The seven-year, CAN$20 million program, which is an initiative of the World Bank Group and sponsored by the government of Canada, is making a marked impact on the Caribbean entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“We are steadily strengthening the capacity of business enablers and local angel investors, and increasing the number of investable growth-oriented entrepreneurs,” said Ganesh Rasagam, Practice Manager of the World Bank Group’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Unit. “We are also very encouraged at the increasing number of female entrepreneurs who continue to figure prominently in our program. Overall, over 600 women stakeholders, including 437 women entrepreneurs, benefited from targeted outreach and engagements activities during the last financial year which ended June 30, 2016.”
EPIC was designed to contribute to increased competitiveness, growth, and job creation in the Caribbean region through the development of a robust and vibrant innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. The program focuses on the areas of mobile innovation, climate technology, and women-led entrepreneurship, and is carried out by infoDev, a fund within the World Bank Group’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Unit.
Entrepreneurs have benefited from a variety of services provided through EPIC, including in-depth training, skills development, and advisory services. These services are complemented by an access to finance facility for Caribbean entrepreneurs and a skills upgrading and capacity development program for all ecosystem stakeholders.
Caribbean Mobile Innovation Project: Developing World-Class Digital Start-Ups
The Caribbean Mobile Innovation Project (CMIP), which is carried out by the University of the West Indies and partners, now boasts a central innovation lab and four satellite hubs across the Caribbean. The project has successfully launched several regional activities, including PitchIT Caribbean regional hackathons and the PitchIT Caribbean Challenge, in which hundreds of digital entrepreneurs have participated.
PitchIT Caribbean also facilitated the participation of top regional entrepreneurs at Slush, Europe’s leading start-up event held annually in Helsinki, Finland.
“This year, we are extremely proud that three of the region’s best digital start-ups will have the enviable opportunity to showcase their skills to the world at Slush,” said Bianca Welds, a project manager for the program.
Caribbean Climate Innovation Center (CCIC): Launching Greentech Start-Up Bootcamps and the GreenTech Accelerator
The Caribbean Climate Innovation Center (CCIC) supports innovative businesses and entrepreneurs involved in developing locally appropriate solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The center has been implemented by technical partners in Trinidad and Jamaica.
“We recently rolled out a new suite of CCIC services and idea generation workshops, and staged GreenTech Bootcamps in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago,” said Marcia Henry, a project manager for the center. “Several more GreenTech Bootcamps – dubbed the Caribbean GreenTech Startup Bootcamp: Island Hop Series – are now underway.”
The program also introduced the first Caribbean LaunchIT GreenTech Proof of Concept Accelerator, Henry added. “These programs are the first of their kind in the region and will go a long way in helping to foster the development of clean technology companies and solutions in the region.”
Female Entrepreneurship is Rising
The Women Innovators Network in the Caribbean (WINC), which engages technology-oriented women working in higher-growth sectors, successfully launched its acceleration program with 108 women entrepreneurs across 12 CARICOM countries. Several of the entrepreneurs involved with the program have been showcased at global events. One entrepreneur was Kenia Mattis, founder of Listen Mi, who was a finalist at a pitching competition during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley.
Access to Finance: Growing the Regional Angel and Investor Community
The Caribbean Investment Facilitation Program was formally launched in Barbados in September 2016. The program, which is carried out by the Caribbean Export Development Agency, supports the development of a structured business angel investing ecosystem in the Caribbean through the creation of a Regional Angel Investor Network (RAIN) and the distribution of co-investment and investment readiness grants. RAIN’s online angel investing platform connects promising companies with business angels and other early-stage investors.
With over 70 major players, the regional angel investor community continues to grow and is actively engaged with the program. There are now several formalized angel groups in the region. Five equity investments and one loan were made by EPIC-supported angel groups, totaling US$548,800 for the reporting period ending June 30, 2016. Additionally, enablers and entrepreneurs in the emerging ecosystem are benefiting from regular training programs on engaging with investors.
The access to finance program also launched a free 8-week online course on crowdfunding. The course, which admitted more than 250 students following a competitive application process, shares lessons on how to raise capital from a large group of people, pilot new entrepreneurial ideas, and grow small- and medium-sized enterprises. Following the end of course in November, the top 15 graduates will be invited to a specialized coaching program to launch their crowdfunding campaigns.
“It fills a gap for those traditionally marginalized segments of the region’s population that have been previously considered ‘unbankable’ and ‘unprofitable,’” Rasagam said.
Accelerate Caribbean: Helping Business Enablers Deliver Better Services to Entrepreneurs
Accelerate Caribbean hosted a 12-month Business Incubation Clinic, including a study tour to the United States and Canada, for 10 business enablers from across the region. The clinic has prepared these incubators to deliver better services to entrepreneurs.
Overall, Accelerate Caribbean has engaged more than one thousand people in promoting entrepreneurship, trained 140 people in business incubator management skills, and engaged more than 200 stakeholders from governments, business support organizations, and academia. Several learning modules on business incubation best practices are scheduled to be released soon.
“All these programs, activities, accelerators, and events have significantly bolstered the capacity, development, networking, investment, and marketing opportunities of entrepreneurs engaged with EPIC,” Rasagam said. “We are proud to be piloting this novel initiative, which is proving to be a valuable aid to the growth of a more resilient, robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region. Over time, this program will result in a long-term benefit to Caribbean economies.”