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Entrepreneurs from T&T are among scores from across the region who have already signed on for an online accelerator programme due to be launched next month. Called CaribbeanStartups, the programme is aimed at revolutionising the region’s business ecosystem and positioning the Caribbean as a centre of innovation. It gets going on July 11 with the first quarterly sessions for regional entrepreneurs.
The training sessions will take place over three evenings from 7 pm to 9 pm. So far 89 startups have signed up for the inaugural session, with just a few days to go before the close of registration on June 30. The launch programme is free for the first 100 startups.
The driving force behind this venture is Christine Souffrant, a Haitian-American entrepreneur with more than seven years of business management experience who was is listed in the 2016 Forbes 30 Under 30 comprising young innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders who are transforming business, technology, finance, media, culture and more.
Creator of Vendedy, a mobile app that has transformed the lives of street vendors around the world, Souffrant, 26, is now focusing her energies on connecting Caribbean entrepreneurs to resources and best practices for global reach and success.
“The goal of CaribbeanStartups is to prepare Caribbean entrepreneurs for local impact and global influence via our quarterly online accelerator, demos with influential investors and partners, and resources,” she said, in a teleconference from New York.
“The Caribbean has a lot of great entrepreneurs but generally they don’t know how to link with the right investors and programmes.”
Souffrant, who graduated in 2011 from Dartmouth College, said, at present, only two per cent of the region has incubators and accelerators to support local businesses. Her aim is to bring that number to 100 per cent within the next few years by connecting Caribbean startups to global investors and networks.
Through the accelerator programme, participants will get training in business fundamentals, product management and how to manage opportunities. They will get guidance on how to position themselves as Caribbean entrepreneurs.
Commenting on the challenges most startups face, Souffrant explained: “Generally people don’t expect applicants from the Caribbean. They get rejected because they don’t know how to craft an application.”
At the end of the July accelerator, the top ten companies will be selected to pitch to investors.
“The aim is then to funnel all of our graduates to their respective country incubator/accelerator programmes. Which means, if we received 20 startups from Jamaica in our programme, once they complete our accelerator, we connect them to all incubators/accelerators/programmes in Jamaica,” Souffrant said.
In addition to the quarterly accelerator programmes, CaribbeanStartups will also be hosting monthly roundtable meetings of the region’s incubator community. The first one is scheduled for July 7 at 10am
“This is a way of linking Caribbean incubators, getting them to talk with each other and work together,” said Souffrant, who has set a target of 2020 for the centralising of all the resources and information of the Caribbean startup ecosystem in one place. This is essential, she said, if the region is to be established as a centre of innovation.
Born in New York, Souffrant’s entrepreneurial spirit was nurtured during her childhood in Haiti. Several generations of her family, including her mother and grandmother, were street vendors. That experience inspired her to found Vendedy, a unique network that allows vendors and artisans to sell their wares online using their mobile phones. The vendors take 80 per cent of the sale price, paid via text message once the product is delivered. Vendedy pockets 20 per cent, five per cent of which is spent on business’s costs.
The start-up was launched in 2014 while Souffrant was studying for a master’s degree in international business and social entrepreneurship at Hult International Business School in Dubai. Global experience gained as a Bill Gates Millennium Scholar—she visited 22 countries in four years—helped Souffrant fine tune her plans for Vendedy.
She said: “It was an amazing opportunity. In every country I went, I interviewed street vendors.”
She also did a term at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in St Augustine where, she said, for the first time she “got the college experience.”
In fact, it was in T&T that Souffrant got the inspiration for CaribbeanStartups while facilitating a workshop at the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business.
On May 24, she sent out emails inviting startups to be part of the first accelerator programme. Startups already registered represent a range of sectors, from agriculture to tourism and social media. Souffrant is excited by the responses for far.
“My goal is to co-ordinate the entire Caribbean startup ecosystem.”
More information on the accelerator programme and roundtable meeting is available at caribbeanstartups.com.
Some of the startup founders who will be joining the July accelerator are:
• Ain Earle, of T&T, The Fashion Arch, a brand-consulting entity aimed at assisting designers with branding, quality control, promotions as well as ensuring their work is well-known and accepted by clients, buyers and retailers. Fashion Arch curates, creates and promotes a brand story that produces a connection between each piece/product/service and its customer.
• Wagging Brands Ltd of T&T, is the Caribbean’s first pet-care technology based company. Its products are Wagging Box, a pet care subscription box and Wagging Pal, a pet adoption mobile application on Android and iOS.
• Kerry-Ann Reid-Brown, of Jamaica, Carry On Friends. Using the power of technology and her voice to unify and inform the Caribbean diaspora, Kerry-Ann has combined her extensive knowledge, expertise and life experiences, to equip the Caribbean American community with the resources and content that informs, inspires.
• Renee Williams, of Jamaica, Pzaz Photography a full-fledged, one-stop-shop mobile, go-green, creative studio that incorporates other creative arts and thrives on innovation, creativity and continuous improvement.
• Pierre Stanley Baptiste, of Haiti, Ayisyen Pozitif (Positive Haitians), a publishing platform and monthly event which trains, motivates and inspirex future leaders and entrepreneurs in Haiti.The company uses Haitian creole o leverage content to a larger audience.Guest speakers are small business owners who are not well-known, but are very successful. The vision is to develop an App where young Haitians can access Haitian creole resources to help them improve as leaders and entrepreneurs. www.ayisyenpozitif.com