A regional advocate for tech entrepreneurship believes Barbados and other countries in the Caribbean need a new set of financing models and a change in mindset to become the hub for thriving technology firms.
Co-founder of the Tech Beach Retreat, Kirk-Anthony Hamilton said he believed the possibilities in the region were many, but complained that despite much talk in recent times, technology has not been used enough.
“I believe in the Caribbean and the possibilities. I believe in the idea that the majority of the pieces to the puzzle that we need are actually in place for people to experience the kind of success that we are talking about. It really just is about executing on the right roadmap,” he said.
Stating that his aim was to “spark an e-commerce, entrepreneurship and innovation revolution” in the Caribbean, Hamilton told Barbados TODAY he saw tremendous opportunity in the areas of financial technology and payments, automation, supply chain and logistics, and global movement of goods to and from the region.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic was now showing people that they could do business from anywhere.
“So, first of all, on the island of Barbados, I think the island itself can support more than five Bitts, for example,” he said, referring to financial technology company Bitt.
“That being said, what else the island can support is an influx of innovators who are building these kinds of companies, who maybe could come here and partner with locals and take advantage of the offerings that Barbados has on the table and build a company.”
However, he said, what was lacking was a culture that embraces such concepts.
Hamilton is also of the view that the region should invest more in the training of individuals “in the right skill sets” necessary for building out technology.
“In order for someone to build a successful tech company they have to have access to talent . . . . The other thing, in order to build a successful tech company you need layers of financing,” he said.
“The typical conversation is access to capital, but the fact of the matter is that you don’t go to a bank for investment. Tech companies thrive on these layers that we need to see more of in the region – angel investment, seed-level investment – and then you go to these various series of venture capital financing, and then eventually you take your company public or it gets bought.
“Along the way, once you are in the venture capital level and going above, then you start mixing in that blended type finance approach in terms of bringing in debt finance from a bank or other alternative investment organisations willing to lend money, as opposed to just purely equity. So behind the scenes of successful tech companies is usually a very complex framework of finances that we need more of,” Hamilton added.
Insisting that a change in mindset was also necessary to have successful tech companies in the region, he told Barbados TODAY people should start “removing the barriers in how they think when it comes to what is possible”.
“Instead of thinking of everything that might not work with an idea or why I can’t sell to all of these people or what the Government might do to me, think about what is possible. First, thinking that I want this thing to happen, implement the steps, and fighting the good fight, beating down the doors, showing grit, and just pushing and pushing until you get where you want to go,” Hamilton explained.
The Jamaica-based Hamilton Tech Beach Retreat introduced an accelerator programme in several islands, including Barbados, which is being funded by the International Development Bank (IDB). This is designed to help speed-up digital transformation in the Caribbean.
Tech Beach Retreat, which started in Jamaica in 2016, is a technology ecosystem connecting regional tech entrepreneurs with global technology firms and potential investors.