Ja Venture Capital Programme aims to lead LAC by 2020

Coordinator of the Jamaica Venture Capital Programme (JVCP) Audrey Richards is predicting that by 2020 Jamaica's start-up ecosystem will be among the best in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Our vision is that Jamaica will be among the top three entrepreneurship and innovation hubs in the Caribbean and Central America by 2020,” she said, addressing an audience gathered for the recent launch of the National Business Model Competition (NBMC) at the Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston.

“As many of you may know, the DBJ's (Development Bank of Jamaica) venture capital programme really focuses on the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem, or development of a private equity and venture capital industry in Jamaica. But, most importantly, in developing an industry, in developing a market, you have to develop all aspects of the market; whether the demand side, the supply side or the environment in which you're operating,” Richard also stated.

Building such an environment, she argued, depended on the legal and regulatory framework that encourages the pooling of capital through venture capital, angel investors and private equity funds, which support entrepreneurship, as well as increasing and improving the knowledge of entrepreneurs.

Despite the availability of funds to underwrite start-up ventures, Richards underscored the challenge investors find to pinpoint businesses that are “investment-ready”.

“When we speak with the suppliers of capital, there is no dearth in the supply of capital. What they lack is the kind of deal flow that they can actually be able to employ that capital. So the investigative, investment [and] investor-ready idea is really the critical part of the work we're doing,” Richards remarked.

However, she suggested two ways in which start-ups can become investment-ready, one of which was the critical roles universities play in fostering entrepreneurship.

“If you look across the world, it's the university town, it's the university hubs that have been really a major source of the innovation, and I believe that Jamaica is no different,” The JVCP coordinator said.

“It would be great to see more students from across all faculties, including more graduate students, being supported by the universities in commercialisation of research and building out new businesses and technology,” she added.

In its fifth year, the NBMC is geared toward encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship at the tertiary level. Some 1,200 students from across four tertiary institutions — The University of the West Indies; University of Technology, Jamaica; Northern Caribbean University, and the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts — are provided with the opportunity to test and fine-tune their business concepts using the DBJ's 'business model canvas'.

Business modelling is a management tool that is geared toward reducing the failure of start-ups. Differing from a business plan, it focuses on interacting with potential customers to gain their feedback, then pivoting and reassessing the original business concept based on lessons learnt and customer feedback.

And Richards is of the view that “more persons, not just students, can develop their businesses in a systematic way (using the business model canvas), which augurs well for the ability of more businesses to access funding”.

She reasoned that continued collaboration is needed among academia, private sector and public sector to ensure the continued and future success of start-ups. In addition, she highlighted the importance that technology will play if Jamaica is to become more innovative.

“Internet of things will see our lives being run even more from our smartphones,” Richards said.

She continued: “As Jamaica cannot be left behind, for the next five years I would like to challenge all stakeholders to make use of the business model training, not just in competition, but in new businesses, which can arise from greater investment in the promotion of research and technology.”

While noting that there are Jamaicans on the cutting edge of technology in New York, Silicon Valley, Toronto, and London, Richards expressed being even more proud of those entrepreneurs and innovators who are locally based.

“But I'm sure all of us recognise that they operate and persevere under many constraints,” she explained. The support systems have been expanding, but a lot more needs to be done and, at the DBJ, we are putting major emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation.”

The work, she said, has begun with the partnerships between the DBJ and “university incubators, which can support student-run businesses, including the commercialisation of research”.

The NBMC will be held on March 22 and 23. Fourteen teams of student entrepreneurs at the tertiary level will compete for cash prizes of up to $4 million and an all-expense-paid trip for the winner to represent Jamaica at the International Business Model Competition.