Business

‘Opportunities ripe’ for tech investments in Jamaica

BY JULIAN RICHARDSON Assistant business co-ordinator richardsonj@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, November 16, 2011    

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MARC Canter, founder of the US multibillion-dollar computer software company that introduced flash technology, says opportunities are ripe for technology startups in Jamaica, which he feels possibly has a better investment climate than the US right now.

In an exclusive interview with the Business Observer on Monday, the renowned entrepreneur said tourism and culture are sectors which strike him as having great potential for investments in technology locally.

“I'm delighted to see websites that are already up and running and we have 15 startups entering into a competition — related to the upcoming Caribbean BETA conference. So I'd say that, in general, I'm very pleased and that the opportunities are ripe,” he said.

Canter, in 1992, founded Macromedia, which was in 2005 acquired by Adobe Systems in an all-stock transaction valued at approximately US$3.4 billion ($290 billion). Macromedia created flash technology, a multimedia platform used to facilitate animation, video, and interactivity to websites.

Canter is coming to the island to give a keynote address at the Caribbean BETA Tech Entrepreneurship Conference on November 25 at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston.

What's more is that he is also helping to develop a startup ecosystem in Jamaica with Ingrid Riley, CEO of local digital communications company ConnectiMass, and has been customising his business model for the country.

“We're just now getting into the finer details of what we want to do, which will lead to our budget and proposal,” Canter revealed.

“I have a new company which does this as our business model — We call it the 'Digital City' project,” he continued. “Most of the time when we enter into a new city or region, we have to start our own local subsidiary. But in Jamaica, Ingrid has ConnectiMass, so we'll use that company as the entity.”

Canter encourages aspiring local entrepreneurs, faced with the daunting challenge of accessing start-up capital, to create a product prototype to test the market. There is a good chance investment will follow if the invention is good, he said.

“Put up or shut up. As soon as potential investors see the opportunity and the benefits of what the startup has to offer, then that makes the issue of an investment more palatable,” said Canter.

“I really love the idea of getting a prototype up and running and then soliciting feedback from users. These early adopters can then, not only provide the startup a reality check on what their potential customers will want, but early adopters also often lead to early investors.”

Against this background, Canter said he preaches the mantra of "bootstrapping" — when an entrepreneur starts and attempts to build out a company from personal finances.

“That's exactly what Ingrid (Riley) has been doing. If we get our programme funded we'll still execute on that attitude. This just happens to be part of the Jamaica aesthetic - 'hussler' by day, 'hussle' even more at night”.

Canter and Riley are currently in talks with potential investors for the start-up ecosystem. “We're about to take a few potential investors up on their offers and, if you see our project funded, well then you know things are better in Jamaica than in the US, where investment has practically dried up,” he said, noting that one of the benefits of the local investment climate is its strong expatriate community.

“We have a couple of these super power-hitter ex-pats on our board, so maybe that'll help us get funding,” he said.

Riley told the Business Observer yesterday that it is pivotal that an entrepreneur with Canter's level of success and influence has chosen to invest in Jamaica.

“It signifies that he sees the country as valuable for him to get involved with,” she said. “It's a testament to the quality of the talent and ideas that are here, that only requires some support, expert help and a little bit of cash to reach the tipping point.”

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