Creating the Next ‘Tribe’ of Caribbean ICT Entrepreneurs

The ITU and CANTO recently held a Regional Youth ICT Innovations training workshop in Antigua and Barbuda over the period 8—10 December 2014. The following is a synopsis from the perspective of one of the presenters, Shiva Bissessar.

Day 2 of the Regional Youth ICT Innovations Training Workshop saw a large turnout, despite the fact that the same day was a recently reinstated national holiday, VC Bird Day. That level of interest should have been as expected, as the preceding day had a high degree of youth participation and enthusiasm.

In his introductory remarks, the Honourable Melford Nicholas, Minister for Information, Broadcasting, Telecommunication and Information Technology, described an affinity to the Singapore model of using ICT to make transformations in the civil services, and then towards developing professionals and innovators. In the same vein, he outlined partnerships with certain ICT vendors, which should bring the Antigua and Barbuda Civil Service, and their abilities to satisfy demands from their customers, into the 21st century within the next 18 months.

Echoing the importance of ICT as it related to youth development, Sylvester Cadette, of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and Jimmy Rodriguez of the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organisations (CANTO), both outlined how their respective organisations were committed to same. The various arms of the ITU’s Youth Programme was highlighted by Mr. Cadette, whilst Mr. Rodriguez mentioned CANTO’s recent Memorandum of Understanding with the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute to support mobile app development and commercialisation, as well as their existing iCreate programme.

Kafrah Murray, a former winner of CANTO’s iCreate award for 2011, laid out his journey to the audience: from a novice non-programmer, who taught himself to code, to having successfully completed several revenue generating apps and websites that have become very popular in Trinidad & Tobago, including Triniberry.com, “Eat A Doubles” directory app, and “Inter-Island Ferry Schedule” app.

Kern Elliot related to the audience his experience thus far with his app “Chune”, which has been designed to give more exposure to up and coming artists who struggle to get radio airplay. It did not take long for the participants to start repeating “chune boi chune” every time his app or name was mentioned! In the discussions following his talk, we spoke of how Ken faces a monumental task of swimming against the tide of Caribbean sentiment that consumers do not have to pay for music, and change the mindset of consumers giving artists their just due. Along the vein of giving the artists there due, the issues surrounding piracy was raised, following my Ethics, Privacy and Security presentation.

Participants engaging in the Q&A following a presentation
Participants engaging in the Q&A following a presentation

The presentation that captivated participants was one from Rene Holder, CEO of Lab206 Studio, who wowed the audience with his studio’s 2014 show reel. He then explained the process of creating an animation and illustrated the entire process via a piece his studio produced for a Turkish customer. While Rene is now seeing success in his venture, like the other presenters, this did not come easy. In speaking with him privately, we discussed his hopes of having better support from official programmes seeking to push animation as a key sector for investment and growth.

Common themes kept popping up between presenters and they were used this to link the various presentations together as a single cohesive message. Such themes included:

  • defining a venture’s key value proposition
  • creative means to fund your venture via savings and siphoning off from day job earnings, and
  • according to Rene, “finding your tribe” or that appropriate mix of persons of similar mindset who can help you on your arduous journey.

The event organizers ought to be commended for building capacity in both directions: by not only developing the youths on their journey towards ICT innovation and entrepreneurship, but also giving regional entrepreneurs and experts an opportunity to share their experience and wisdom. Some of the ideas thrown out by the youths in conversation and questions were centred on better payment facilities, improving methods to deliver information to tourists, improving neighbourhood security, and developing animation as an industry in their own territories. These are all good ideas which are engaging the attention of experienced ICT practitioners regionally. As one of the organizers pointed out; the next big idea from the Caribbean in terms of ICT could come from participants of this workshop.

 

Image credit:  Ashton Fearon

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Shiva BissessarShiva Bissessar, B.Sc.(Hons.) MBA, M.Sc. assists organizations with their ICT and Information Security strategy and governance via his consultancy Pinaka Technology Solutions. His last article “Of Critical Infrastructure and Cyber Security Risks” was republished by international industry website Automation.com. He is currently doing a study with UN ECLAC on the risks and opportunities of digital currencies in the Caribbean. See also his personal account as a first time Airbnb user on this trip.