A startup ecosystem in Jamaica
By Dana Niland
Start-Up Jamaica, a business incubator/accelerator program, is helping young technology entrepreneurs develop innovative products and services for the local and international markets.
SUJ is a five-year public/private partnership between the Government of Jamaica and the Development Bank of Jamaica, with support from the World Bank project, Youth Employment in Digital and Animation Industries.
The program was launched in 2014 by the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining, and staged its first boot camp in September of the same year.
According to SUJ CEO March Hugh Sam, the start-ups that participated in the boot camp focused on aggressive product development and sales strategies to get their business ideas to a point where the proposed product or service is commercially viable, prior to seeking investment.
“The idea is to prove the products locally and to export the globally. So, the ideas behind Start-Up Jamaica are global ideas. What we did was to modify the ideas to get them to create a minimal viable product.
During the one week at the camp, representatives from the U.S.-based start-up incubator/accelerator firm Devlabs facilitated training sessions with the tech teams in basic business and software development.
“What we focused on was getting their ideas or concepts to a stage where they had something that could be sold,” said State Minister in the Ministry, Julian Roberts. In fact, some of them started to sell from the boot camp. They made contact with other companies, and some partnerships were formed. It was extremely positive in terms of the outcome.”
More than 40 start-ups from several countries throughout the region participated in the boot camp.
Of those, 25 teams successfully completed the program requirements, and 15 of them will be selected to advance to the acceleration/incubation phase, during which they will engage in a number of business develop initiatives to better align their products and services to international markets, and learn how to operate in a global environment.
The teams that did not advance in the program will continue to benefit from the SUJ facilities to further refine their business plans and products for later entry into the incubation phase.
Part of the selection process required the teams to prove minimum viability of their proposed product or service by selling to local businesses.
The CEO reports that these teams reached this objective, and struck new deals with investors from the Caribbean, Canada, and U.S., valued at $6 million.
The SUJ Selection Committee is currently evaluating the teams to determine the finalists that will advance to the acceleration and incubation phases of the program, which will run for three months each.
In the initial stage of acceleration, five teams will travel to the Devlabs facility in Oakland, CA, where they will participate in a month of on-site training.
Hugh Sam anticipates that this will open up new markets in the U.S. for the start-ups.
“Devlabs will work with them to help modify their product for the U.S. as well as their business model and sales strategy,” he said. “So, they have to be able to make sales in the U.S. That’s the objective. They will be learning, but the objective constantly is on selling products and making sales.”