The recent volcanic ash from the La Soufrière volcano may have been a menace to many, but it turned out to be a business opportunity for several residents.
With some individuals making use of the ash which blanketed the island in early April, officials are now challenging Barbadians to be more innovative and look for business opportunities out of adversity, The advice came as five individuals were selected by a panel of six judges as winners in an Export Barbados (BIDC)-led National Innovation Challenge, which ran from April 26 until May 14.
Three of them won prizes for the Ash Products Competition where they had to develop a saleable product from the ash, while two won the social media prizes for putting forward viable product ideas.
The project forms part of a series of challenges, which Export Barbados (BIDC) will be rolling out in the coming weeks.
Congratulating the competition winners during a prize-giving ceremony on Friday at the Bagnall’s Point Gallery, Minister of International Business and Industry Ronald Toppin said their ingenuity could provide another avenue for the export of locally-produced products.
“This challenge is just the beginning of my ministry’s effort to unlock the ingenuity and creativity of Barbadians from all walks of life.
The task of building a strong economy belongs to all of us who call Barbados home. I am, therefore, issuing the challenge to everyone who knows there is an ember of creativity burning inside of them to participate in the series of Innovate Challenges which BIDC will be rolling out in the weeks ahead,” said Toppin.
“As we seek to expand the potential in our bio-economy, we are paying significant attention to opportunities in our pharmaceutical and nutraceutical sector with the view that we can harness tremendous benefits from the natural resources we already have here in Barbados. And with that in mind, we are happy to announce the next Innovation Challenge – the Barbados Aloe Vera Product Challenge,” he said.
He urged Barbadians not to see only the problems posed by adversity, but look for possible opportunities, adding that the products developed from the ash over the past several weeks should serve as a testament.
Rhea Gilkes and Selina Craigg won the first prize of $5,000 for their La Soufrière Scrub; engineer Kamal Howell got the second prize of $2,500 for his centrifugal classifier blade that can be used on a lawnmower to suck up the ash from the lawn.
The third-place prize of $1,500 went to Kerri-Ann Bovell for her mushroom biomaterial that can be used in place of styrofoam and plastic.
In addition to the monetary prizes, they will receive technical assistance from Export Barbados (BIDC).
The winners for the ideas on social media were Dennis Sobers for his volcanic ash shot glass idea, and Michelle Bowe for her ash pendants, jewelry, and other accessories. They both received $500.
Toppin stressed that coming up with innovation out of a problem presents a platform for emphasis on sustainability.
Very often, words like resilience and sustainability take on global appeal and they sit well within our strategic plans, but life has shown us that any effort to build a robust economy, whether it is in the bio, oceans, or design space, the focus must be on sustainability,” said Toppin.
“When we create with this in mind, we see waste, ash, and the seaweed that strangles our beaches every year, not as problems but as new materials that can be upcycled into valuable commodities and products for export. I believe that by matching research and innovation with entrepreneurship and commercial acumen we can bring forward more new, innovative products and processes, and give them a greater chance of success,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer of Export Barbados (BIDC) Mark Hill, while insisting that Barbadians “must think outside the box and operate outside the box”, said he wanted to see Barbados boosting its export potential.
Pointing to the importance of being able to export products and services, Hill highlighted that while the tourism sector came to a standstill last year, the island was still able to earn valuable foreign exchange because of its exports.
“Exports accounted for US$224 million in 2020, of our overall foreign exchange earnings.
At a time when tourism came to a grinding halt, it was our exports that helped the country to keep its proverbial head above the water. Therefore, we at Export Barbados have a big job on our hands and we must step up to the plate to stimulate and facilitate more exports from this island,” Hill declared.
“This must be done if we are going to fulfill our country’s mandate. As we move forward as an organisation in our new paradigm, we have decided to focus our efforts and build opportunities for innovation, entrepreneurship, and exports in three core areas – the Biotech-Economy, Design Economy and the Ocean Economy,” said Hill. (MM)