Local technology entrepreneurs are in line for a major boost as the Jamaica-based accelerator programme Tech Beach Retreat (TBR) expands its reach across the region to continue its buildout of a technology ecosystem.
As a result of a partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), officials of TBR has launched a TBR Lab that will initially benefit tech entrepreneurs in four countries – Barbados, The Bahamas, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
The two-year programme, which is valued at US$4 million, is receiving US$1 million seed funding from the IDB Lab, the innovation promotion arm of the IDB Group.
It is anticipated that under the programme, there will be some 250 tech start-ups accelerated, 10 tech start-ups generated, 250 executive leaders from the public and private sector engaged, and 3 000 skilled professionals trained.
Participants are expected to benefit from insights from leading information technology experts and industry leaders through a three-day programme in the four Caribbean countries.
During a recent virtual launch of the TBR Lab under the theme A Vision for a Digital Caribbean, officials stressed the need for countries in the region to use technology to improve their economies.
General Manager of the IDB’s Caribbean Country Department, Therese Turner-Jones said given the expected declines for regional economies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was need for a diversification plan, government support through regulatory reform, and greater innovation.
She believes there were significant opportunities for technology firms to play a significant role.
“Cutting-edge technology is essential in navigating the new normal and the delivery of products and services. It will also make businesses more efficient, cost-effective and profitable,” said Turner-Jones.
“Today’s launch of TBR Lab serves to strengthen the regional innovation and technology ecosystem and to connect the Caribbean with other global innovation ecosystems. We are hoping it will also accelerate 200 tech-driven businesses with mentorship, technology services, networks and connections to investors of capital.
“It will also train around 80 individuals from the corporate sector to undertake corporate innovation, and connect 1 000 entrepreneurs to a global community of technology experts,” she added.
Co-founder of TBR Kirk-Anthony Hamilton told Barbados TODAY the general idea behind the TBR when it was launched in Jamaica in 2016, was to invite the global tech ecosystem into the Caribbean “to highlight the level of talent that exists here”.
Hamilton said the tech lab for Barbados was scheduled for the end of the third quarter of next year.
“One of the biggest challenges tech companies in the Caribbean face is the fact that we don’t have much of a benchmark. Barbados has [fintech company] Bitt in an island of 300 000 people. That is just one company . . . but you need more companies like Bitt. We want to open up the environment to more tech firms,” he said.
In addition to knowledge and advice, every entrepreneur who participates in the programme will get access to up to US$500 000 in resources from global companies and have the opportunity to form partnerships and get investment for their company.
Application for the programme will open about two months before the start date, and individuals will know whether they have been accepted about a month before.
“What we are working on right now is building the partnerships to make it successful,” Hamilton said, adding that the programme could run for more than the planned eight weeks based on discussions with officials.
Jamaica’s Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Daryl Vaz said despite the current challenges facing the region, he believed it was “a great time for an explosion of technology”.
“The advancement and development of the region is hinged on the use and development of technology which will aid our resilience, productivity and sustainability,” he added.
Vaz said it was time the Caribbean use technology to bring about improvements in education, health care, and business and commerce to improve its economies.
“This would make the Caribbean an even more appealing destination for investors and businesses. Our future survival, both as individual countries and the region, depends on our digital transformation today,” said Vaz, adding that the best place to start the transformation was in the public sector.