Why the Caribbean could Become Latin America’s Great Technological Hub
Taking advantage of the first Annual Technology Summit success in Haiti that took place in June 2017, the Summit’s directive committee is already planning the second edition of the largest meeting of entrepreneurs, innovators and influential people in the Caribbean that will take place from June 21st to 23rd, 2018 at the Royal Decameron Resort. This next Summit will offer a greater variety of workshops, round tables and experiences that include an “Entrepreneurship Lab”, highlights of “Women of Influence”, in-depth knowledge on advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, and shocking debates on future trends. In industries such as agriculture, transport and health. The Caribbean aspires to become in the next years a technological reference center in the region. Although the economy and development of the Caribbean countries still need important impulses, the truth is that several indicators show the interesting mid-term horizon that opens up in areas such as technology and information. A few weeks ago, it was announced that several of the most important companies in the sector, Google, Facebook, Uber and Airbnb, were betting on Haiti to become a reference hub in IT.
At the Technological Summit in Haiti held in June last year, the Haitian-American entrepreneur Christine Souffrant Ntim, host of the meeting, announced to the more than 450 participants that she wants to “catapult Haiti through innovation, technology and business spirit”. It’s one more of the voices, in this case with special relevance, that are showing the world the tremendous potential of a region that historically has been more popular due to its natural tragedies, its structural underdevelopment or its external dependence.
“We know that Haiti can really transform itself, be a new case of global study of what happens when in fact you get the right influences to transform a nation”, Souffrant Ntim said. After the success of the summit’s first edition and its great repercussion, the Summit’s directive committee is already planning the second edition of the largest meeting of entrepreneurs, innovators and influential people in the Caribbean that will take place from June 21st to 23rd, 2018 at the Royal Decameron Resort de Côte des Arcadins. This next Summit will offer a greater variety of workshops, round tables and experiences that include a “Entrepreneurship Lab”, highlights of “Women of Influence”, in-depth knowledge on advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, and shocking debates on future trends in industries such as agriculture, transport and health.
HAITI, WHEN THE TECHNOLOGICAL MIRACLE IS POSSIBLE
The case of Haiti is paradigmatic of the change dimension because, unlike its Caribbean neighbors, the earthquake in January 2010 and a series of storms and hurricanes devastated the country. All this has prevented it from following the unstoppable pace that technological change is experiencing. However, there are some foundations and an entrepreneurial character that can facilitate the process.
The Miami Herald reported that a recent Hootsuite study of social networks and digital trends around the world shows that the country, which has a population of 11 million, is lagging behind many of its Caribbean counterparts. Haiti’s Internet penetration rate is only 15%, compared to Cuba, which reaches 32% and has a similar population.
Haiti summit’s communication director, Mildred Louis, technology consultant who previously worked for the telecommunications giant Digicel in Haiti, was convinced that in the country “there is great potential to build an incubation system, alliances, codes of upbringing and a technological industry”.
Haiti is taken as a symptom of the changes that are taking place in all Caribbean countries, as PanamericanWorldpointed out in a recent article on the Caribbean startup ecosystem, the region’s countries, especially Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados are becoming increasingly important in the Latin American ecosystem, and Jamaica, in particular, is considered one of the best countries to do business in Latin America and the Caribbean. The same is happening in Guyana, where an important technological startups hub that has made an interesting transition to evolve from traditional business based on consulting digital products and service portfolios is emerging.
THE CARIBBEAN SUN, A RISING VALUE FOR TECHNOLOGICAL ENTREPRENEURS
Jamaica is also the third most populous Anglophone country in America (after the United States and Canada) with a technological startups ecosystem that is driven by a new generation of young talents and entrepreneurs willing to break into the market. This’s not going unnoticed by many entrepreneurs and investors, who are also attracted to the life quality and the climate of the area. External factors such as these ones, strange to the traditional business culture, are being imposed when making business decisions. That’s why the Caribbean has a great future ahead if it knows how to develop the necessary transition towards a productive model and an appropriate legal framework for technological entrepreneurship.
