Creating A Gateway For Innovation And Commerce In The Caribbean


In October of 2013, I had the unique privilege of encountering Arianna Huffington in Johannesburg, South Africa. She was there along with other giants including Sir Richard Branson and Paul Pohlman, The CEO of Unilever. It was a life-changing experience and today I'm a proud, Featured Contributor to the Huffington Post. This was a rare, but extremely valuable experience for a 28-year-old from Kingston, Jamaica; I understood very quickly, the unlikeliness of receiving this opportunity, had I been at home. I now have access to a global voice, at the click of a button, I'm able to share my ideas with the world. In fact, when I reached out to Arianna to share the idea of Tech Beach Retreat, she responded, "this is awesome Kirk, why don't you write about it!"

Caption: In Davos, Switzerland at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum with Nathan Blecharczyk, Co-Founder of Airbnb

I've had many other such life collisions that have led to incredible adventures, opportunities and partnerships. For example, I met my business partner for Tech Beach, Phin, at the headquarters of the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland during an immersive five-day experience as a part of our participation in the Forum's Global Shapers Community.

I've come to the realization that in order for the Caribbean to achieve the elusive economic success that many dream of for our region, we need to identify ourselves as global players. The Caribbean has fallen out of the 'Global Conversation,' which means we are at best an afterthought when it comes to matters of global consequence. This is to say we are not considered in global decisions and most people around the world don't think of us as a place where opportunity exists. The majority of the world views the Caribbean as solely a tourism destination, often making investment and business opportunities a difficult sell. If we are to emerge from this, we need to renew our image and find ways to connect with the rest of the world. We need to become a place where great minds meet and economic activity unfolds, and we need to ensure our own people are included in these conversations. In short, we need to be a part of the global ecosystem.

To accelerate this process, we must not only stage our success as a destination for doing business, but we need to become rapid legislators and better adapt the greatest tool at our disposal, technology, the great equalizer.

Do opportunities exist? Indeed they do and they hold massive potential. Many experts see the Caribbean as a would be incubator for digital currencies and blockchain technology, we are also seen as a great test bed for clean tech and energy conservation solutions due to our high energy rates. There are also opportunities in domiciling intellectual property, perfecting shipping and logistics technologies, building solutions for the tourism industry and the sports industry, both areas where we've been able to dominate beyond expectation. Because the Caribbean lags behind, we actually have the opportunity to leapfrog the rest of the world, if we become brisk implementors of technology solutions. We can bypass more developed nations who have gone through a linear sequence of change by adopting the most advanced technologies ahead of their pace

In 2014, I participated in the largest tech conference in the world held in Dublin, Ireland, where the idea for Tech Beach Retreat was born. Ten years ago, Dublin was an almost second rate city in Europe and it was by no means an energetic hub for tech companies contributing billions to its economy. The city is now home to the EU headquarters of Google, Facebook and Paypal to name a few and it's bustling with activity due primarily to two factors, creative legislation designed to make Dublin an attractive home for businesses and also the staging of the largest tech conference in the world, which started with 400 people and grew to 30,000 in under four years, marking Dublin's place as an international contender.

If you visit our website, many of the people listed under 'Catalysts', were actually with me in Dublin. They're from all over the world and make up an essential part of our team. While in Dublin, we brainstormed the idea for a real global tech conference to take place in the Caribbean, taking advantage of Jamaica's existing all-inclusive hotel infrastructure and the beloved spirit of the island, the catalysts all bought into the vision and we are here today. I believe it is critical that we develop our own identity as a destination, considering some of our greatest assets are our central geographic location, our unmatched scenery and our relaxed, playful lifestyle. We can leverage this to produce amplified economic results.

As the tech community is much less conservative than most other industries, this could be seen as very attractive. I have been blown away by how people gravitated towards the idea of tech conference designed on the scenic imagery of the Caribbean. I believe we can become the greatest meeting place on earth, making good use of our established tourism reputation.
Tech Beach Retreat will offer a three-day immersive experience, where tech industry leaders meet, discuss ideas and exchange opportunities in an intimate non-threatening environment. Guests will benefit from innovative content delivered by global experts through keynotes, fireside chats and panel discussions in a no-hierarchy atmosphere limited to just 250 peers sharing their skills, goals and aspirations with each other. This will be fused with world-class dining and entertainment as only the islands can offer, creating a platform for participants to truly get to know each other, beyond the typical surface level networking offered by metropolitan conferences.

Tech Beach Retreat is the result of a combination of experiences and observations, involving the local, regional and global tech ecosystems. What makes a tech entrepreneur successful? There are of course numerous factors, but as with many businesses the most important are access to talent, capital, mentorship, and markets. Tech Beach is on a mission to bring these critical resources together to the shores of the Caribbean.

The next big thing can be birthed in the Caribbean, but tech entrepreneurs need to be able to focus their energy on creating universal solutions and building universal brands, irrespective of their location. Caribbean tech start-ups are often criticized for not having globally relevant ideas, despite their significant talent. My theory is the lack of exposure amongst many. If you aren't encountering the world's problems, you are unlikely to be able to solve them, but global solutions can attract investment, regardless of geography. There is nothing distinctly American in the branding or identity of Facebook, Google, or Dropbox. These companies are location agnostic, independent of someone's love for brand USA, making it easier to penetrate international markets.
If we want to extract the greatest value from this sector, our ecosystem needs to be more lively, robust and global.

Governments around the world are investing heavily into building tech ecosystems and altering entire tax systems to attract startup entrepreneurs. Stakeholders must focus on fostering big disruptive ideas with global potential and serious bankability. The tech industry is an economic game changer because people are increasingly able to rise above financial, political and geographical circumstance to create global entities. As a result success in the industry is often marked with a seeming irreverence and desire to topple inefficient traditional processes, popularly referred to as disruption.

Tech Beach is being designed to amalgamate as many of these considerations as possible, catalyzing the Caribbean's place as a recognized international destination for innovation and commerce. We invite you to join us and participate in unlocking the true economic potential of a region left largely untapped.