Is the tech innovation scene still alive and kicking in the Caribbean?
In the aftermath of the recently held OECS think tank and hackathon, the opportunity is taken to reflect on the tech innovation scene in the Caribbean.
Earlier this month, 13—15 August to be exact, a Business Solutions Think Tank and Hackathon were held in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) – a group of eight countries comprising Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Commonwealth Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. This event, which was organized by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, Quintessence Consulting Limited, and e-Caribbean Limited, sought to bring
…together persons of diverse experiences and expertise to produce real functioning IT applications (from concept, to working prototype, to final product) that address real world problems related to the OECS.
The event, which had over 100 attendees, and had 11 prototypes submitted by 11 teams in the hackathon, has been deemed a resounding success. However, over the past year or so, the number of and software application development and tech innovation-related competitions across the Caribbean seemed to have dwindled. Hence the question is being asked: is the tech innovation scene truly alive and kicking in the Caribbean?
The answer might not be clear cut
At this juncture, the answer might be a soft “Yes”. In the first instance, there are still several competitions – such as Digital Jam (Jamaica and Haiti); Startup Weekend (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago); iCreate (region-wide); and the Caribbean Mobile Innovation Program (region-wide) to name a few – but they do not appear to be as plentiful as they had been, where competitions were even being held across primary and secondary schools. However, those that have remained and are popular, have been around for a few years, and so in their own way have been consistently nurturing talent in the region.
The ecosystem is still underdeveloped
Overwhelming, the current crop of tech competitions in the region are still limited to ideation and preliminary concept development. The competitions tend to last a limited period of time, usually between one and three days, and are relatively inexpensive to implement. The winners usually receive a cash prize or a premium electronic device, such as a laptop, tablet computer or smartphone, and the event organisers can easily report on a successful initiative. However, the true work to nurture and realise viable products actually begins after the competitions ends, which is a longer-term and more involved process.
Unfortunately, and across the region, that support ecosystem is not fully developed. Many of the competition winners are young and inexperienced, and would be in need of, among other things, mentoring; business incubation and acceleration services; and access to channels through which to secure funding as might become necessary.
To varying degrees, that ecosystem is beginning to come on stream. For example, mentoring and acceleration was available to Caribbean Mobile Innovation Program (CMIP) participants; Startup Jamaica is an incubation and acceleration programme in Jamaica, which currently is inviting applications for its second cohort; and through the Inter-American Development Bank, the REACH Caribbean Innovation Competition (CIC), a regional contest and business start-up accelerator for young entrepreneurs, should have been launched this month.
The demographic of focus seems to be widening
For many of the international donor agencies that have supported tech and innovation-related competitions across the region, those activities were frequently geared towards students and youth, in order to be aligned with those organisations’ own internal thematic priorities and imperatives. However, for general events that are being driven by other sources, such as the private sector, increasingly, participation is not be limited to persons under the age of 25.
For example, the recently held OECS Business Solutions Think Tank & Hackathon was open to persons of all ages. Hence the participants were not just the typical student and young adult, but also included experienced professionals and business persons. At least 35% of attendees were over the age of 35, who would have wanted to experience and benefit from the concept ideation and collaborative development process that the event provided.
Ideation might be the most critical element for older demographic
Interestingly, it may be among the older demographic that there could be more immediate and sustained success in the region’s tech innovation and start-up scene. That age group, which would include working professionals, along with business persons and entrepreneurs, may have better access to expertise and other needed resources than their younger compatriots, and so could be in a better position to actually develop and operationalise a concept or prototype.
However, for that demographic, the greatest help might be needed in the initial ideation and concept creation process – the brainstorming experience and collaborating with others to develop potentially viable concept. To be clear: having a more fully developed support framework is essential and long overdue for foster country-wide innovation and entrepreneurship, but it could be argued that those who are more a bit more mature and experienced generally, may be better equipped to see the longer term process through to hopefully a viable outcome.
Image credit: Master Isolated Images (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)