Raising the Pulse of ICT from the Ground Up: Startup Weekend Trinidad and Tobago
A post by the Trinidad and Tobago Startup Weekend team on the need for initiatives in the Caribbean to better harness ICT, and how Startup Weekend Trinidad and Tobago can contribute to that goal.
The existence of a networked economy in which information, products and services are solicited, shared, accessed and re-purposed without traditional limitations, has not only introduced new rules of play and risk-taking in the competitiveness landscape, but also revealed unanticipated and unfamiliar markets. Indeed information and communications technologies present several opportunities for achieving competitive advantage. Governments and leaders alike recognize that in addition to being critical spillovers to every sector, the ability to effectively harness ICTs will improve their overall competitiveness rankings. Yet the Caribbean region continues to be characterized by a delay in the adoption and effective use of ICT amidst the structural upgrades that have occurred.
Developing the critical mass to harness ICTs
The outlook for a vibrant, competitive Caribbean ICT sector depends in part on the extent to which the region is able to build and sustain a diverse set of competencies, as well as a keen culture of agility and innovation, at all levels in the value chain. Startup Weekend Trinidad and Tobago is a timely addition to a suite of initiatives that have emerged around the Caribbean and elsewhere to stimulate purpose-driven innovation outside of formal educational programmes.
Over a period of 54 hours, entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs from the technical and non-technical communities will gather to pitch ideas, team up, validate business propositions, develop prototypes and present to a panel of high profile judges from the financial, business, design and technical sectors. The event’s introduction in the English speaking Caribbean follows on national as well as regional ICT-based competitions such as the Caribbean Innovators’ Challenge: Mobile Applications for Development, facilitated by the Caribbean ICT Research Programme (2009); the i-Create e-Content Caribbean, facilitated by Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organizations (2011, 2012 and 2013); and the Caribbean Open Data Code Sprint, facilitated by the Caribbean Open Institute (2012 and 2013).
Alongside these ICT-focused competitions, several other institutional, national and regional competitions have stimulated excitement and activity around ideation, problem solving, business plan development and business idea pitching. Regional examples span the gamut of target communities from high school students, as in the case of the Sagicor Visionaries Challenge, facilitated by Sagicor (2012/2013), the Caribbean Examinations Council and the Caribbean Science Foundation; youth, as in the case of the Caribbean Innovation Challenge, facilitated by Young Americas Business Trust and UNDP (2013); new and aspiring entrepreneurs, as in the case of pitchIT, facilitated by InfoDev and the Canadian International Development Agency (2013); and established entrepreneurs, as in the case of the Caribbean Idea Marketplace Business Competition facilitated by Caribbean Idea Marketplace (2013).
These competitions continue to serve as important capacity building exercises that complement existing tertiary and continuing education programmes, even those that focus squarely in the areas of entrepreneurship and innovation. At the same time, they incentivize attention on focal points of national, regional and global development such as sustainability, poverty reduction, innovation and competitiveness.
Equally important, is their catalysis of multidisciplinary teaming around diversities of skills, perspectives and experiences to address compelling problems; and to capitalize on business opportunities, often applying ICTs for social or economic profit. In the case of Startup Weekend Trinidad and Tobago, the process methodology responds to pressing realities, which call for swift and lean business ideation, validation and action. Its fresh, experiential learning methodology presents an exciting opportunity for learners in tertiary education institutions to engage with society, even while they are otherwise guided through the rigors of a structured academic programme. Such engagement is an inescapable shift in the tradition of higher education which faces the contemporary reality that:
the sites of problem formulation and negotiation have moved from their previous institutional domains in government, industry and universities into the agora. The agora refers collectively to the public space in which ‘science meets the public’, and in which the public ‘speaks back’ to science. It is the domain (in fact, many domains) in which contextualisation occurs. Neither state nor market, neither exclusively private nor exclusively public, the agora is the space in which societal and scientific problems are being framed and defined, and where ‘solutions’ are negotiated. It is the space, par excellence, for the production of socially robust knowledge. (Gibson 2006)
Moving tech entrepreneurs from idea to market
For a region struggling with its risk-averse business culture, traditionalist attitudes to entrepreneurship, paternalistic approaches to trade and internationalization, the lean startup methodology (Reis 2011) as espoused by Startup Weekend may be just what the doctor ordered. The event connects entrepreneurs from all disciplines to each other, creating a reference for what is possible in the region and reducing fear by managing failures. It does this by recreating the entrepreneurial environment that most entrepreneurs take months or years to create. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago which ranks 71st out of 185 economies in time to start a business (World Bank & International Finance Corporation, 2013), Startup Weekends can play a role in helping local entrepreneurs reduce the parallel bottleneck of moving from idea, through validation, to market.
Startup Weekend has recently been recognized as the largest grassroots community of entrepreneurs, with over 100,000 alumni in over 110 countries, creating over 8000 startups in the past five years. The community impact is expected to almost double in 2013. Startup Weekend’s first foray into the Caribbean, was in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, after the devastating earthquake in 2010. The movement has since spread to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Martinique, with Trinidad and Tobago to be the first in the English speaking Caribbean to host the event, inspiring organizers from Jamaica, Dominica, Barbados and St. Lucia. Startup Weekend Trinidad and Tobago, scheduled for 22—24 May 2013 on the St. Augustine Campus of The University of the West Indies, is well subscribed and has garnered a rich and vibrant following. By all accounts, it is set to put ICT to work within various entrepreneurial corners in Trinidad and Tobago; and to raise the Pulse of Caribbean ICT from the Ground Up.
Gibson, M. (2006) Engagement as a Core Value in a Mode 2 Society. CHE-HEQC/JET-CHESP Conference on Community Engagement in Higher Education. South Africa.
Reis, E. (2011). The lean startup. U.S.A.: Crown Business.
Post authored by: Trinidad and Tobago Startup Weekend team