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When and where?

John Keells X will be accepting applications for the 2018/19 cycle from 3 December 2018. The final date for applications is February 6th. Demo Day is in June, and the pre-accelerator development window will be from March to June 2019 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

What happens at John Keells X – Open Innovation Challenge?

Up to 30 teams compete for Rs. 2.5 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. 2.5 million each. Those teams then get office space, training and support to test their product in the market. Those teams can then pitch for up to Rs. 50 million in further investment.

When should I submit my application?

On or before the 6th of February 2019. Groups that submit early have a significant advantage because we have more time to read their applications.

What happens after the deadline?

Over the course of February, 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 will begin the process soon after the early applicant meetup.

What types of businesses are you focusing on?

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, financial technology etc.

Do you only fund startups that are aligned with JKH industries?

No. We are open to startups that operate in other industries as well.

Do you supply office space?

Yes, we do supply office space in Colombo for the accelerator period.

How much do you award?

We fund each winning team (up to 7) with Rs. 2,500,000, for a 6.25% equity stake.

When will the application form be online?

The application will be online from 3rd December 2018.

What happens before Demo Day?

In June, 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. 2.5 million each (for up to 7 teams).

Do we need to write a business plan?

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

How do we choose to shortlist?

The people in your team 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.

Will you sign an NDA? How do I know you won’t steal my idea?

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.

How many members per team?

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

Our group has two ideas. Can we submit two applications?

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

Will you fund multiple startups working on the same idea?

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.

Why didn’t you accept our application?

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

How can we get funding for our startup?

Apply online and you stand a chance to win entry into the JohnKeellsX Accelerator Program. This program includes seed funding of Rs. 2.5 million for a 6.25% stake. You will also be positioned to pitch for further funding after the Challenge concludes at the discretion of the company

We’ve already been working on our startup for a while. Is the John Keells X – Open Innovation Challenge appropriate for us?

YES. In fact, we like battle tested startups.

We’ve already taken some funding. Can we still apply?


We don’t really need the money. Does it still make sense to apply?

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

What if we’re doing something expensive?

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

Do you only fund startups that write software?

No, we’ll consider startups in any field.

I have a great idea for a startup, but I’m not technical. Will you still select me? Can you help me find technical cofounders to implement my idea?

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.

What is a minimum viable product?

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.

Tell us about John Keells Holdings PLC?

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.

Did John Keells X draw inspiration from anyone?

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

What will be the judging criteria?

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, the capability and commitement of the founding team etc.

How can I make a video?

This is one way.

Is an MVP, prototype, or a product/service launch a prerequisite to qualify for an award?


Will John Keells Holdings PLC look at further funding after the challenge is over?

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

I am not a Sri Lankan national, can I apply?

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.

Are the conditions negotiable?

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.