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Dr Atul Wad:Plenty potential in agriculture
T&T has many companies and businesses with a strong information technology base, as well as many innovative entrepreneurs who are looking for opportunities.
However, as a small developing country, its companies and businesses need technical help in marketing, research, technology and financing, says Dr Atul Wad, president, Tambourine Innovation Ventures, a company based in the United States.
Wad will be a speaker at the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) First Pillar event next Thursday.
IDB launched its Unfollow: Same Never Made a Difference campaign in November 2017, to support dissemination of its 2016-2020 Country Strategy Trinidad & Tobago. The campaign seeks to reach the wider public in a meaningful and activating way, highlighting the need to be different and disruptive, while promoting change, collaboration, idea generation and innovation from all sectors of society.
Wad has more than 30 years of experience in sustainability, entrepreneurship, technology management, innovation, and business strategy. His career has spanned private sector, not-for-profits, academia, multilateral development banks (MDBs), international organizations such as UN, and the venture capital industry.
Despite the present challenges, Wad is optimistic T&T can diversify its economy.
“Trinidad and Tobago has a very strong entrepreneurial economy that needs to be supported,” he said.
“Trinidad and Tobago has a fairly strong base of technical expertise. What is needed is active Government support and of course money is needed. The banking institutions in the Caribbean are not prone to taking risks.”
According to Wad, there is a legacy economic structure in T&T that has been dominated by the energy sector to the exclusion of other sectors.
“Now there is an effort by the Government to re-balance the economy away from its over dependence on oil, which I think is a very good thing,” he said.
While he see potential in some areas earmarked for diversification, such as agriculture and health, Wad is less optimistic about other areas such as the maritime sector and aviation.
“I tried to make sense as to why aviation technology is important as a diversification strategy for Trinidad and Tobago. Does Trinidad and Tobago want to become the NASA of the Caribbean? Does Trinidad and Tobago want to become like airplane manufacturer Boeing? What’s the motivation? I couldn’t get a handle on it to be honest,” he said.
Wad’s company is studying the crops of T&T searching for potential for value added in the agriculture sector.
“When I say value added, I do not mean taking papaya (paw paw) and selling the juice. You could take local Scorpion Pepper and extract its contents which can be used for different applications in the food industry, for pain killers. If done properly, it can be used as an important revenue stream,” he explained.
He said the development of the agriculture sector can produce many jobs and it has export potential.
The health sector is another good area to diversify the economy into and there are opportunities in education sector and aquaculture, he said.
Wad has been involved in the Caribbean for two decades mainly in the areas of science and technology.
“We have worked in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, St Lucia. Belize and now Guyana. We know the region well. We work in the public sector in regional organisations such as Caricom, the University of the West Indies and Cariri in T&T,” he said.
His company is also involved in projects supported by the IDB related to innovation, entrepreneurship and technological change.
Wad’s relationship with Cariri goes back many years and he spoke about a project that he is working on with them in technology intelligence.
He asked: “How do you go about finding out where are the sources of technology that can provide solutions to challenges being faced in Trinidad and Tobago?”
Smaller companies in T&T and around the world just don’t have the expertise to find and develop the latest technology, he explained
“They don’t know where to look, they don’t know how to talk to the people, they don’t know how to relate. This is important in getting the private sector in Trinidad and Tobago more innovative.”
Cariri’s employees are currently being trained and the next stage is implementing a unit there that provides technology for the benefit of local companies. Wad is also working with 20 local companies identified under another IDB programme.
“Our responsibility is to identify innovative companies in Trinidad and Tobago and help them to move forward with whatever assistance they need, such as marketing, technology, financing and so on. There are companies working on blockchain and that’s impressive so there are smart entrepreneurs in T&T,” he said.
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