Oh My Has Our Jamaican Tech Community Grown, Our Conversations Are Different now. We Ought to be Proud!

JamaicaStartupBootcamp1The dust has settled over the blog I wrote about JGXLabs where I gave my quick take on it based on the information that was shared by its founder and what I understood about it. I also had in effect, brought the public in on a bit of the one-on-one conversation I had with JJ and a few members of his first cohort in the Lab, where he sought my advice on a few things. Then, It blew up big time.

Many people people were curious, happy and supportive of the news of such another venture in Jamaica. A few where not so happy about what I wrote and made their comments felt online and in the newspapers. Whether my impressions  and conclusions were right or wrong about JJ’s venture, whether my advice asked for and given were unwarranted, I’ve realised, that all of that is actually tangential to the larger picture that has been unfolding and that is what I want to spotlight and share here.


Since the brouhaha I’ve had a chance to review all that has come from it.

-The comments from the public, that came directly to me and in private were both good and bad- a few unfounded, the majority rationale and passionate.

-There were follow up newspaper articles in the Jamaica Observer.

-There were myriad of discussions in offices, on patios, by email, in online groups, not just in Jamaica but across the Caribbean in government, private sector and of course in the Jamaican/Caribbean Tech Community.

Having read, listened and thought about it all – I can now sit back and smile and say to myself…oh my, how we’ve grown as a tech community. Our Conversations are different now and THAT should make us all proud!

And yes smile, you see I didn’t take what the few nasty blog, Twitter and Facebook thugs had to say personally – that just shows who they are, has nothing to do with me. I smiled because I’ve seen and know just how far we’ve come since the first time my then business partner Susan Leequee and I launched Kingston BETA back in January 2007 with 90 paying attendees, 1 Caribbean speaker, 1 video chat hook up with a Jamaican developer based in HongKong/Vietman.

The Community Then
In 2007, of course we had the established and growing Telecom sector thanks to the brilliant move by Minister Paulwell to deregulate back in 2000-1; yes we always had some of the big IT service provider brands such as Fujitsu, Illuminat and Innovative Corporate Solutions; yes we had the telemarketing kings like eServices- but for the people making a play in the Internet Space- there were few and at that time we all pretty much knew each other.

In 2007, there was no talk of internet and mobile startups, Jamaica had one incubator, there was no talk of venture capital conferences, there was a little know one 2 year old blog then called CaribbeanTechNews.com read mostly by a diehard few hundred people a day in Jamaica and the United States, and the two newspapers only wrote about the big brands and big guys.

There was no debate of how we can marshal entrepreneurship, innovation and technology to spawn successful startups, to build wealth that resides here and create more jobs. There was no talk about how to grow an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Jamaica. A few people read magazines like FastCompany and  RedHerring, Techcrunch.com was just 2 years old and didn’t have the influence and reach it now has; other global tech blogs like Gigaom, Pandodaily we now read religiously for inspiration- did not exist at all.

Developers were only interested in graduating and getting a job. The words hackathon, mobile apps competitions, college level tech entrepreneurship courses were not part of our vocabulary. International Development Agencies like InfoDev/WorldBank, CIDA, etc had no yet even thought about aligning themselves with government, establish tech community leaders to create and support local tech entrepreneurship and innovation events and initiatives. And I could go on and on. In fact I already did awhile back when I returned from Startup Chile-where I reported on my experiences in Chile and wrote a where are we now blog on our Caribbean  Tech Community. Read it here to get a more comprehensive snapshot of the status of the Jamaican/Caribbean Tech Community.

The Community Now
Now in 2013, we can safely say that a Tech Startup Movement has been kickstarted and we’re on our way to developing an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Jamaica. We’re adding more tech events each year and tech related associations like JITSA are now launched.  We’re seen Animation Festivals and conferences staged. The Development Bank of Jamaica will stage a Venture Capital Conference on the 9th of September, my Foundation stages the first Startup Weekend event on Oct 4th-6th, I’ve seen a Facebook Page for a Digital Housing Conference and I could go on. Seriously, read that post I referred to you a paragraph ago.

So yes, from where I sit, we’ve come a loooong way, and we have a lot more work to do of course, before we see the mass level of success stories, small, medium and large from our Jamaican Tech Entrepreneurs.

And yes as happens in the development of every Startup Ecosystem around the world, as it is with every movement to grow an entrepreneurial ecosystem in a city,there will be varying opinions as to how it should be done, who should be doing what and when- that debate is very healthy and one I’ve always welcomed.

We’re on our way to finding our own Formulae and Sweet Spot

You, see we can study Chile, Silicon Valley and New York and read what Brad Feld did in Boulder Colorado -but just as the Jamaican Sports Industry has created its own unique methodology that’s made Jamaica the World’s Sprint Factory- we, the Jamaican Tech Community and Industry still have to develop a blueprint that’s unique to us and based on what’s best for us. We have to listen to ourselves and each other and trust ourselves to find our the answers as well, know that we will all make mistakes and fail and that’s ok, once we learn from them, share what we learn with others and keep moving.

And while many of us have ideas, strategies and awesome background experiences – the fact is, no one knows for sure what will stick and be successful as yet, we’re still early in the game when it comes to building Startup Ecosystems…we can research, ground ourselves in what the community indicates it wants and needs…truth is…many of us are still experimenting and beta testing….and that too is healthy.

Further, as we’ve been seeing, some of us have already decided on the roles we want to play in the community and industry and have been playing them – as mentors, angel investors, connectors, trainers, event sponsors, incubators, accelerators, innovation centres, volunteers, observers, agent provocateurs, micro group leaders – all playing a role with the usual mixture of a few mistakes and many more successes along this journey of moving our Tech Community forward. While we are a nation that love and excel at the sprints – this process – is a marathon. This is not a hatch an idea on Tuesday, blow up big on Thursday and start “flossing” by Friday type of journey.

So we’re all in this thing together-whether we agree with each other all the time or not, whether we are using different methods or not, whether we have different motivations or not-we all are part of building this-no one entity (private, public or international) can do it all or has all the answers- and that’s also healthy.

Even as we know that wherever people are, there will be the politics and politicking… if we can keep that to a minimum…and focus on the bigger picture…you will see that here in 2013, we have something worth fight for, to build on and make even more successful. Wherever I’ve traveled to other Startup events and Ecosystems and shared what’s happening here in the Caribbean and particularly in Jamaica -outside of seeing jaws drop from disbelief – I’ve always painted this picture – which has become somewhat of a personal mission of mine. I’ve always said we’re going to deliver to the world the Tech equivalent of Usain Bolt and Bob Marley-and whoever’s listening always gets it right way. And with the World Championships now on, I’m going to extend it to say add Shelly-Ann Fraser- the fastest woman in the World.

At the end of the Day

So for me this debate that started with my words about JGXLabs and continued with the words of others – has made mainstream the Jamaican Tech Community and what we’re building. It’s made mainstream, what I’ve been seeing playing out since 2007 in the community and especially so in the past 18months – that the community has grown alot and if that was not the case no one, no entity, agency, investor, mentor etc local and international wouldn’t be interested.

In the last 18 months or so, Jamaican Tech Community members old and new are now more outspoken and taking ownership of their ideas, their dreams, their community, their industry without apology. I LOVE IT! Now let’s keep going and growing.

See you at the next tech event and initiative-whoever is having it.