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Start-Up Jamaica ready for 'tech-preneur' pitches

Published:Wednesday | July 9, 2014 | 12:00 AM
State minister in the Ministry of Science Technology Energy and Mining, Julian Robinson. - File

Richard Browne, Business Reporter

A new initiative to jump-start Jamaica's entrepreneurial tech sector is now up and running and is taking lessons from countries as diverse as Chile, Vietnam and Jordan.

Start-Up Jamaica (SUJ), whose website was launched last week, is a government initiative, based on the success of Start-Up Chile.

It is designed to help entrepreneurs transform business ideas over a period of about four months into effective business plans capable of attracting investment.

"This is how we are going to earn foreign exchange for our country," said Julian Robinson, minister of state in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, at the launch of the website at the annual PSOJ/JMMB Economic Forum in Kingston last Thursday.

Start-Up Chile is also a state-backed programme launched in 2010 to attract early-stage, high-potential entrepreneurs on an international scale "to bootstrap their start-ups".

In Jamaica, tech-savvy entrepreneurs will follow a 100-day accelerator programme which will allow them to turn an idea into a business plan, to then attract investment from an angel investor, Robinson said.

"We will challenge the entrepreneurs to look beyond the shores of Jamaica or even the Caribbean," Robinson said.

There are many ideas out there, but the tech entrepreneurs will need mentors, as many "have never run a business in their lives," he said.

By the time the winners approach investors for funding, the accelerator process will have removed a lot of the risk associated with investing in untested entrepreneurs, Robinson said.

Persons must apply to the SUJ programme.

There is a seven-stage process, which starts with entrepreneurs outlining their idea in 140 characters or less. Approved applicants will then enter a boot camp in September and will get a contribution of US$30,000, including US$14,000 in cash.

One member of the team has to be full-time, Robinson said, and will need to survive on those funds for 100 days or so.

Private-sector review

Members of the private sector will be invited to view the pitches that come out of the process.

"I want to encourage you to view this as a viable investment option," Robinson told participants at the PSOJ forum.

Robinson hopes that SUJ can learn from Flappy Bird, a successful free game app that was developed in Vietnam in 2013 and made some US$50,000 per day from in-app advertisements in early 2014.

Flappy Bird has since been discontinued.

The game, which featured a little bird trying to get through an obstacle course without dropping dead, was considered overly addictive and received a lot of complaints. Tiring of the complaints, the developer retired the game in February despite its success.

However, he has developed other games, such as Ironpants and Super Ball Juggling, which have also been having success, though not as addictive. Other games have tried to take the space left by Flappy Bird, with names like Floppy Bird and Flappy Plane.

The SUJ programme will allow successful technology entrepreneurs to get seed financing, mentorship, support guidance and other services, in exchange for an equity stake in their company.

The project is supported by the World Bank, with funding from the Development Bank of Jamaica. Oasis 500, a Jordan-based company, will provide the seed investment for the entrepreneurs.

Oasis started in September 2010, with a focus in the areas of digital media, mobile technologies, ICT and digital content. It has invested in more than 70 technology companies and has trained more than 1,500 people in 30 boot camps.

Successful entrepreneurs will get physical space from which to operate on two floors at the Jamaica National Building Society offices on Duke Street in Kingston, and internet connectivity through LIME Jamaica.