More international investment for Jamaican tech start-ups

BY KARENA BENNETT Business reporter bennettk@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, May 23, 2015

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JAMAICAN tech entrepreneurs continue to get more support from international investors as Start-Up Jamaica rolls out a second set of participants for seed funding.

What's more, California-based accelerator company Devlabs will top the previous funding set by Jordan company Oasis500 to up to $5 million in cash and business support for each successful local start-up seeking to solve social and economic problems, whether nationally, regionally or globally.

The second pitch got underway last Thursday and saw 10 companies from Start-Up Jamaica, the University of Technology and Northern Caribbean University making five-minute pitches to Devlabs co-founders Ruben Hernandez and Jose Lopes at the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) building on Duke Street in downtown Kingston.

Devlabs incubates tech start-up companies founded by outlier entrepreneurs from small cities and rural towns around the world. It expects to select the winning companies over the next few months.

Last September, the Government and the World Bank inked a deal with Oasis500 for seed funding of up to US$30,000 ($3.48 million) for each participant under the Youth Employment in Digital and Creative Industries (YEDCI) project.

Start-Up Jamaica is a key element in a strategy developed by the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining to help innovators and entrepreneurs in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean to grow their ideas into marketable products and services, thus contributing to economic growth, increasing employment, and generating foreign exchange.

Technology creators

The strategy aims to transform Jamaicans from being technology consumers to technology creators over the next few years, and to position Jamaica as the hub for entrepreneurship and innovation in the Caribbean.

Start-Up Jamaica conducts a 45-hour intensive boot camp, welcoming potential entrepreneurs in the areas of digital media, mobile technologies, ICT and digital content at its incubator facility at JNBS. The programme provides participants with key skills and technology, business, management, legal and accounting support they need to prepare them to pitch to equity investors and receive investment to grow their businesses.

Following the training, three start-up projects, RevoFarm, CrimeBot and the Vinelist, were selected from a pool of 60 potential entrepreneurs to benefit from seed funding and a trip to the company's headquarters in Jordan last March.

The tech companies have been benefiting from a 100-day training initiative, which saw Oasis500 planned investment come in the form of cash, mentorship, training, and other business support. In exchange, the Middle Eastern development company has the opportunity to take up to a 20 per cent stake in each start-up.

The new partnership with Devlabs is expected to take the same form.

Currently, the participating start-ups include developers of mobile and social media games Pandasoft; online wholesale club Pantrypan; social shopping platform and two-time participant Vinelist; electronic farm monitoring system Smart Farm; Jamaica Care Packages, which delivers monthly care packages to members of the Jamaican Diaspora; and DaiMangou, a platform for game developers -- all from Start-Up Jamaica.

Seek, an android application for job seekers, also entered the programme from the Northern Caribbean University, along with
iTech Student Information Management System. From the University of Technology, Jamaica, Callin Russell pitched JaApps Medical, while Stephen Smith and Rickardo Hyde pitched Working Enigma.

Start-Up Jamaica will be open to another 60 applicants over the next two months.


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