For many digital nomads, the amount of sunny days throughout the year offers a stimulating optimism when managing a business becomes especially difficult. Even if technological entrepreneurs decide to go a little further south, low housing costs become an even more favorable factor. All these isolated places, with dazzling beaches and a less agitated life pace, are receiving a new boost thanks to entrepreneurs who believe that the networking companies creation improves and is more effective in a business friendly environment but also for life quality.
This is how the Tech Beach Retreat in Jamaica community was born, with the impetus of Jamaican entrepreneur Kirk Anthony-Hamilton, founder of the brand consultancy The Destination Experience, and who was selected as one of the 75 Emerging Global Entrepreneurs by President Obama.
He had the vision to connect the technological ecosystem of the Caribbean with the rest of the world and generated various alliances with other partners to value the Caribbean’s potential as a business field. Among them Kyle Maloney, from Trinidad and Tobago, one of the most promising technological entrepreneurs of the Caribbean in the big data space.
Last December they held a conference in the luxurious Montego Bay complex in Jamaica in which the participants, all of them influential businessmen, exchanged experiences on how to design business in global economies and mitigate the challenges. There were, among others, Lisa Lake, general director of the Branson Center of Entrepreneurship; Allison Kopf, CEO of Agrilyst, winner of Tech Crunch Disrupt NY 2016, as well as senior executives from Salesforce, Dropbox and Singularity University.
EDUCATION IS THE REGION’S GREAT CHALLENGE
Another news that has marked the recently finished year in the Caribbean region is the opening of five new data centers by the company Cloud Carib. The company from the Bahamas is accelerating efforts to capture more market share in data center solutions in the Caribbean. The new centers have been created in Panama, Jamaica, Barbados; as well as facilities for data storage in Trinidad and Cayman Islands.
The Cloud Carib expansion project is seen as another symptom that something is moving in the Caribbean’s technological ecosystem. In Jamaica, the University of Technology (UTech) has great plans for its future, including programs of continuous development that its promoters believe will be able to position the institution with other world-renowned tertiary technological giants.
This news comes at a moment of special dynamism for the entrepreneurship world in the country. Start-Up Jamaica is helping young technology entrepreneurs develop innovative products and services for local and international markets. The accelerator is a public-private partnership between the Jamaica’s Government and the Development Bank of Jamaica, with the support of the World Bank, Youth Employment in Digital Industries and Animation.
The program was launched in 2014 by the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, and organized its first training camp in September of the same year. It also highlights the Caribbean Startups’s initiative, it’s home to the Caribbean’s startups ecosystem. Currently, only 12% of the region has incubators and accelerators to support local businesses. The goal of this organization is to reach 100% by 2020, facilitating the continuous programming and relations between entrepreneurs and program coordinators. For now, a growing number of startups in Jamaica are shaking the country’s ecosystem.
The educational aspect is one of the country’s great challenges. Only 19% of Jamaicans aged 19 to 24 are currently enrolled in higher education institutions, and only 15% of the workforce has tertiary education. However, after an expansion and improvement project recently completed and financed by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), there was a significant increase in registrations at UTech. The project has consolidated the hope that the university can be a springboard to promote education, training and certification to increase productivity and prosperity in Jamaica, particularly in fields related to science, technology and engineering.
Ruel Reid, Minister of Education, Youth and Information of Jamaica, recently revealed that, despite the efforts made by the UTech Enhancement project, there are still less than 500 graduates in engineering in the country, a figure that prevents the sector from developing in the necessary measure. “We have to lead a revolution so science and technology are something that our students aspire to achieve. And we, as Caribbean and Jamaican, can conquer the mathematics and science world, and the University of Technology will become the new MIT of the Caribbean and the Latin American region”, he said.
In this same line, the creation in Guyana of the Center of Excellence in Information Technology (CEIT), which has been created in collaboration with the government of India, is placed. This country’s government has equipped the center with computers, academic material and technological solutions.
A team of IT professionals from India has the responsibility to instruct 500 Guyanese. The plan is that within two years, after training a sufficient number of Guyanese in information technology, India will deliver the center to Guyana’s government. The center offers a wide variety of technology courses, including networking, cybersecurity, software development and IT project management. The way in which the educational model adapts to the technological market’s new needs will be key for the Caribbean to definitively become one of Latin America’s great technological centers.
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