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Jamaican start-up company helping young tech entrepreneurs

A START-UP company in Jamaica is helping young technology entrepreneurs develop innovative products and services for the local and international markets.

Start-Up Jamaica (SUJ), an initiative of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (MSTEM), was launched in June 2014 and staged its first boot camp in September of the same year.

Chief Entrepreneurship Officer (CEO) of SUJ, Mark Hugh Sam, said the start-ups that participated in the boot camp focused on aggressive product development and sales strategies to get their business ideas to a point where the proposed product, or service, is commercially viable, prior to seeking investment.

"The idea is to prove the products locally and to export them globally. So, the ideas behind Start-Up Jamaica are global ideas. What we did was to modify the ideas to get them to create a minimal viable product," he said.

For one week at the camp, representatives from the US-based start-up incubator/accelerator firm, Devlabs, facilitated training sessions with the tech teams in basic business and software development.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is to be signed between SUJ and Devlabs in 2016 to formalise the partnership.
Meanwhile, state minister in the ministry, Julian Robinson, said the boot camp has given rise to a number of positive developments.

"What we focused on was getting their ideas or concepts to a stage where they had something that could be sold. In fact, some of them started to sell from the boot camp. They made contact with other companies, and some partnerships were formed. It was extremely positive in terms of the outcome," he said.

More than 40 start-ups from several countries in the Caribbean participated in the boot camp. Of that number, 25 successfully completed the programme requirements, and 15 of them will be selected to advance to the acceleration/incubation phase.

During that phase, the teams will engage in a number of business-development initiatives to better align their products and services with international markets, and learn how to operate in a global environment.

As part of the selection process, the teams were required to prove minimum viability of the proposed product or service by selling these to local businesses.

The CEO reported that the teams achieved this objective, as the start-ups struck new deals with investors from the Caribbean, Canada and the United States, valued at US$6 million.

The SUJ selection committee is evaluating the teams to determine the finalists to advance to the accelerator/incubation phase of the programme.

A key feature of the SUJ's incubation/acceleration programme is the international exchange programme that is being developed to enable participants to get first-hand experience of these markets, so they will be able to align their services with the demands of these areas.

The incubation aspect of the programme will be conducted in Jamaica over a three-month period. This will be followed by the acceleration period, which is also slated to run for three months. At this stage, the start-ups will work with local and international mentors and companies to increase sales of their products and services.

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