It was a warm Thursday evening as we made our way towards the rooftop area of the Universal College Lanka (UCL) building. A special guest was to make an appearance. Who was this special guest? It was none other than Asoka Hettigoda from the Hettigoda group. In the inaugural session of UCL’s entrepreneurship talk, Asoka Hettigoda took stage to share the story of Siddhalepa.
Starting off with a Swiss pharmacy license
Siddhalepa, the flagship brand of the Hettigoda group which started off back in 1937. But however at the time, there were no pharmaceutical companies in the island. The British only allowed for Swiss licenses due to an agreement. So until 1972, Siddhalepa only had a Swiss license.
The Hettigoda family comes from a long generation of practitioners in the art of Ayurveda. But before Siddhalepa balm came into existence nobody has attempted to commercialize such an ayurvedic product. Thereby, in 1972 Siddhalepa was more than just an Ayurvedic company with a Swiss license.
Hard work pays off
A lot of Siddhalepa’s early days involved going around the country, talking to retailers and strangers alike, in order to convince people. A market validation if you will. As the years went by, the line up expanded beyond the balm to products such as ayurvedic soaps and toothpastes.
Asoka recollected the initial period when Supirivicky toothpaste was first introduced. When the pitch for an ayurvedic toothpaste was made, the idea was often met with the same reaction. “Who would want to put mud in their teeth?”, was often the feedback. Naturally, banks refused to provide loans for the prospective product at the time. But come 1984, Siddhalepa became the first company in Sri Lanka to export ayurvedic products.
Fast forward to today, the Hettigoda group has over 150 ayurvedic products. The company has even moved beyond the Lankan shores to Europe. Germany saw the first Siddhalepa Ayurveda Centre being opened in Kurpark, Bad Homburg in 2005. Thus far there are 4 such ayurvedic centres in the country.
Ideas from the UCL students
After sharing the Siddhalepa story, we had Asoka Hettigoda for a Q&A session. The discussion primarily revolved around his own journey as an entrepreneur. Following this, groups of UCL students made their presentations to Asoka. These presentations were basically ideas that took on different aspects in the perspective of the Siddhalepa brand.
The first team pitched the idea for an ayurvedic shampoo for pets, named Surathala. The second team called for a PESTEL analysis for Siddhalepa. Team number three on the other hand believed the company should be venturing into other aspects when it comes to their CSR. The final team made the pitch for a possible expansion to the international market.
The evening comes to a close
From Asoka’s perspective, he found the ideas thought provoking. He highlighted on the fact that some of these perspectives may not have been even thought of earlier. Thereby, Asoka Hettigoda congratulated the students for their efforts.
With that, marks the end of UCL’s inaugural entrepreneurship talk. Until next time.