Digital jamming to...

Digital jamming to the tune of a tech-biz future

Caribbean students and techies descended on the headquarters of the University of the West Indies at Mona for Digital Jam 3.0 ‘Get Up, Start Up,’ on March 1-2. The juried Mobile Apps competition was the culmination of months of preparation by more than 50 teams of young programmers competing for an assortment of prizes, including a top prize of USD10,000.

Sponsored by the World Bank and the Governments of Jamaica and Canada, the sequel to last year’s inaugural conference turned out to be a high-energy, optimistic event. In addition to the reggae beat from the sound system, the coffee stations and cafeteria raised the decibel level all throughout the two-story complex. With a business pitch, interview or request for information taking place in every corner, it seemed as if the steady hum of the spectators would never die down.

On Sunday afternoon, it was time for each competitor to present a formal business pitch, made to five experienced tech-business moguls. Yousef Hamidaddin, CEO of the Arab Direct Marketing Association, remarked at “the very impressive quality of the apps, very much on parity in terms of development time in lots of other countries.” Tech marketer Peter Corbett of iStrategy Labs also had high praise for the mobile application entries presented, noting the high participation of women compared to typical app-development settings: “It’s incredible from a gender-parity point of view. This is very different from what we see in the States.”

Crowd favorite Racquille Chambers-Crutchley wowed with her game app, xistential. “It was a great opportunity,” she said about the experience, “and I learned a lot teaching myself programming.” Racquille persevered, particularly after her teammate dropped out late in the process. “He didn’t seem up to it anymore,” she said. “It crossed my mind to quit, but it’s not like me to do that. I’m really proud of myself.” Amid loud cheers, she won the Game Changers third prize.

Barbadian engineer Shannon Clarke introduced himself as a quiet, humble guy. But his eyes lit up when he talked about one of his heroes from the world of Silicon Valley tech investors: “They said I wouldn’t be able to get time with Bedy Yang,” he gushed, “but don’t worry, I’ll get her attention before this is over!”  Shannon’s entry, MediReview, a medical-journal app for tracking appointments and treatments for chronic, non-communicable conditions, would take top spot in the ‘Pioneers of the Caribbean’ category.

Finally, the deejay and the standing-room-only crowd cranked up the volume to greet Kashif Hewitt, Dave Oakley, Aldrean Smith and Gareth Thompson, winners of the $10,000 grand prize. Team spokesman Smith had spoken passionately about crime in Jamaica and the need for independent and impartial reporting on incidents. His team’s Crimebot mobile app allows anyone living in or visiting the island to be aware of recent incidents and see a map of crime trends by neighborhood.

As the music and cheering subsided, the last of the coveted t-shirts were doled out to anyone who could imagine an impromptu mobile app. After the weekend of innovation, information and stimulation, the tech future of the region may not be so imaginary after all.

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