Jamaican techpreneurs head to Slush 2015 in Finland

BY JOSIMAR SCOTT Observer writer

Friday, October 16, 2015

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Despite the limited resources and the small geographic and population size of Jamaica, Robert Whitehorne, project manager for PitchIT Caribbean, is hoping that the country will announce its arrival to the worldwide app-developing industry next month in Finland at the Slush 2015 Global Impact Accelerator. Funded by the World Bank, the project is geard towards developing the application software ecosystem in the Caribbean.

Three Jamaican teams will be flying to Finland -- AgroCentral, Jamaica's first digital agricultural clearing house utilising web and mobile services to connect farmers and businesses; NiriTec, which focuses on creating a virtual learning environment in several CSEC and CAPE subjects; and Transcel, a government-backed mobile money product that allows person-to-person and person-to-institution money transfers.

"This sends an important message to the app development community across the region. It affirms the ethos of PitchIT Caribbean, which is that Caribbean ideators can establish high-quality mobile products that can lead to highly competitive businesses that can attract the attention and possible financing from investors across the world," said Whitehorne.

"Jamaica is the only country from the Caribbean participating at this conference, and one of only a few countries from among the 15 with three representatives. Our involvement with three start-ups underscores the fact that what our developers and business minds are doing here can have a meaningful impact on the world," he continued.

Whitehorne will accompany one member from each of the three teams on the all expense-paid trip to Helsinki, Finland, between November 11 and 12. Each representative will pitch "their business plans to potential investors across Europe to raise capital that can rapidly accelerate their businesses", he said.

The Jamaicans will be competing against teams from Brazil, Armenia, China, South Africa, Kenya, and Vietnam, among others, who share similar hopes of attracting funding to move their businesses forward.

The Impact Accelerator is a global programme co-organised by Slush and the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, World Bank and InfoDev, and 15 partnering hubs from emerging markets across the globe. The Slushy region, where the bidding presentations will take place, is known for introducing technologies such as Linux, MySQL, Angry Birds, Spotify and Skype. Slush 2014 attracted more than 14,000 people with more than 3,500 companies for the two-day event. Included in the mix were 750 investors representing 140 venture capital funds.

Finland is also known for producing the famed cellphone brand Nokia.

Big deal

"The fact that we are carrying the Jamaican flag to Helsinki is a big deal on the international stage. Helsinki is one of the leading countries in the innovation space, so this is a validation of the level of competencies that exist within Jamaica, as a developing country," said Dr Andrea Barrett, lecturer at the Joan Duncan School of Entrepreneurship, Ethics and Leadership at the University of Technology, Jamaica.

She added: "Jamaica is always on a trajectory of innovation, but has not been recognised on the international stage. So when peers at an international level have validated the level of skillset and competencies, it speaks well for the level of our education and investments in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programme."

Dr Barrett was among a panel of judges who evaluated ten start-ups, whose entities were socially impacting, scalable and had some market traction, at a pitch session held in late July. The judging panel included Melanie Subratie, Musson Group deputy chairman; Ramon McLaren; and Whitehorne. The judges, along with Prof. Claremont Kirton, acting executive director, UWI Consulting, were on hand to congratulate the winning teams when the announcement was made at the General Accident boardroom on Friday, September 25, 2015.

PitchIT Caribbean is a part of the Entrepreneurship Programme for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC), funded by the Government of Canada and executed by InfoDev/World Bank, spanning 14 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, and is a regional partner of the Slush Global Impact Accelerator.

PitchIT Caribbean is designed to strengthen the Caribbean mobile innovation ecosystem and enable sustainable and competitive mobile enterprises to grow through activities that will target early-stage innovators and guide them to market readiness.


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