Where technology meets intelligent engineering
BUILDING A SMART FUTURE
Not all success stories are a rags to riches journey propelled by hardships. Some are driven by a sense of patriotism and love for the motherland. Nearly a decade ago, Dr. Beshan Kulapala voluntarily chose to leave behind a successful career at the prestigious technology giant Intel, USA. He had a greater ambition to use the wealth of his knowledge and technical expertise to help uplift Sri Lanka.
Working closely with Dr. Harsha Subasinghe, CEO of CodeGen International they established Vega Innovations with the dream of developing technology to inspire the younger Sri Lankan generation to see the trendy and innovative initiatives that could be created locally. To show the world that anything is possible in Sri Lanka, they planned to use local engineering and design talent, and resources to develop cutting edge designs and high-performance technology.
Saving the planet while developing our nation
The main theme that runs through Vega Innovation’s creations and products is sustainability. They are committed to high safety standards and conduct extensive R&D internationally in order to use technology to create products that leave a minimal carbon footprint. As such their product portfolio is circular and interrelated so as to create an ecosystem of sustainability.
Creating a Buzz
Not wanting to settle for the ordinary, Vega initially set their vision on building high performance, cost effective, sustainable technologies to disrupt the Electronic Vehicle market.
The talent was readily available, they just needed mentoring and guidance. Despite having no prior exposure to automobile engineering or even domain expertise, his team of fresh local graduates were passionate, humble and eager to learn, thus giving them the drive to research and design the prototype. Their years of dedication and hard work culminated in the unveiling of the Vega EVX, an all-electric-battery powered two-seater AWD sports car at the prestigious Geneva International Motorshow in 2020. It was of immense pride that this milestone was achieved using local resources and talent, a true testament to Sri Lanka’s capabilities and potential.
One hurdle the team faced was the absence of supportive infrastructures such as investments, tooling and machinery. This severely hampered the speed of innovation. What took 7 years could easily have been halved. In fact, during the creation stage, a team from Volkswagen, Germany went out of their way to visit Vega’s workshop. They were left shocked and amazed at how much Vega could accomplish in a 2,500sq ft workshop, when they are used to 100,000sq ft facilities and top of the market tools. Thus, shining a light on the huge potential that exists within Sri Lanka.
Vega EVX’s biggest roadblock came in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the Motorshow was cut short prematurely thus dashing the teams’ hope of showcasing the vehicle to a world audience and attracting investors to Sri Lanka to help kickstart production and manufacturing. Dr. Kulapala believes the product speaks for itself. He is confident that if Vega can enter the market, their success story will have the snowball effect needed to help Sri Lanka’s economy and will be a positive step for the country.
Taking Competition to the Competitors Backyard
Spurred by their successful innovation, Vega decided to branch into another popular mode of transport in Asia. Using their technological expertise, they have developed and are hoping to start production on ETX, their electric three-wheeler. Here again they have tried to go local, 75% of the component inputs are Sri Lankan. The majority of the value addition is in the electronics and control systems. They also hope to uplift the ecosystem of supporting vendors by sourcing locally, for example encouraging glass manufacturers to build quality windscreens and similarly rubber and metal component vendors. By using the parts in their products, Vega hopes to showcase the quality of component parts in Sri Lanka. This in turn will encourage other vehicle manufacturers to source Sri Lankan products, which in turn will help increase quality, innovation, and technology. Vega is hoping to partner with Indian companies so that it is the Sri Lankan company that develops the technology for them, while the latter does the manufacturing.
Being blessed with a diversely talented team, Vega innovations has also developed other electronic related products. One of them being electric vehicle charging units, along with the necessary infrastructure and solutions networks needed to support it. Under the name chargeNET, they are the largest charging network in Sri Lanka and have installed over 400 charging stations so far. Their product is unique because they don’t provide just a charging unit but a complete end-to-end solution with payment systems that can be integrated with smart cards, mobile apps, and cloud-based services. This provides a huge value addition beyond the traditional electric vehicle chargers and is a service that is not readily available globally.
chargeNET’s success can be illustrated by the recent MOU signed with EV Cosmos, India to start a production facility in India in order to meet up with India’s demand. The source of pride is that what was done with local engineering, local design and local software is being sought after by a technologically competent country with its own expertise and capabilities. Thus, illustrating the quality and capability of Sri Lankan talent. In fact, they recently discovered that the great Tata company charges their own electric vehicles using chargeNET chargers as they have less issues than Tata’s own products!
Not restricting themselves to neighbouring markets, Vega Innovations have recognised the huge untapped potential in the African market and are actively seeking suitable partners in the continent. So far, they have installed chargeNET products in Ghana and Kenya.
Every part counts
Since they already have the technical expertise, Vega Innovations has also decided to design and market electric vehicle components rather than just focus on building vehicles from scratch. To meet the needs of the global market they are also looking to develop high-performance inverters, drivetrains and battery packs.
Innovations in Agriculture
Delving further into sustainable technology, Vega Innovations has also branched into the field of agriculture to develop next generation agriculture automation technology. AiGrow not only builds greenhouses but also develops the technology necessary to run the controls and electronic systems that regulate the greenhouses and drip irrigation apparatus.
Nix the plastic
Vega wants to play a role in developing carbon reduction technology. Their Design Studios is currently working with multinational giant Unilever to develop uFill, a shampoo, liquid soap and oil dispensing machine which allows the customer to bring their own bottle for a refill. They have even received interest in exporting these units to Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. As carbon reduction and plastic reduction technology is a relatively new field, there is enormous potential for our Sri Lankan talent to make advancements.
Sri Lanka’s selling points
An attractive promotion point for Sri Lanka’s Electrical and Electronics Industry is that 75% of Vega’s materials are sourced locally, thus reducing their concern of imports and so forth. For example, it imports basic battery cells for its products, but to enhance this product they provide a huge value addition in terms of assembly, fire safety, electrical safety, battery management systems and software. Even in the assembly stage, the additional components required can easily be produced from locally available resources, thus reducing overall production costs.
In terms of potential markets, Sri Lanka’s advantageous geographical location is well known. Dr. Kulapala is keen to highlight his appreciation for Sri Lankan expatriates and diaspora who have done a great service in building the country’s reputation. Through their impressive talent and dedicated worth ethic, they have helped build the brand of a quality Sri Lankan workforce.
Speaking of talent, the capacity of Sri Lanka’s human capital is amazing. In this current climate, all around the world companies are looking at cost-cutting. Since Sri Lanka can offer talent at a fraction of the cost, we are an attractive option for established companies to come and set up a Design House or R&D Centre.
Being a small island nation, one of the best models for Sri Lanka is the promotion of our human capital and talent. Rather than manufacturing popular products on a small-scale with high-priced raw materials, we can focus on the production of technology that the big players can then buy from us. This is not a difficult task because of the wealth of local talent graduating every year.
In this endeavour the EDB has also shown interest in promoting the local talent and innovations in the global arena by presenting them opportunities to take part in global trade fairs and exhibitions which carrying significant value when building a global business network.
Dr. Kulapala mentions that the industry should embrace the concept of boutique technology providers, as small-scale companies have the advantage of being flexible and can easily adapt to offer personalised, integrated technology to meet the customers exact needs and requests.
In a short span of time, Vega Innovations has managed to use technology to innovate a wide range of products. In addition, their own success was not enough, for they have mindfully and intentionally worked to build and help uplift a network of small supportive industries and vendors. As a parting advice, Dr. Kulapala concludes, “we have a rich history of focusing on quality over quantity, be it our tea or our gemstones, this same dedication to perfection should be extended to the Electrical and Electronics Industry too”.