Caribbean people are full of ideas that could make a great business or change the world. Too often, however, there isn't the time, resources, connections or skills to bring those dreams to life.
Startup Weekend was designed with just that hurdle in mind. Backed by the U.S.-based non-profit Kauffman Foundation, the event's Caribbean debut was in Haiti after the 20107.0-magnitude earthquake devastated the country. Since then, it has been rolled out in Puerto Rico (October 2011, Oct 2013), Trinidad and Tobago (May 22-24), Jamaica (Oct 4-6), Martinique (Nov 29 to Dec 1).
Startup Weekend brings dreamers together with people with the technical and business skills to turn those dreams into successful small businesses--all in just three days.
Wikipedia describes a startup as "a company, partnership or temporary organisation designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model". Some 82 startup enthusiasts showed up at One Woodbrook Place on November 22 for T&T's second Startup Weekend. Twenty-six of them pitched their ideas in sixty seconds to an audience of fellow startup participants. Each pitch sought to explain the core business idea and outline what skills a team would need to in order to bring the vision to life.
One participant, David Hamilton, lit up the crowd when he rapped his one-minute pitch about an idea for a music streaming site (We Music).
Once the pitches were made, the next step was the self-selection of the most viable ideas. This was done very quickly by crowd voting, a process intended to simulate the much slower--and arguably, more devastating--real-world process of customer validation. In the startup world, generally only the ideas with the most traction go forward.
Colin Ali of TriniTrolley reminded the attendees of some struggles that typically await startups, but encouraged them to stick to what they believed in and persevere through the difficult times to achieve their dreams. The top ten ideas with the most votes were announced and teams formed around them, and the work began.
Over the course of the weekend, participants had access to a dozen or so coaches who gave advice on marketing, legal, business strategy, graphic design and software development, as the teams tried to refine their core ideas and build workable business models around them. Startup Weekends are known to be intense, as teams must learn to work together from the very first day, leveraging individual strengths into a group effort, to nurture one central business idea until it is ready to be presented on the evening of the final day.
As one participant, Ismail Barton said, "Quite a lot can be accomplished in a short period of time. It's easier to start a business than most people think".
The teams made their presentations on Sunday evening to a panel of judges that included Derek Chin of MovieTowne, Derrick Lewis of Island People, Kim Mallalieu of The University of the West Indies, and Claude Marshall of DMS Digital and Byte Academy.
E-Sports Caribbean League (ESCL), a company aiming to standardise digital and online gaming in the Caribbean by hosting tournaments and ranking users emerged as first-place winners.
"It has pushed me to actually start. I have been only thinking and procrastinating with the idea. Now that I have people watching my back I am forced to get it off the ground," said Kevin Lee-A-Ping of ESCL.
In second place was the Play Whe on the Go team, whose company aimed to allow users to play the game from the convenience and comfort of their mobile phones, anywhere in the world.
TOUT, a mobile application aimed to make people's daily commute easier, won third place, while Shabbac Sweet Potato Flour won the audience prize.
Capitalising on Global Entrepreneurship Week, which ran from November 15 to 24, over 200 cities across the world also hosted their own Startup Weekends from which teams would be selected to compete with each other in an international competition called the Global Startup Battle. From T&T, two teams submitted video presentations of their ideas to the Global Startup Battle: ESCL and Team Ah See, whose company aimed to create a mobile application to improve communication with the hearing impaired.
Events like Startup Weekend are not a final destination but a point of departure for entrepreneurs. ESCL has already started preparing for its first gaming tournament, which is scheduled to take place in the near future.