How It Works

  • 1


    By June 25th, send a quick application and video to introduce your team and your idea. We'll select around 30 teams.

  • 2

    Prepare To Pitch

    Get trained on 'Disciplined Entrepreneurship' framework to get your product (MVP) and business model ready for Demo Day.

  • 3

    Get Funded

    Everyone pitches on Demo Day (October 30th) and up to 7 teams win Rs. 2 million in seed capital, each.

  • 4


    Winning teams get office space, access to JKH companies, mentorship and training from Europe’s first growth hacking academy.

  • 5

    More Funding

    Once your team is ready, you can get up to Rs. 50 million in further funding.

  • 6

    Sky's The Limit

    JohnKeellsX will continue to support and grow with you along the way.

Why JKx?

Early Stage Investment


You get vital first stage investment from a blue-chip investor. Up to 7 teams will get a Rs. 2 million investment EACH, for 5% of their company.


Not bad for 6 months work.

Training And Support

Smart money

Each team gets trained on the ‘Disciplined Entrepreneurship’ framework created by Bill Aulet, Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. Winners also get expert advice from Europe’s first growth hacking academy and mentorship from John Keells.


Smart people

Attracting customers, investors, and talent is much easier with Sri Lanka’s top conglomerate in your corner.


It’s also easier to explain to your parents.

Judges And Mentors


We encourage startups that focus on the following sectors. This is where the synergy between your startup and Keells will be the best.

Leisure & Tourism


Consumer Food









April to September (2017)

Open Innovation Challenge

Applications open on May 2nd. Send a brief description of your idea and a video of your team. If you apply early we have more time to read your application, which gives you a better chance to be selected.

If you apply by the end of May, we'll give you feedback and you can re-apply based on that. Also, the first 70 applicants get invitations for the June Meetup (to meet the team and mentors).

25 June (Midnight)

June 25th is the last day to submit your application.

30 teams will be selected and informed during the month of July. Get ready.

Don't get ahead of yourself young Jedi, train up first. We'll guide you through the latest MIT support and connect you to experts from Growth Tribe (Netherlands).

August - September

Connect with the JohnKeellsX mentors and advisors each Tuesday as you prepare for Demo Day.

30 October

The big day. Pitch your startup to investors. Up to 7 teams will be selected for a seed round investment of Rs. 2 million each.

November to April (2018)

JKx Incubation Program

Funded teams get access to John Keells customers and channels to hit the ground running. Don't underestimate how important your first customers are.

Experts from Growth Tribe (Netherlands) fly down to train the JohnKeellsX startups on creating and managing rapid growth.

December - April

We'll keep checking in with each new company weekly, guiding and preparing them for the next steps in their journey.

30 April 2018

The second big team. Each team gets a chance to present their companies and vision to the JKH board. There's the potential to earn up to Rs. 50 million in additional investment.

Frequently Asked Questions

John Keells X will be accepting applications for the 2017 cycle from 2 May 2017. The final date for applications is June 25th. Demo Day is on October 30th, and the development window will be from July-October 2017 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

30 teams compete to for Rs. 2 million in seed funding and entry to the JohnKeellsX Accelerator program. Once accepted, you are trained and supported to deliver a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) on Demo Day. At that point, up to 7 teams are selected and funded with Rs. 2 million each. Those teams then get office space, training and support to test their product in the market. In April of 2018 those teams can pitch for up to Rs. 50 million in further investment.

On or before the 25th of June 2017. Groups that submit early have a significant advantage because we have more time to read their applications.

Over the course of July, we’ll invite the individuals, groups and startups that seem most promising to meet us at John Keells.

We decide who to shortlist after the interviews.

We would love to hear disruptive innovations related to the industries we are in. i.e. Consumer Foods and Retail /Financial Services / Information Technology / Leisure / Property / Transportation / Plantation Services; however, we are happy to explore opportunities that lie adjacent to our industries e.g. healthcare for insurance; last mile systems for retail etc.

Yes, this year we do supply office space in Colombo.

We fund each winning team (up to 7) with Rs. 2,000,000, for a 5% equity stake.

The application will be online from 2 May 2017.

During the 3 month cycle from August to October, teams will be trained using MIT entrepreneurship curriculum and be given mentorship and support to develop their pitches and Minimum Viable Products. There will also be meetups every Tuesday.

On October 30th, we organize an event called Demo Day at which the teams present their business plans to a carefully selected, invite-only audience and vie for investment of Rs. 2 million each (for up to 7 teams).

Not a prerequisite for us. We make selection decisions based on our application form and personal interviews.

The people in your group are what matter most to us.

We look for brains, motivation, and a sense of design. Experience is helpful but not critical.

Your idea is important too, but mainly as evidence that you can have good ideas. Most successful startups change their idea substantially.

No, we won’t sign an NDA. Please read the terms and conditions. In this connection you may want to read the first section of How to Start a Startup on the value of mere ideas.

The ideal team would have two or three founders. Team size could range from 1-3 members.

Sure. Just submit them in two application forms by different founders.

Yes. Even if you tried not to accept competing companies, you’d still get overlap because startups’ ideas morph so much. The way we deal with it is that when two startups are working on related stuff, we don’t talk to one about what the other’s doing.

The fact is, even the best investors are quite bad at picking winners.

Apply online and you stand a chance to win entry into the JohnKeellsX Accelerator Program. This program includes seed funding of Rs. 2 million for a 5% stake. You will also be positioned to pitch for further funding after the Challenge concludes at the discretion of the company

In fact, the money is only a small part of what we do.

The goal becomes to build an impressive proof of concept to take to later stage investors to raise more money.

No, we’ll consider startups in any field.

We’ll consider shortlisting you, but your chances are about ten times better if you find yourself a technical cofounder. It’s much better if you find one yourself through friends of friends than if we introduce you to someone. Teams thrown together for the purpose of starting a startup usually fall apart under stress. You need some kind of personal connection.

In product development, the minimum viable product (MVP) is a product which has just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its continued development.
For more information, read this.

John Keells Holdings PLC is Sri Lanka’s largest listed conglomerate in the Colombo Stock Exchange. From managing hotels and resorts in Sri Lanka and the Maldives to providing port, marine fuel and logistics services to IT solutions, manufacturing of food and beverages to running a chain of supermarkets, tea broking to stock broking, banking to insurance to real estate, we have made our presence felt in virtually every major sphere of the economy. Since our modest beginnings as a produce and exchange broker in the early 1870s, we have been known to constantly re-invent, re-align and reposition ourselves in exploring new avenues of growth.

YES; we are thankful to GE, Y-Combinator, Citi and many other organizations for their amazing work on disruptive innovation and related programs.

The outcome of the minimum viable product or prototype (based on usage data). The level of development of the Project. The execution of the initial idea demonstrated by the founders to date. The strength and scale of the business value proposition. The compatibility of the project to an existing or related industry of John Keells Holdings PLC.

Yes. This is a possibility but it will be at the discretion of the Company and subject to some rigorous evaluation criteria.

Yes; But whilst we will try our best to assist, you would have to be responsible in sorting out the legalities of participating. You will need to make your own arrangements for accommodation and visa.

In order to keep this process fair and simple for everyone, the short answer is no.

The same terms apply to all participating teams and we won’t negotiate with each team separately. The idea here is that setting out simple, clear terms at the beginning lets teams get started building rather than spending time negotiating.

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Ready To Apply?

Applications for the 2017 cycle are now closed. Do stay tuned for further updates for 2018!