There is a certain smell that always attacks my senses when I step off of the plane at Norman Manley International Airport. It is hard to describe but it is the combined scent of flowers, honey, humidity, and heat. It is a persistent reminder of the first time I visited this magical place called Jamaica. In December of 2022, I arrived in Kingston with the founder of Entrepreneurs Across Borders (EAB), Martin Babinec. I wasn’t even officially working for EAB, but Martin had invited me along on a five day trip that, in retrospect, was his way of helping me see the potential that lies in the Caribbean.
Much to my delight, Martin likes to keep a schedule similar to how I plan these types of trips; back to back to back meetings! Those first few meetings revealed something about Jamaica that I was not prepared for. The spirit of entrepreneurship is rampant in the psyche of Jamaicans. When I say rampant, I mean it. Jamaicans have an entrepreneurial ethos unlike any place I have ever been. From cab drivers, to waitresses, to business people, nearly everyone has a side-hustle, or a startup.
As we day progressed our meetings revealed another insight: There is a thriving community of people in Jamaica who are working hard to bring about economic prosperity and financial uplift. This was a delight for me as I have worked around the US in undeserved markets. In most of those US based markets, there is a sense of waiting around for change to happen. The people we encountered on that first day were all working to bring opportunity to a broader group of people than those you would typically find an a local start-up ecosystem. From tech entrepreneurs, to charity based organizations, to economists, they were seemingly all playing a part in the development of Jamaica’s overall economy.
As our first day came to a close I was amazed. We found a new team member that wanted to start a venture fund, we had an offer from our first investor in that fund, and we started talks for a partnership with two existing organizations that would help further the mission of EAB.
Not bad for the first day!
The next morning we met with members of the Food For the Poor team to discuss work that we could be doing together. The entirety of our group all hopped in a bus to tour a site on the North Coast where we may be doing some work together in the future (more to come on that). On the ride there a new idea was literally born out of thin air: What if there was a software platform that emerging entrepreneurs could utilize to assess where they are at in their entrepreneurial journey but also to get connected to the resources they need to take next steps. We would later name this project, “EAB Connect.” It would be a joint project with EAB and Food For the Poor.
The last two days were comprised of attending a tech conference in Montego Bay. There I met startup founders from across the Caribbean. FinTech, Energy, SAAS, Data Analytics…You name the industry, there were people there working on incredibly interesting companies and innovations.
Here are the my takeaways from my first trip to Jamaica:
* There is a culture of entrepreneurship in Jamaica that is unlike anywhere I have traveled before.
* Jamaicans are industrious. They don’t stray away from hard work.
* Jamaica is ripe to lead the Caribbean in an explosion of startup activity
* Many have gone before laying this groundwork. From Ingrid Riley, to Tech Beach to First Angels Jamaica, to Development Bank of Jamaica and IDB, the current climate has been years in the making.
One final thought: I am excited and honored to play a part in connecting emerging entrepreneurs in developing nations to their seasoned counterparts in more developed markets. To quote Martin Babinec, “Jamaica is uniquely suited for the EAB pilot program,” and I have to agree!