Interest charge

Free mentoring service for young entrepreneurs

USAID Mission Director Reed Aeschliman launches free online mentoring platform for entrepreneurs. Group L to R: Mentor Peter D’Almeida, President Sasanka Sansada, Hasitha Wijesundera and Director of Entrepreneurship Youlead Harsha de Alwis – Photo by Shehan Gunasekara

  • YouLead Entrepreneurship Service with Support from USAID Unveils Trilingual Portal to Offer Business Leaders’ Valuable Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs

By Sandesh Jayasinghe

The YouLead entrepreneurship service was launched last week to give budding entrepreneurs the chance to get valuable advice from business leaders acting as their mentors.

The service via will be free to all who register and is available in all 3 languages.

YouLead is working alongside the Sanasaka Sansada Foundation with USAID support for this initiative.

The website has been created using an easy to use method where a person has to ask a question which will be directed to an experienced mentor in the field. More than 60 leading business leaders have already signed up voluntarily as Entrepreneur Mentors, connecting Sri Lankan youth with the leaders of its previous generations. Additionally, more business leaders have shown interest in mentoring the project.

The basic concept surrounding the project is to empower young entrepreneurs by providing them with valuable advice that will help them grow their business. The goal is to support the survival and continued growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

YouLead is funded by a seven-year, $18 million grant from the United States and implemented by the International Executive Service Corps (IESC) to improve vocational education and training, connect young people to productive careers and strengthening entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka. The Sanasaka Sansada Foundation is a grassroots organization that has been helping to increase the potential of Sri Lankan youth since 1997.

Sanasaka Sansada Foundation Chairman Hashitha Wijesundara said about 3% of the Sri Lankan population are considered entrepreneurs, but of the calculated 640,000 SMEs expected to be active, only 85,000 were registered during the last census.

The disappointing number of companies can be attributed to the generally short-lived nature of start-ups over the years. An international census noted that in the first year, 25% of start-ups are closed and this increases by 10% in the second year, finally reaching 55% in the fifth year. He argued that the unsustainable business climate in Sri Lanka has likely reduced the percentage of start-ups at a higher rate.

Considering that 50% of the GDP comes from SMEs, there is reason to believe that the development of SMEs will lead to the expansion of the economy. The YouLead entrepreneurship service aims to reduce the number of failed start-ups by intervening with business and financial advice to help small businesses maintain their sustainability over a long period of time.

USAID Mission Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Reed Aeschliman, said the initiative supports sustainable and inclusive entrepreneurship.

“Mentorship is very often the missing link in the success of many startups, especially for those owned by women or located outside of urban centers with limited access to networking opportunities and support facilities. “USAID strengthens entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka by providing business owners with an online platform to discuss their plans and receive free objective advice from experts,” he added.

The extenuating circumstances that make SMEs less viable in Sri Lanka were discussed in detail during the launch. Funding problems and lack of information were noted. The solutions that could be provided by the service were also considered. The limits on obtaining financing by an entrepreneur in the conservative banking system have been established. Finances are the most crucial element of any start-up and the lack of information and the discriminatory system around which the banking industry has been built create a barrier to entry and further growth and development. This also hampers the sustainability of a business since most start-ups come under SMEs.

The online mentoring system, which connects a mentee with an expert in the field relevant to their question, is said to help entrepreneurs overcome obstacles that may get in their way. In addition, if a business leader identifies a start-up that interests him, he has the opportunity to take a stake in it. Once a start-up has achieved financial stability, the development of its sectors will cause it to lag behind the competition when competing with larger companies with more resources. Again, free mentorship advice on a variety of issues from marketing to production could prove essential in helping entrepreneurs keep a grip on their business.

The long-term goal of the project is to establish an ecosystem of entrepreneurship using a sustainable system with mentorship. Building a strong network of business leaders to help support local businesses and drive Sri Lanka’s economic and social growth seems to be the final vision of the project.

Guest speaker, founder and former CEO of N-able, Peter D’Almeida, said the goal is to develop entrepreneurs who will be successful over the long term while being socially conscious. The project made it clear that women should be included with equal opportunity in the competitive business sector, indicating a clearly socially conscious message that deviates slightly from the incentive to make a profit from a business.

He said this was partly due to the hands-on approach taken by USAID.

Transparency was ensured by the organizers who understood the concern to reveal private information. Video evidence and testimonials were provided at the launch to assure the public of the security of the website, ensuring complete confidentiality between mentor and mentee regarding any confidential information that may be revealed. For convenience, a mobile app has been announced and is expected to be released in the near future on Android and IOS. If anyone is interested in more information or intends to avail the services on the Website, visit