Tech entrepreneur calls for greater local financial support
ROSE HALL, St James — Larren Peart, chief executive officer (CEO) at local data analytics firm Bluedot, is urging local financiers to invest in the tech industry. While he noted that more banks are willing to invest in the sector, Peart wants to see more financial support for individuals and enterprises trying to get a foothold in the industry.
“We need more investors to value tech. Right now, if you bring a pitch to an investor for real estate for $20 million dollars and you bring a $20-million pitch for tech to the same investor, they are going to pick the real estate investment because Jamaican investors don’t value tech as much,” Peart told the Jamaica Observer on the sidelines of Tech Beach Retreat which was held last week at Iberostar in Montego Bay.
Peart spoke of how he had to grow his business on his own, and how slow the process was in the early days. He said a lot of other entities give up equity in their business so as to get going, or take on debt — which can be destabilising at times.
According to Peart, he is looking forward to a change in the way the sector is viewed, and believes that will only come with increased knowledge.
“We need some investors and we need the banks to understand how to value intellectual property. Right now I might go [to an investor or bank] with some code that is valuable but they don’t know how to value that,” the Bluedot CEO stated. “You have to carry a piece of land, or some equipment, or a car, and so that is how they collateralise it because the current ecosystem does not know how to value intellectual property and how to value tech companies — and that’s a big problem that we have,” Peart lamented.
Other jurisdictions, he said, have caught on and are already reaping the benefits.
“Overseas companies get funded with a business plan — they call it seed funding — just based on an idea. Here [in Jamaica] you have to show traction, you have to show money in your bank account, all of these things [you have] to prove first — and that is part of the problem,” he said.
“A man that has an idea, it’s very hard for him to go and get funding, which is not what happens in the States. We need that type of ecosystem to be built and for investors to trust an entrepreneur that he or she has what it takes to give them that return on investment,” he added.
The tech mogul was, however, keen to point out that while the desired level of support is lacking, there are a few entities willing to help develop tech.
“The Development Bank of Jamaica [DBJ], I was a recipient of the IGNITE grant in, I think 2018. That helped us a lot. DBJ also has the collateral programme where they provide up to 80 per cent collateral for businesses through some banks,” Peart shared.
“They have been very helpful, actually. They have patents, they have grants, and have that collateral programme that has been useful for entrepreneurs,” he added.
DBJ was present at the retreat, and its Acting Managing Director David Wan used the opportunity to urge individuals who need support to reach out to the bank. He touted the DBJ’s Boosting Innovation, Growth and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem (BIGEE) as a way for small business entrepreneurs to access support needed.
“We’re using BIGEE to say to Jamaica’s tech entrepreneurs, and other thought leaders and visionaries like you in the audience, ‘Go ahead [and] dream, dream big! Launch your innovative business, grow your business, export not just products but services as well,’ ” Wan said.
The BIGEE programme is expected to provide support to about 1,500 Jamaicans by 2025. Through the initiative they will be provided with training, grants, and other forms of assistance.