Business

Tech Beach Retreat: Bringing Silicon Valley to Jamaica

BY JOSIMAR SCOTT
Observer writer

Friday, October 27, 2017

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Kirk -Anthony Hamilton continues on his mission to transform the global image of Jamaica — and by extension the Caribbean — beyond that of just sun, sea and sand. He aims to showcase the Caribbean as fertile ground for producing cutting-edge technology.

With that in mind, Hamiton is preparing to stage the second Tech Beach Retreat from November 30 to December 2 at Iberostar Grand Rose Hall Resort in Montego Bay.

Tech Beach Retreat, which Hamilton co-founded, is a conference “designed as one tool that can drive a greater level of investment in Jamaica by helping to craft a different global image of the island”.

Under the theme '10X SCALE', the forum will focus on the five pillars of business: strategy, capital, access, leadership, and execution. Tech Beach also promises to feature the latest in financial, consumer, health care and media technologies, while exploring new approaches to securing data and tackling cybercrime.

“When most people outside of Jamaica think about technology and innovation they do not think about Jamaica. And so when people sit and wonder why does Google not operate here or why is Amazon not in the market, a lot of it has to do with the reality that these companies don't think that there is much of a market here for them to be involved in. So Tech Beach is designed to help shift that image,” Hamilton explained.

Hamilton is intent on getting out the message to tech industry influencers the world over that technological innovations are being produced right here in Jamaica — and that there is a market on the island where start-up entrepreneurs are ready to do business.

One such example, he pointed out, is Gabriel Abed, the Barbadian conceptualiser of Bitt, a digital platform using crypto currency to effect payment or converted to hard currency. Abed is slated to speak at the conference.

“Tech Beach is a point of interaction for investors to meet entrepreneurs. We have done well to identify entrepreneurs in the Caribbean that are well on their way, but tend to be unknown through some of the other (financing) programmes that we might be familiar with. So we have managed to build relationships with the guys who have managed to raise US$2 million in corporate venture financing, which is very rare in the Caribbean for young people who are doing US$250,000, US$300,000 in revenue as a bootstrap entity,” Hamilton told the Jamaica Observer.

“So these folks are looking to meet a different kind of audience, and that's why they come and participate in Tech Beach…” he said, adding that the model has already captured the attention of the global tech industry.

Hamilton believes there are creative, unexplored, viable opportunities that young tech entrepreneurs have not considered for financing of solutions and business ideas, one such being the initial coin offering (ICO).

An ICO, similar to an initial public offering, is geared towards raising capital for new ventures, particularly in the technological sector, through subscriptions via crypto currencies. Over US$1.2 billion in capital has been raised since the beginning of the year, Hamilton told Caribbean Business Report, arguing that ICOs could not only disrupt venture capital space, but displace it altogether, since ICOs are not as regulated.

For this year's staging of the conference, Hamilton and his co-founders — Phin MPofu, chairman of Global Symbiotic Partnerships; and Kyle Maloney, director, F1RST.com — have arranged for a panel discussion on ICOs, which, he said, will “bring Silicon Valley to Montego Bay”.

The panel will include: Lauren Slade, co-founder of Swarm City; Logan Golema, co-founder of Blockchain Exchange; Russell Castranago, co-founder of Wampum; David Werba, co-founder of Musiconomi; and entrepreneur Adryenn Ashley.

Beyond facilitating networking between investors and entrepreneurs, Hamilton hopes to include government entities in the conversation — to the extent that they understand the role they can play in the transformation process as well as how they can take advantage of emerging technologies.

“We also do work with some government agencies, so there is value. In terms of the Government being an entity that would have to facilitate a lot of the changes happening. It would find value from the simple standpoint of getting people to understand what is happening in the new world. The world is changing at a pace that many of us in the Caribbean are unaware of, simply because we don't have to interact with it on a daily basis, or we are resistant to it, but these things are having effects on our economy that we are not pinpointing,” the Tech Beach Retreat co-founder remarked.

Emerging technologies, in addition to crypto currencies, include artificial intelligence, robotics and automation. Hamilton is convinced that it is this constant, rapidly changing technological environment that will allow the Tech Beach brand to deliver greater outcomes.

Asked why he decided on this year's instalment, Hamilton said: “People need to be engaged by these ideas and opportunities to build their own inspiring solutions right here in Jamaica.”

He also cited the success of the inaugural staging of the tech conference, of which 57 per cent of attendees were international participants who all left satisfied.

Hamilton stressed the need for a greater level of participation of locals to take advantage of investment and partnership opportunities.

“I think what Tech Beach offers is a very inspiring space for people on the local end to get a better understanding of what is happening out there in the world. The moment that you see that people are working on these [solutions], and they are actually working for themselves and getting funding, I think people get excited. But most important, when you come into touch with the people who are creating these solutions, it makes it even more viable for people on the ground,” Hamilton asserted.

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