ACCELERATING A LEARNING CULTURE

NATHAN SIVAGANANATHAN GAVE UP A SUCCESSFUL CORPORATE CAREER TO BE A VENTURE CAPITALIST

Venture capitalist Nathan Sivagananathan learnt about open innovation a decade ago. He is now applying the concept outside a typical corporate setting. The popular notion of innovation – of something done by men wearing white lab coats – isolated from everyone else, is outdated. If innovation had to be a competitive advantage, an open approach to innovation might prove more effective. In open innovation, insights can come from bright sparks anywhere, instead of being generated in a lab. Open innovation thrives because of an ecosystem, rather than a research lab.

Now in his forties, Sivagananathan is scaling the idea of open innovation, to a larger canvas. To encourage people to learn from each other, he co-founded the startup accelerator Hatch. “As a startup, you are always looking to build a better product or offer better service, often without being able to afford the best people to help do this. The idea behind Hatch is to try and solve the problems you have with other startups here. That’s the biggest impact we can have.”

Much of Sivagananathan’s career was at appareal, fabrics and supply-chain company MAS, where last he established and led an innovation unit that launched or was in the advanced stages of unveiling innovative products that blur the lines of what apparel, a tech or a healthcare company may be expected to start.

In 2013 Sivagananathan was tasked with leading an innovation push and established Twinery (then called MAS Innovation). Its Silicon Valley startup-like offices in a remodelled Colombo warehouse is the centre for MAS Holdings blurring lines between clothing manufacture, technology integration and collaborator with academia, venture capital and other startups from around the world.

His new focus combines venture capital with influencing a mass movement towards innovative entrepreneurship. “It’s about ensuring new leaders are coming into the world and ensuring new businesses are created.”

“The key thing for me is spending time with great people. When we invest, we also want to spend time with that particular company, the team, and understand the passion behind the product. Because as an investor, you can only invest. The successful ones you back are the ones who demand for your time. As a result, I have to also be passionate about the businesses they are in.”

Nathan realized that it’s never too late to start something new. “During the Eisenhower Fellowship, I encountered many people who have done outstanding things in different parts of the world. That encouraged me to say ‘okay, these guys are also in their forties, and you know what, I also need to take the risk.”

Sivagananathan at 27 years was appointed a Chief Executive in the MAS group and at a young age was promoted to the MAS Capital board, an executive team overlooking most group initiatives and strategy. When he left MAS following a long career, Sivagananathan had already lined up a career in international venture capital and launched the startup accelerator Hatch.

Although the term is loosely used most innovation isn’t entirely new, nor does it always involve technology. Successful companies create value by combining their knowledge, with those of their suppliers, customers and consumers. This has always been the case. The idea of open innovation extends this, emphasizing it over the decreasingly relevant corporate R&D lab. They will attract collaborators from universities, suppliers and outside investors by offering a share of rewards. Based on this, Sivagananathan’s developed his own formula that keeps him on edge as an open innovator and facilitator. Every day he aims to first; experience something new, second; to learn and third; to meet new people.

“Of the unknown, you should know enough to ask the right questions and to reach that level of knowledge; you need to make learning a part of your everyday life. “You should never stop learning, the ability for you to learn is not just getting an education, but is learning every day. I’m always taking notes. Whether it’s reading LinkedIn, reading an article or reading the newspaper, we learn something new every day. For me, you stop being effective when you stop learning. That’s the number one lesson.