During the past five years, I have met many who speak fluently about everything wrong with building a business in the Caribbean and the need to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem within the Caribbean. However, even when a plan of action was determined, the final output has often been a grand proposal for funding — destined to linger on a secretary’s desk for quite some time. Perhaps it was too visionary but I always wondered if the approach was wrong.
Fortunately, we’re finally seeing that Caribbean entrepreneurial ecosystem come to light, thanks mostly to InfoDev’s EPIC program which provided the mentorship and training at no cost to participants. The EPIC program managers wisely partnered with local community leaders to ensure they made an impact with their efforts beginning with the PitchItCaribbean Codesprints, launched the Digital Jam contests and even attracted the attention of venture capitalists via Startup Jamaica and VentureOut Challenge. It has also encouraged the emergence of regional angel investors who identify themselves under collectives such as First Angels JA and Trident Angels.
I was one of those fortunate to benefit directly from the infoDev training, first by further validating CleverGrocer, a grocery price comparison app and now by successfully launching and gaining early customer traction for MediRevu, a health coaching assistant for diabetics. EPIC’s training taught us how to focus on a market segment and building a product that delivers value.
As the EPIC initiative matures past its current successes, infoDev and the World Bank are handing over the reigns of leadership for developing the tech community to UWI Consulting and its Caribbean Mobile Innovation Programme which has continued the hack-a-thon efforts and training programmes under the label PitchItCaribbean. I’ll be glad to see the successful transition however I’ll miss interacting with Angelique Manella, Toni Eliasz and Sam Raymond on a more regular basis. These three persons stand out the most among the EPIC management staff because they were clearly passionate about contributing to the growth of the regional startup community — an often overlooked part of any entrepreneurial ecosystem.
I share their passion and hope that we in the EPIC alumni will not only continue to compete for venture capital but that we also contribute towards building a community supportive of new and experienced entrepreneurs alike. This may replicate the strength of the local tech communities such as Kingston BETA and Slashroots in Jamaica as well as LaunchRockIt in Trinidad. Kingston BETA was actually the first such tech community in the Caribbean as far as I know.
The EPIC initiative has been particularly transformative for first-time technology entrepreneurs like myself who are properly equipped for growth and can now look to the founders of Edufocal, F1rst and EzLearner who are joining the ranks of successful regional tech businesses such as JamaicansMusic and TriniTrolley. There will no doubt be more founders joining their ranks as successful businesses and it will be invaluable for us to adopt the notion of “each one, teach one”.
You can find out more about the EPIC program here