at how hard our programmers worked to learn new technology. We completed a project that was supposed to take eight months in an astounding three months! I was sold. I think the SL IT educational institutions are doing a great job at training and preparing graduates for real life work, not just text book stuff. I also think that Sri Lankans in general, are very personable, a trait which is invaluable to working well with global teams.”
Set up just a few months ago Refresh Colombo is certainly growing rapidly. The project has burgeoned with backing from CENAGO which currently helps facilitate the informal meet-ups. However, Milad says they hope to have Refresh Colombo standing on its own feet soon.
Nazly Ahmed, a senior PHP expert and on the team heading Refresh Colombo, says “When we started out we just had a group of 30 people but the number of people who attend the meet-ups are growing. Anyone is welcomed to join the discussion or give a presentation.”
Milad adds that while the discussions which are held once a month are rooted in IT, the topics are vast and relevant to everyone. You don’t have to be tech-savvy to attend the fun and informal meet-ups. As their website states “Refresh Colombo events are open to the public. We encourage you to bring a friend or two. Hackers, bloggers, coders, geeks and geek lovers, journalists, techies, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are all welcome – you can even bring your grandma.”
Milad explains that meetings are informal discussions at which people have so far discussed a wide range of topics which include, building effective online platforms, iPad application demonstrations, blogs and social media, search engine optimization and inspirational talks by giants in the business who started out as ‘small fry’.
Cutting across a wide range of interest, topics of discussion are listed on the Refresh Colombo website that people are invited to refer and attend meet-ups that they are interested in.
Refresh Colombo will expand in the near future as its reach will extend beyond Colombo into other cities to draw ideas and talent that are left stagnant in other areas of the island, explains Aloka Gunasekara, a search engine optimiser on the team.
Samir says, “to transform SL into the next Silicon Valley, we need to get everyone involved. Spread the word among your friends and colleagues, come to the monthly meet ups. The monthly meetings are free and open to the public. It is very informal and always fun and if we are lucky, we get sponsors who bring delicious treats. We invite speakers to talk about technology, business, arts, entertainment, you name it, anything that can help spur on the next big idea.”
Visit www.refreshcolombo.org/ for more information regarding meet-up schedules and topics of discussions that may interest you.