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FEATURE STORY

Caribbean youths look to create the next top mobile app

March 6, 2014

Technology and the digital economy couls be a way to harness the creativity of the Caribbean's youth

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Technology could place the Caribbean’s youth on a level playing field and kickstart the region’s stalling economies.
  • A two day event brought together key players in the private and public sector to work out how best to maximise the potential of the digital sphere.
  • Youth pitched a range of ideas from e-learning tools to apps to fight crime to industry leaders.

The next viral mobile sensation could be developed right here in Jamaica. That’s the message from the tech community to young hopefuls in the Caribbean.

“Technology can be the great leveller, not only in terms of location but also in terms of size” explained Lisa Harding from the Caribbean Development Bank. “This is great news for the Caribbean,” she added.

From apps to fight rising crime levels to e-learning tools for pre-school and up, a prodigious talent and a depth of ideas reside in the Caribbean. It’s a potential which could secure the economic future for the region, and, more specifically, valuable career opportunities for the youth.

“We view the digital economy as a way to harness the enormous creativity that exists in the country and our job is to be the enablers,” commented Minister of State for Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Julian Robinson. “To take that creativity, covert it into businesses and earn foreign exchange and facilitate economic growth.”

Fulfilling potential

A real desire exists among the public and private sector to harness this intellectual talent and turn it into a powerful catalyst to kick start the region’s stalling economies. However, while the entrepreneurial spirit abounds, wide changes are needed in order to transform potential into reality, both within Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

“Small developing countries like ours require this kind of innovation in order to make the leap we need to make and that’s what we have to do,” stated Gary Sinclair, CEO of LIME Jamaica who sponsored the event. “We literally have to leapfrog generations of legacies, instead of sort of sitting back and having these kinds of technologies just sort of beat up on us rather than adding value to it ourselves.”

Open Quotes

We view the digital economy as a way to harness the enormous creativity that exists in the country and our job is to be the enablers Close Quotes

Julian Robinson
Minister of State for Science, Technology, Energy and Mining

A central part of the recent Digital Jam 3.0 conference was an opportunity for the shortlisted contestants to pitch their app ideas to industry leaders from across the world. But they weren’t just there to listen, but to act. And so while the finalists put the finishing touches to their presentations, the Caribbean’s private sector met to begin the process of creating the sub-region’s first angel investors network. 

Currently, access to finance is a major barrier for entrepreneurs across the spectrum. Such a network would work to revolutionise investment and access to finance for wannabe tech startups as well as give the wide Caribbean diaspora a clear route into investing  back into the region.

“It [Digital Jam 3.0] really is beyond a competition, it’s beyond a conference, it’s really laying the basis for a full ecosystem, which is what we wanted to do,” noted the World Bank’s Fabio Pittaluga, who created the Digital Jam and KingstOOn projects.

There is a real demand for Caribbean talent.  This year’s graduates from CARICOM’s new Animate Jamaica course were all snapped up by one company prior to finishing the course and there are still more positions available.

There is no doubt of the intelligence and capabilities of the Caribbean’s youth. In fact, their skills are already on a par with those found in other regions with a much more developed telecommunications sector. 

Events such as Digital Jam 3.0 and the future launch of StartUp Jamaica, a body to foster the development of creative startups in the country, focus the attention this dormant potential. They convoke both the private and public sector and propose practical solutions to combatting low economic growth, high youth unemployment and help secure a brighter future for talented individuals like Digital Jam 3.0’s Grand Prize winner,  Gareth Thompson

“It's shocking to see how an idea can really become a reality,” said Thompson, whose team won the Digial Jam 3.0 Grand Prize. “We have to have a serious next step, which is developing Crimebot further and trying to address the real issue: Crime,” he added.

For Gareth and the other winners of Digital Jam 3.0, the next step really is serious. Pledges were made across the two days to incubate and develop the talent found in the Caribbean, with the aim of transforming them from ideas to a profitable business model, which hopefully will inspire the next generation of app developers in the Caribbean.