Caribbean Innovation Flourishes Among Youth Entrepreneurs
“There are not that many people in St Vincent who are coming forward as entrepreneurs. It’s a very hard task; you have to be willing to give up [many things] for your business to be successful. For me, the way I look at it, it helps you to provide jobs for yourself and others. I currently provide jobs for four persons, including myself,” says Kamara Jerome, CEO of Emerald Energy and winner of the 2013 Caribbean Innovation Challenge funded by UNDP.
The Caribbean Innovation Challenge (CIC) is an international competition and business start-up accelerator program for young entrepreneurs in the Caribbean. The CIC was organized and developed by UNDP Barbados and the OECS, and the Young Americas Business Trust (YABT) as part of the UNDP project Youth Innovation (Youth-IN): A Caribbean Network for Youth Development. In 2013, Jerome and five other innovative businesses were selected as winners from the 800+ participants. Jerome is the creative mind, researcher and producer behind Emerald Energy, a company that uses green technology to develop boat prototypes that are environmentally friendly and rely solely on solar and wind energy.
- The Caribbean Innovation Challenge (CIC), an international competition and business start-up accelerator program for young entrepreneurs in the Caribbean, attracted over 800 participants from across the region.
- The challenge has successfully created a network of young entrepreneurs, dedicated to promoting innovative business ideas and bringing non-traditional forms of industry to the region.
- Emerald Energy, a company that uses green technology to develop boat prototypes that are environmentally friendly and rely solely by solar and wind energy.
The journey in developing the boat, he says, has been challenging. He aims to make a boat powered to move at traditional speeds and for this he is looking for a solar panel and technology to offer the required power. Despite the years of work and research he’s invested in the company, he still faces the challenge confronting many young entrepreneurs—access to financial resources.
“For young entrepreneurs, the business world has [marked us] as a risk. [In order] to go by the bank and get a small loan, they want to know how you going to pay them back [and they say that] you’re not working. It’s very difficult. Young entrepreneurs have to work smart. Working hard won’t solve the problem. You have to know people. If you don’t know people it’s very difficult.” For young entrepreneurs like Jerome, opportunities like CIC are one way to get a spotlight.
“[Through the CIC I had the opportunity to expose my idea. Before the CIC I was working on it for a number of years but it wasn’t coming along the way I wanted to and I didn’t get the help I needed. Immediately after the CIC I got sponsorship and funding and individual business, I was grateful for the opportunity. A lot of people know about the boat and like the idea, and a lot of people ask how I came about it. A lot of people were surprised how I used the technology because they never witness the wind turbine being used. This allowed me to get hardware products and to make the design into a reality. [Items like] the gearbox were very costly; this financial support helped me to get equipment [needed to support] the costly designs. Currently I’m at the testing stage. While testing I’m finding out new reasons why the boat isn’t working and I’m getting closer to it being workable.”
CIC continued to bring benefits beyond the initial financial resources. “It gave me a chance to put my country on the map since I was the only person from St. Vincent who made it into the top 20.” It also helped Jerome establish a network of like-minded young entrepreneurs.
“For me the most important thing was winning and getting to meet new friends inside the Caribbean. For instance I have new friends in Trinidad and they can help me access stuff for my boat without me getting a plane ticket. I go online and source what I need and they put it on a boat for me and send it up. I didn’t have access to that otherwise but as a result of the CIC it’s there.”
While “access to funding is still difficult because [the business] does not have collateral,” Emerald Energy continues to develop, with plans to establish a Board of Director to manage the strategic direction of the business and identify a new facility for his operations. Jerome’s dream is becoming a reality.