Jamaican startups are struggling to scale but solutions are on the way

By September 10, 2017

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2016 report recognized Jamaica as a country where  most people see many opportunities and hold entrepreneurs in high regard.

While Jamaicans are willing, and do engage in entrepreneurship, the data also shows that Jamaicans are afraid of failure and believe they lack the necessary skills for successful entrepreneurship. More importantly, the report also evidenced that few entrepreneurs expect to create jobs within five years, a fact linked to small-scale type of endeavors that are prevalent in the country.

“We are constantly looking for deals but the problem is scale”, explained Proven Group CEO Christopher Williams to The Gleaner.

In 2016, Proven Group tried to round up 100 startups in Jamaica and the surrounding islands to hear their pitches and assess their suitability for private equity investment. However, the group had to cancel the project when not a single one of the startups that applied reached the minimum required investment size.

Yet, there are still many startups that are finding their own way. For example, Book Fusion, an open global eBook platform for publishers and readers that was a finalist startup at Demand Solutions 2016, was named the “Startup with the Most Growth Potential” by Latam Startups and continues living up to the award’s title.

“Jamaica has natural advantages for us”, said Devlabs CEO Rubén Hernández. The VC firm has worked with Start-Up Jamaica winners in the past. “They are native English speakers, and the location is key, plus they are already developing an angel investor ecosystem, which is really important for follow-on investment”, he concluded.

So, not all bad news in the land of wood and water.

Hope for Jamaica’s entrepreneurial scene

The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship—Caribbean (BCoEC), a non-for-profit startup, is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs in the English-speaking Caribbean region develop and scale their ideas. The BCoEC started in 2013 with support from famous entrepreneur Richard Branson.

A recent relaunching for the center’s new location in Kingston further cemented its intentions to support the Caribbean entrepreneurial ecosystem for years to come. There, the center will continue to offer its incubator/accelerator program, where startups receive mentoring and support during their early stages.

In 2017, the BCoEC has closed deals with Proven Group and the National Commercial Bank Jamaica Limited to provide easier access to funding for the center’s selection of entrepreneurs.

Furthermore, the center handles grants with money provided by the Development Bank of Jamaica, and a partnership with Guinness & Co allows them to “distribute $120,000 in low-cost, collateral-free loans each year, as well as a special $10,000 grant for the Sir Arthur Social Entrepreneurship Award”.

Lissandra Rickards, CEO of the BCoEC during a speech.

Lissandra Rickards, CEO of the BCoEC.

For startups that do not make the cut, there is funding available as a no-collateral loan with a three-year repayment period and a mere 4% interest rate, explained Lissandra Rickards, CEO of the BCoEC during a speech.

Lissandra is also part of the Alpha Angels team of investors, who are interested in local startups. Additional capital can be seeked at the annual FundSME event, which aims to connect funding opportunities with promising Jamaican SMEs.

Jamaica is an island blessed with a privileged language, geographic location and a tight-knit network of investors who believe in the country’s potential. Realizing this potential depends on its ability to exploit these strengths and work closely with its government, in order to create an outward-oriented startup market that brings growth and innovation to the island.