The Island Entrepreneur

2 August 2017, New York – Innovation and entrepreneurship are no longer just buzzwords for the private sector. They have been utilized by the public sector, large international organizations like the United Nations, and numerous NGOs. Earlier this year, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres even stated that “without innovation, there is no way we can overcome the challenges of our time”.

For Small Island Developing States and their unique challenges, including vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters, innovation and entrepreneurship are essential ingredients for economic growth and achieving the other elements of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The desire to ‘solve problems’ drives innovation and entrepreneurship and, through this lens, the unique challenges that small islands face can actually translate into unique solutions, new innovations, and creative businesses for SIDS populations.

One tool that has become more accessible to SIDS entrepreneurs are incubators and accelerators, which have been a mainstay in the technology startup scene for some time. These are specific programs setup to provide resources and often capital to entrepreneurs to help them build and scale their business ideas quickly. The idea behind these incubators and accelerators is to give entrepreneurs financial stability and resource access, allowing them to focus on innovating. In the private sector, businesses like Dropbox and Airbnb were founded inside famous accelerators like Y Combinator.

As the number of incubators and accelerators has grown globally, they have become more nuanced and often focus on selecting applicant entrepreneurs working in a specific industry, living in a specific country, or on solving a specific problem. Finding the right program that aligns with your comparative advantage as an entrepreneur is an important step in the application process.  In fact, across the three SIDS regions, startups and technology hubs are emerging where some the islands’ brightest minds are turning innovative ideas into marketable products.

For example, in Papua New Guinea, entrepreneurs have access to Kumul Gamechangers, a “development sector initiative to initiate and scale impact through start-up entrepreneurship”. The incubator isn’t focused on any specific sector or any particular region; they are simply looking for Papua New Guinea’s “new generation of entrepreneurial change makers”.

In the Caribbean, CaribbeanStartups.com calls itself “the home of the Caribbean’s startup ecosystem” and wants to ensure small businesses in the region have the support they need to scale up and succeed. They operate the First Carribean Startup Digital Accelerator, which offers a three-day accelerator program and a chance for the top 10 companies to pitch their ideas to investors, press, and global accelerators. Applications for the 2017 Batch are currently open.

Global competitions also exist that call for sector-specific innovations. For SIDS, countries like Vanuatu have seen their entrepreneurs (ALFA Fishing) succeed in competitions like the Fish 2.0 annual competition that links small businesses with investors to “build partnerships and momentum in the sustainable seafood sector”. Fish 2.0’s 2017 competition is underway, but entrepreneurs in the sustainable fishing space should apply for their 2018 competition when applications open early next year.

Of course, free online resources are accessible to entrepreneurs anywhere in the world. From learning how to code (Codecademy) to taking classes in accounting or other business functions (Coursera), there is a wealth of startup resources and support available to entrepreneurs.

Recognizing the challenges facing regional small businesses, a startup from Barbados, called Bitt, is using crypto-technology to help Caribbean businesses gain greater access to global markets. In partnership with the Central Bank of Barbados, Bitt used bitcoin blockchain to digitalize the Barbardian Dollar, making it easy for businesses to “send or receive money directly via their phones, in seconds, from all corners of the globe”. The FinTech (Financial Technology) company plans to digitalize all Carribean currencies in the upcoming years, financed in part by the recent US$4 million investment in Bitt from Overstock.com.

These rapid advances in information and communication technologies, coupled with the tools and opportunities for available to startups, suggest that there is no better time for entrepreneurs to establish dynamic and successful businesses.

 Feature Photo: Asian Development Bank/Flickr
 Article by Britt Martin
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