Richard Browne, Business Reporter
Jamaica is well known for its proliferation of entrepreneurs, with market vendors and informal traders standing out in their ability to eke a living on their own in a struggling economy.
But that will not cut it in the world of venture capital, which is on the look-out for "Bolt entrepreneurs" - normally referred to as gazelles - who can "think big", according to Paul Ahlstrom, a US entrepreneur and venture capital investor.
"You don't know where the next Bill Gates is going to come from," he said.
For successful entrepreneurs, venture financing of between US$500,000 and US$1 million, can come in at the third stage in a start-up after the 'sweat equity' of the company founders and 'seed financing' from their friends and relatives.
Ahlstrom said that international venture capitalists like himself seek high growth, high-impact companies with growth rates in the region of 30 per cent year-on-year. To achieve that, Jamaican entrepreneurs will have to "think outside the island and think globally," he said.
Ahlstrom, the head of Alta Ventures, first stressed that message at the venture-capital conference hosted by the Development Bank of Jamaica on September 9, and again two days later at a Gleaner Editors' Forum.
"These are the type we like to focus on," he said at the forum. "We're okay with failure - investing US$50,000 and losing it. That's not failure; that's learning."
Creating that kind of entrepreneur requires a cultural shift, where people will create a product or service that is aimed to a market of 50 million people or more, Ahlstrom said.
"You need to think big - limited only by creativity," he said.
Jamaican entrepreneurs could look at: the IT sector, e-education, clean technology, digital security and health care - especially anything connected to the mapping of the human genome," he said at the Editors' Forum. That would include the idea of genetic counselling which could become a profitable new industry.
"There is no physical barrier to create an Internet business that can reach the world," said Ahlstrom. He pointed to Owlet and Xoompark as two new businesses with great ideas. Owlet - to launch later this year - enables parents to monitor their baby's health with a smartphone; while Xoompark provides a simple, fast way for drivers to book parking online for various events and locations.
With Jamaica's abundance of solar energy, a business that sells hot water from solar heaters, rather than the heaters themselves is "something I would fund," the venture capitalist said.
Ahlstrom, a serial entrepreneur and author, said "Every two years since I was a kid, I have created a company and then sold it or closed it". His book is called Nail It Then Scale It: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Creating and Managing Breakthrough Innovation.
As a venture capitalist, he has invested "in more than 100 companies in the last 10 years" and raised more than US$100 million in seed capital. About 90 per cent of the companies he invests in are outside of the United States, in countries such as Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico.
Ahlstrom is also co-founder of Alta Ventures Mexico which is an early-stage venture-capital fund. Based in Monterey, Alta Ventures Mexico provides seed, venture and growth capital to companies targeting high-growth markets.