Jamaica: A guardian angel of entrepreneurial talent in the Caribbean

November 11, 2015

With its young, creative and English-speaking population, Jamaica is making its mark on the entrepreneurial stage, especially within the digital sector. Its talented youth are already catching the eye of international investors.

This week, 60 young entrepreneurs from across the Caribbean will take part in an intensive five-day workshop on the reality of being an entrepreneur, put on by the San Francisco start-up investment fund.

But with thousands of inspiring start-ups cramming the steep streets of San Francisco, why are they so interested in investing in Jamaican youth?

We asked DevLabs CEO, Rubén Hernández, to outline his reasons for boosting the hopes and dreams of these young start-ups and what attracted him specifically to the Caribbean.

"We have a group of Jamaican entrepreneurs already here in Oakland and they're not only building and expanding their business in the US, but they are also becoming an inspiration for many young people here," he explained. "It's really, really exciting because it's a two-way street."

Jamaica is a gateway to Latin America

Situated at the heart of the English-speaking Caribbean, the port of Kingston is equidistant from the port of Miami and the Panama Canal. As a result, Jamaica is an attractive proposition for those looking to bridge the lucrative markets of the North and the powerful emerging markets of the South.

Add to that mix a shared language with the world's technological powerhouses along with a workable time difference with the US west coast, and the picture is complete. The digital industry holds great employment potential for the country's talented and digitally fluent youth.

In numbers, it's estimated that up to 5,000 jobs could be created in the Caribbean by turning the region into an animation hub, and more than 4,000 youths are already e-lancing with digital enterprises in Jamaica, following the Digital Jam initiative.

"Digital technology is critical for us," affirms Julian Robinson, Minister of State in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining. "We have traditionally been very dependent on physical products, but we believe there is going to be a quantum shift to maximising our intellectual assets. We view the digital economy as a way to harness the creativity that exists in the country," he added.

" We have traditionally been very dependent on physical products, but we view the digital economy as a way to harness the creativity that exists in the country. "

Julian Robinson

Minister of State in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining

Emerging market

For Hernández, it was these investment and policy decisions already being implemented by the Jamaican government that made the country an attractive proposition for seeking out new entrepreneurial talent.

"Jamaica has natural advantages for us. They are native English speakers, and the location is key, plus they are already developing an angel investor ecosystem, which is really important for follow-on investment," Hernández stated.

StartUp Jamaica graduates, Revofarm, are living proof of the benefits of this networking and investment boost. Their weather app, which alerts farmers and small-scale producers to adverse weather events, has received favourable support in the USA.

"We signed our first agreement with our weather partner in the United States of America to provide weather and agronomic data that will be used in our app," said Ricardo Gowdie, Founder and CEO of Revofarm. "This is a huge achievement for us because they have done a lot of work in other places like Africa, but this is their first time working with a partner in the Caribbean."

Entrepreneurship 101

Worldwide, 90 per cent of all tech start-ups fail, often due to confusion on the part of the user as to what the app is for, or a failure to really meet their demands.

"In my opinion, young entrepreneurs don't see a finish line. They don't see what their business could look like in five years, or 10 years," explained Wilson Wilkins, CEO of StartUp Robot, a Jamaican application which helps entrepreneurs to officially register their business.

As a result, fixing the business hypothesis will be top of the agenda in Kingston, to give the young start-ups the best possible chance of securing future investments once the week is over.

"The entrepreneurs will go from creating a business hypothesis to then proving it within a few days by actually talking to potential customers, potential users," said Hernández. "They will then develop a minimum viable product so that at the end of this week, they not only understand what the business is that they are focusing on, but also what is the level of commitment that they really want to put into their own start-up."

This article was published in the Jamaica Observer. Read it online.