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Entrepreneurial ecosystems The pandemic has set into a spin Sri Lanka’s ramshackle tech startup ecosystem. The damage here can be far-reaching as most startups, scrambling to build prototypes with a limited amount of money borrowed from family and friends or some angel funding, will run out of capital and also enthusiasm for building a business. That’s the pandemic’s tragic outcome, its ability to sap the energy out of the best and brightest. However, to focus on startups as the lynchpin of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is a misplaced obsession. Innovation ecosystems have emerged in countries with big groups of medium to large companies co-financing innovation. Venture capital’s role in furthering an innovation ecosystem can also be overrated. Venture capital funds are not providing the kind of patient long-term finance needed for radical innovations. They are far too shortsighted for that, given that their profitable “exit” - through a sale to a bigger company or an IPO in, at most, five years - is inconsistent with the long time needed for innovation. The most patient long term capital globally has come from governments. Currently, a leader in this is China, with its last 5-year plan committing $1.7 trillion to several sectors like IT and environmentally friendly technology where it wishes to establish leadership. Innovation ecosystems, unlike entrepreneurial ecosystems, require large and small companies to be co-financing innovation alongside the public sector. With its strained public finances, Sri Lanka’s options are limited. But it’s government budget for 2021 has promised public-sector involvement in the innovation ecosystem. If achieved, it could be the missing catalyst.

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