Techies in Jamaica are eyeing ISupportJamaica.com as a possible lifeline for startups in the island's emerging tech industry.
The English-speaking Caribbean's first crowd-financing platform recently launched by JN Small Business Loans and its sister organisation JN Foundation, currently supports charities and community-based organisations seeking funding for projects. The donation phase came on stream in July, but a lending phase, to provide access to seed-funding for local micro-entrepreneurs will be in place by September.
However, discussions with some prominent local tech entrepreneurs, researchers and bloggers, revealed that they see enormous possibilities for tech startups on this funding platform.
Ingrid Riley, social media strategist and Founder of the non-profit tech entrepreneurship organisation, CONNECTiMASS, says the industry really needs this type of platform.
It holds a lot of possibility and opportunities for the tech industry, especially for startups, once done right, she said.
She noted that: Entrepreneurs in The tech industry should see how they can plug in a few projects for which funding could be secured because funding is one of the key things the industry really needs, without question. And so, it would be great to test the tech industry and tech groups on the portal, she said.
The local information and communication technology industry has been experiencing increased growth in recent years, as internet access, which now stands at about 55 percent of the population, continues to grow, according to Internet World Stats; and mobile technology, with penetration levels of 98.4 percent, has inundated the market, according to the Planning Institute of Jamaica.
Dr. Marcia Forbes, who has researched and written widely on social media in Jamaica, was slightly more cautious. She suggests that while the platform does have potential for deepening the base of the micro and small business sector, its target to everyday Jamaicans wanting to start a business may not be as attractive to techies.
Dr. Forbes said based on her research findings and observation techies are more highly educated than the average Jamaican and are more likely to try to find a 'god parent' to shepherd them along, including providing some financial assistance.
But bloggers, such as Klieon John, share a different perspective. The University of the West Indies graduate, who works with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Jamaica, believes the site has the potential to facilitate the growth of the tech industry.
As much as it's important to support people in traditional small business to do what they are doing, I think Jamaica is undoubtedly leading the Caribbean when it comes to tech entrepreneurship and because of that it needs a lot more support.
And, there are many wonderful ideas out there that support other small businesses that aren't even in tech support. This could be a unique opportunity for partnership, Mr. John opined.
Adding Mr. John's point, Saffrey Brown, General Manager, JN Foundation said beyond funding there are opportunities for persons to make linkages that can spur greater ideas and spawn new and lucrative possibilities.
For example, there may be opportunities for people to develop partnerships that take a simple micro idea and transform into a web-based technology that will reach millions, or to explore ways in which technology can be used to support the operations of the business. So there are those possibilities that we are confident that the ISupportJamaica.com platform can facilitate, she said.
Philip Bernard, General Manager, JNSBL said while micro business are often identified as persons such as fruit vendors or fishers to many Jamaicans, ISupportJamaica.com is meant to be a platform for any kind of startup, including tech projects.
What we are providing is a platform for all Jamaicans to access opportunities to develop their products and services; and, as the platform grows, we do foresee windows to raise funds for startups that may require capital beyond micro funds, he maintained.