The decision in Kingston is aimed at turning the small Jamaican startup ecosystem into the center of the Caribbean tech community
The Jamaican government is launching a venture capital fund to push its small tech sector, hoping they can finally push the island nation as the premiere Caribbean startup ecosystem.
Therese Turner-Jones, Jamaica’s representative at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), announced they would co-invest with the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) in an approximately U.S. $3.5 million government matching fund.
“What we are witnessing is the evolution of the development of the ecosystem for venture capital and angel investors in providing more opportunities for small and medium entrepreneurs to thrive in Jamaica,” she said in a government press release.
The DBJ’s Chairman Joseph M. Matalon will manage the fund, a position with the de facto responsibility of developing the country’s venture capital culture: building networks, easing the regulatory environment, inviting foreign investors, and marketing the Jamaican business world.
The IDB investment is J$145 million (about U.S. $1.19 million) and the DBJ’s is J$275 million (about U.S. $2.28 million).
“For Jamaica, this is a pilot really for the region, because it’s not happening anywhere else” and is something “we can replicate … in other countries around the region,” Turner-Jones added.
What is the Jamaican startup scene like?
The Jamaican startup ecosystem is small but is definitely active. Sixty Jamaican companies are listed on Angel.co and there is a bimonthly Tech Community meetup in the capital Kingston. In 2014, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated J$226 million toward developing the island nation’s ICT sector.
Most notably, the Start-Up Jamaica accelerator launched in the summer of 2014. That program was sponsored by Jordanian company Oasis 500, which gave $30,000 grants to each entrepreneur in the accelerator.
“We will challenge the entrepreneurs to look beyond the shores of Jamaica or even the Caribbean,” Jamaica’s Minister of Science and Technology Julian Robinson said when the program opened, indicating a found-and-export strategy similar to other small startup ecosystems like Israel and Hong Kong.
There seems to be genuine enthusiasm to get the Caribbean tech scene orbiting around a Jamaican center of gravity. Take Turner-Jones’ word for it.
“I think Jamaica has a really good opportunity to do this well, so that we have some results. But more importantly, I think what we are witnessing in Jamaica, is a move in terms of building another class of entrepreneurs and small companies.”
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