When one hears Jamaica, I think an image of the Rastafarian music icon, Bob Marley immediately comes to mind. One probably also thinks of an accent that is so unique in its ability to give almost everyone a case of accent-envy. But Jamaica is also home to the Caribbean’s hottest tech and start up scene.
In the month of December, Jamaicans are owning up to it. Jamaica will be home to Tech Beach Retreat; a low-key, yet high-powered retreat with speakers from companies such as Dropbox, Salesforce, The World Bank and Time Inc. This is a phenomenal opportunity to network but it is also a phenomenal opportunity to learn.
Kirk-Anthony Hamilton tells us what he and his partners hope Tech Beach Retreat will achieve in the Caribbean tech space.
Tell us about the event: Name, Location, and a brief description of the event. How it will be run?
Tech Beach Retreat is scheduled for December 1-3 in Montego Bay, Jamaica – ‘The cool capital of the world. The host hotel is the Secret St. James Resort. Tech Beach is the Caribbean’s first truly global gathering of tech entrepreneurs, investors and executives designed to provide a dual gateway for innovation, commerce and resources between the Caribbean and the rest of the world.
The conference is designed to be an immersive experience, hence our decision to use an all-inclusive resort. We expect this campus style environment to remove much of the hierarchy found in many metropolitan conferences. Beyond the relaxed networking opportunities, Tech Beach will feature keynote speeches, fireside chats and expert panels by local, regional and international tech industry leaders.
What inspired its birth? Why did you start it? How did you start it?
In 2014, I attended a huge tech conference in Europe, one of the largest in the world. It was an amazing spectacle, but for me and the group I was attended with it was overwhelming in scale and value was difficult to identify, how do you filter through 40,000 people? Everyone asked why I would leave Jamaica for Europe in November as it was freezing and they asked why the conference wasn’t in warm Jamaica. We brainstormed a bit and Tech Beach was the response we came up with.
In 2015, I met my partner Phin Mpofu he was so excited about the concept and drove me to accelerate it’s development. In early 2016, I called up many of the people from all over the world that I brainstormed with in Europe, told them I was going to do the conference and they were all excited and agreed to help make Tech Beach a success. You will see many of them listed on the website as team members.
What would you say has been your greatest challenge so far in making this retreat a reality?
Convincing some people in the Caribbean of the value we have to offer to the world. It’s disappointing but It’s been most challenging to satisfy some of our own that people from around the world would be happy to come and enjoy a productive weekend by the sea in Jamaica. We were also initially challenged with convincing some stakeholders of the importance of this connected ecosystem, it takes a lot to see beyond a dollar for dollar ROI and instead look at the big picture, without an ecosystem we will be stuck in this finite space, but we’ve made headway.
What would you say has been your greatest triumph thus far?
We have sold tickets as far as Switzerland and Nigeria. I’ve gotten emails from major executives saying how much they have heard about Tech Beach. I believe so much is possible, I believe in abundance for the Caribbean and this is just a start. The proof is in the pudding.
How would you say this retreat answers any one of the Caribbean’s problems?
I realized a few years ago that in order for me to access certain opportunities, I needed to be able to access players from around the world, they would need to trust me and consider my location a worthwhile market. I don’t think many of us realize the deficit the Caribbean faces in terms of global perception of the region as a place to do business, in many cases we are zero’d out as a consideration.
I want to be able to give Caribbean people global access, Tech Beach can achieve this by bringing international resources to our shores while highlighting our region as a place where tech happens. The brand is already building momentum and the hope is that eventually tech and Jamaica don’t seem like an odd mix to the rest of the world.
Share any projections that you would like: sales, revenue, etc.
We intend to host 250 people and be profitable in the first year.
What would be your greatest advice to Caribbean techpreneurs?
Tech is global in its DNA. Tech has no real geographical boundaries. Do not feel confined or discouraged by the limitations presented by the current embryonic state of our ecosystem; in time it will be thriving. Silicon Valley wasn’t built in a day, so in the meantime reach out to the world and get things done. The next generation of techpreneurs will owe you one. Your success will only contribute to the development of our tech space.