Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 8th 2016 Contents DECEMBER 8 • 2016 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
NEWS | BG5
Finding the region's next
self-made mobile app
Start-up culture is all the rage.
Globally, business incubators
and start-up hubs abound with
venture capitalists lining up in
droves eager to find and fund the
next big thing or create the next
Even in T&T, there is a television programme
that has plugged into the start-up craze with
investors looking to "plant seeds" that can
germinate and blossom into businesses while
providing a healthy return on their investment.
Not wanting to be left out of the action, the
government in its 2017 budget presentation
announced its intention to fuel the startups by
announcing it would invite enterprising citi-
zens with innovative business ideas to present
to a panel of successful businessmen, with
the top five projects annually each receiving
On the regional front, cranking the start-up
engine further is the Caribbean Mobile Inno-
vation Project (CMIP), more familiarly known
as PitchIt Caribbean. What makes this pro-
ject unique is its very specific focus: its aim
is to find, develop and finance entrepreneurs
creating applications for the mobile (smart-
Launched in 2014, the project is a collab-
orative effort among the World Bank, the
government of Canada (which provides the
funding), UWI Mona School of Business and
UWI Consulting. PitchIt Caribbean began
its first phase of entrepreneurial support in
The proliferation of smartphones available
today has led to a rapid expansion of business-
es and entrepreneurs developing mobile ap-
plications (apps) to cater to every aspect of a
smartphone user's life.
App developers from the Caribbean are part
of the global ecosystem of entrepreneurs de-
veloping products for the mobile ICT space.
The CMIP taps into this world by creating a
competitive forum in which 25 startups from
across the region present their products to a
panel of judges at pitch events who determine
the investment merit of their ideas. The five
top ideas will receive US$5,000 in seed funding
to build out their idea.
Speaking with the Business Guardian at
the project's most recent "pitch" event at the
Trinidad Hilton Hotel in Port-of-Spain, CIMP
project manager Bianca Welds said implemen-
tation of the programme began in February this
year and the plan is to start a new round every
"As far as funding goes, we provide funding
directly to the five winners of our challenge.
So we already had one round of the challenge
which took place in June in Jamaica, where the
five winners received the US$5,000 funding
with the second round taking place here in
Trinidad," said Welds.
She also noted that outside of the funding
aspect, there were other activities designed
to assist the budding entrepreneurs.
"There are other activities that organisations
can benefit from. We have an online training
programme which actually precedes our chal-
lenge. So the impact is much broader than just
the funding," she said.
Commenting on the regional nature of the
project, Welds noted that though primarily
domiciled in Jamaica, the CMIP collaborates
extensively with several regional partners.
She said: "The project operates with a two-
tiered structure whereby we have our central
teams stationed in Jamaica, but we work with
what we call "M-Hubs" in several Caribbean
countries who help to implement the activities
on a local level.
"So, currently, we work with Cariri in
Trinidad, the Barbados Coalition of Service
Industries , the National Telecommunications
Regulations Commission in Dominica and
Quintessence Consulting in St Kitts."
Focusing on Trinidad, Welds noted the in-
volvement of corporate entities in providing
"For the purposes of the event here in Trin-
idad, Republic Bank has come on with us as a
sponsor, and we worked with Launch Rockit
here in Trinidad to actually execute the event."
With so many avenues available in the tech-
nology space for business development, the
project's focus on mobile is illustrative of the
fact that more and more technology is being
consumed across mobile platforms.
Questioned about the focus on mobile,
Welds, herself a computer science graduate,
said: "CMIP focuses on mobile because the
World Bank had identified mobile as one of the
areas that had potential to stimulate economic
development in the Caribbean."
Since the project is relatively new, companies
that have participated and received funding,
are still building out and scaling up there ideas.
That said, Welds pointed out that a couple had
received foreign interest.
"Of the five winners, one of them had already
begun discussions with some angel investors
and they have received additional investment.
Of the others, a couple of them have started
to get some interest from investors and we got
them across to San Francisco and we have set up
some meetings for them. So they have started
to receive international interest."
Given the set up of the CMIP, only five
companies in any cycle can receive funding.
However, Welds pointed out that even though
a particular company may not have received
funding from the project, all was not lost for
those valiant entrepreneurs to continue push-
ing their idea further.
"There are a couple of different ways we ap-
proach this. Generally speaking, we are build-
ing out a community so we have an alumni pro-
gramme that is being developed to continue to
provide them (non-winners) with networking
opportunities, funding opportunities and gen-
eral information and resource sharing. We're
even partnering with other organisations to
see if we can funnel some of the other start
ups across so that they can get the necessary
support to keep their business ideas going."
The game of mobile app development is
played on a global scale. Every year com-
panies in Silicon Valley, the US heartland of
technological development, are formed with
the purpose of either satisfying some need or
uncovering ones that consumers didn't realise
With that as the back drop, Caribbean de-
velopers must be able to compete at this level
given the limited size of the regional market.
Probed about the ability of regional devel-
opers to compete in the global landscape, the
40-year-old University of Miami MBA gradu-
ate said: "Our programme and many others in
the regional tech space have been encouraging
start ups to not limit themselves when coming
up with ideas and starting to build out their
companies to something that is super specific
to just their country. What we have encouraged
them to do is identify problems that are shared
across the region and globally."
As far as competing with the giants of Sili-
con Valley, Welds feels regional start ups have
all the right ingredients to wrestle with the
"Some of the feedback we got from the first
challenge was that the level of the pitches and
quality of the ideas were very competitive. So
what that says to us is that it is really an is-
sue of exposure more than anything else so
that people outside the Caribbean can know
what's being developed here and how globally
competitive it is." See After Hours on Page 23
Bianca Welds, project manager for CMIP at the
project's most recent "pitch" event at the
Trinidad Hilton Hotel and Conference Centre in
Port-of-Spain. PHOTO: DION ROACH
Ayana St Louis pitches her business idea 'D Carnival Scene' to judges, at
PitchIT Caribbean Challenge Mobile Startup Battle Competition at Hilton
Hotel, St Ann's on Saturday evening.
Members of the judging panel: Rodney Browne, left, managing director
eCaribbean Ltd, with JJ Geewax, Google API Developer; Opal Levy, network
manager, Alpha Angels; Yudistre Vinni Jonas, Microsoft account
technology strategist, and Brevard Nelson, director & CEO, Caribbean Ideas
Ltd. PHOTO: DION ROACH
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