An Oasis for Digital Start-Ups in Jamaica

March 26, 2015


Jamaica is taking the first steps to becoming an international hub for digital innovation, the Silicon Valley of the Caribbean

Digital Jam/Handout

Separated by over 10,000 km and the entire Atlantic Ocean, it may seem that Jamaica and Jordan have little in common apart from their initial letter. However, three young Jamaican companies got a big boost today following a significant investment by Jordanian enterprise Oasis 500.

It is the first major investment by a foreign company in new mobile start-up companies linking the region’s youth with digital entrepreneurs from the Arab world.

For the CEO of Oasis 500 Youssef Hamidaddin supporting Start Up Jamaica has been a strategic choice to consolidate similar markets, which face similar problems.  

"We are looking forward to a lot of collaboration where we can bring these two very similar markets between the Caribbean and Jamaica, between Jordan, the Middle East, and North Africa, between Latin America and the Arab World. I think there is a lot of potential that we can achieve together,” said Youssef Hamidaddin.

Oasis500 is a leading investment company based in Jordan that provides seed and early stage funding, as well as entrepreneurship training, mentorship and business incubation for technology ventures. 

The future is digital

Decades of below average growth has hit the youngest hard – about 30 percent of youth are unemployed in Jamaica, migration has been considered by Caribbean youth to be the only option to a long-term career.

However, such figures belie a potential that could kickstart growth – a creative passion and talent for digital technology. Following two highly successful talent showcases, Jamaica is taking the first steps to becoming an international hub for digital innovation, the Silicon Valley of the Caribbean.

The process starts with StartUp Jamaica – an initiative supported by the World Bank and designed to help young, savvy, digital entrepreneurs find investors such as Oasis 500 and tap into the global demand for mobile applications. It’s a key element in the government’s strategy to turn the potential of Jamaica’s youth into a real employment opportunity for them and future generations.

“This is all about developing the appropriate ecosystem for start-ups to grow, and specifically targeting Jamaican youth, the future of our country,” says Julian Robinson, Jamaica’s State Minister for Science, Technology, Energy and Mining.

As part of its “Vision 2030 Jamaica” plan, the government is looking at the information and communication technology (ICT) sector as playing a central role in the transformation of the country over the next two decades, moving Jamaica from being a consumer to also become a producer of digital platforms and content. 

" We are looking forward to a lot of collaboration where we can bring these two very similar markets "

Youssef Hamidaddin

CEO of Oasis 500

For Minister Robinson Start Up Jamaica contributes to the realisation of Vision 2030 by linking the youth passion for ICT with entrepreneurship’s potential to build the local economy.

Since the inception of the Start Up Jamaica incubator in September 2014, six companies have piqued Oasis 500’s interest, attracting offers of investment. Three of them have just accepted the offer and will go to Jordan in April for a 100 –day acceleration program:

  • Crimebot: With the 6th highest homicide rate in the world, crime and violence represents a significant challenge for Jamaica. Crimebot (winner of the Grand Prize at Digital Jam 3.0) provides users with live updates of incidents in their vicinity, through notifications, hot-spot illustrations and the anonymous submission of crime reports.”It shows how hard work really pays off,” explains Gareth Thompson from Crimebot. “It’s shocking to show how our idea is actually becoming a reality. I’m really ecstatic about it.”
  • RevoFarm: Agriculture makes up close to 7% of Jamaica’s GDP but it is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. RevoFarm is designed to make it easier for farmers to grow and sell their produce, alerting them to new trends, climate-smart farming practices and helping them to share recommendations between users.
  • Vinelist: For centuries shoppers have gone to the shopkeeper to buy whichever items they were looking for. The Vinelist reverses this relationship. A social shopping platform, now the merchants come to you.

“In Jamaica there is a lot of enthusiasm and energy, but with the start-up space in its infancy, mentorship is scarce and experience limited,” says Mannin Marsh from VineList. “We are anxious to tap into the Jordanian experience to enable us to grow both locally and internationally.”

In 2012, mobile app revenues topped US$18 billion worldwide and it’s a market which is ever growing. The Digital Jam series shone a spotlight on the prodigious talent of the Caribbean’s youth, impressing representatives from some of the world’s top digital companies.

Our business at Oasis500 is to use our angel investor and mentor networks to nurture creative ideas in Information Technology, Mobile and Digital Media and transform them into startup companies. We consider this initial investment via Start Up Jamaica to be a great milestone along what has so far been a successful journey for Oasis 500, and I expect nothing but greater success moving forward.” Hamidaddin concludes.

With this investment from Oasis 500, the future is surely digital in Jamaica.