Beautiful beaches. Rastafarian culture. Rum. Jamaica is just a tourist destination, right?
Jamaica, the third-largest island in the Caribbean and home to nearly three million people is carving out a niche as a regional technology hub. One cornerstone of that hub is Tech Beach, a lively, beachfront conference in Montego Bay. Past keynotes have included Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey; this year’s feature included Vonage cofounder Jeff Pulver.
Led by Kirk-Anthony Hamilton and Kyle Maloney and a spry, accommodating team, Tech Beach invited Grit Daily down to check out what Jamaica is all about. Here’s the scoop with Kirk Anthony himself.
Grit Daily: You envision Jamaica as the next great business hub. Which factors make that possible?Kirk-Anthony is among the industrious Jamaicans building the island into a regional tech hub.
Kirk-Anthony Hamilton: Jamaica is fortunate in that we have one of the most recognized names in the world and our tiny island of three million people is a cultural powerhouse known the world over. That’s a great place to start. Additionally we are extremely well positioned geographically as an English speaking territory with very easy access to North, South and Central America making us an ideal point of connection between the East and the West.
We also have a great performing stock exchange with plenty of liquidity in our market and a rich history as a very entrepreneurial nation. I believe we are only getting started here as we are under developed with capacity for many more people to live, work and play and we have a significant stock pile of untapped or under-tapped opportunities.
GD: Most business hubs are “known” for one or two strong suits. Which industries do you foresee dominating Jamaican business going forward?
KAH: I think if you look at this from an ecosystem standpoint, Jamaica’s story gets more exciting. For example, tourism has for a long time been within our top 2 sectors, but when you look at how the industry is serviced, there’s lots of leakage which spells massive opportunities. Our Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett and our Minister of Industry and Commerce, Hon. Audley Shaw are combing efforts to promote greater use of local goods. There’s also plenty room for innovation in the sector.
Our finance sector is also exciting, outperforming many of their global counterparts and making record profits. The sector seems to be leading the charge on innovation as leadership has realized that the future of banking looks nothing like today.
All our banks are investing heavily in digital solutions. Nadeen Matthews Blair who spoke at Tech Beach Retreat has been served with the role of digital transformation for our nation’s largest bank, NCB and she’s not alone in the space. I believe this sector has the potential to catalyze a true technology sector in Jamaica, with the banks making investments in new-enterprise solutions that will serve their interests in the long term.
Grit Daily: President Obama recognized you as an emerging tech leader. Did you have an opportunity to meet with his team? What did he say?
KAH: I was recognized as one of 75 emerging global entrepreneurs by President Obama at the White House in 2015. We had the opportunity to meet with various team members and yes we got to hear from the man himself. At the time he was launching his global Spark Initiative to promote entrepreneurship globally, he had not long before visited Jamaica as well. I can’t recall all his exact words but he spoke about entrepreneurship as a public good and reinforced the need to invest in young people, innovation and technology.
It was probably the most awe-inspiring day of my life. Beyond the President, others in the room included Marc Cuban, Barbara Corcoran and Damon John from Shark Tank as well Chobani founder, Hamdi Ulukaya and AirBnB co-founder, Brian Chesky.
Grit Daily: You had your own interesting career in architectural design and later, in entrepreneurship. Share that.
KAH: I studied Architecture at the Savannah College of Art and Design where I spent five years and received my professional Master of Architecture Degree. I went on to working in the field in a couple capacities including a stint at Wimberly, Allison, Tong and Goo, the world’s foremost hospitality design firm. I found the field of architecture to be too hierarchical and not rewarding as a young person.
When people have had to pay their dues over time they often feel the need to place that burden on those coming up beneath them. It is typical of architects to talk about the fact that you are unlikely to be recognized until you are at least 50 years old, I didn’t want to spend that much time working to be myself.
My transition to entrepreneurship leverages my architectural design experience, but I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and my college friends will tell you, I was always hustling and talking about what business I was going to start. I knew I wouldn’t work in a firm forever. I always tell people, I left the rigidity of the Caribbean academia to join a group of misfits and rule breakers at an art and design school. The culture was very different to what I’d learned back home.
I realized in the long term, I learned alot from my classmates. I graduated at the top of my class doing very practical projects that one could imagine seeing today, many of my classmates produced projects that contractors and engineers would likely deem impossible. While balance is of course important, I’ve come to realize that they were great at visualizing the world not as it is but as they would like to be. This is a powerful space to stand in as an entrepreneur.
It has not been an easy journey operating in a non traditional sector in the Caribbean, but through selling our message to the world we’ve managed to build a number of very successful platforms by connecting with a much larger audience and focus on global opportunities while stationing ourselves here at home. We’re certainly proud of everything we have accomplished.
Grit Daily: Star Island was one of your projects? Can you tell us about that?
KAH: I had the opportunity to work on the world’s first 100% off the grid sustainable resort island, very similar to what Sir Richard Branson is doing with Necker Island. Star Island is a 35 acre island off the coast of North Eleuthera in the Bahamas and the idea has always been to create a carbon neutral utopia utilizing renewable energy resources, natural lighting sustainably sourced materials, water conservation mechanisms amongst other strategies negating the need to connect the island to Bahamas’ power grid.
It was an incredible experience and journey. We literally had not even broken ground when we started receiving global media attention from major publications. It’s one of the things that has inspired my current journey, if we could take the amazing branding efforts of Star Island and apply it to the entire region, the results could be exponential.
GD: You later founded The Infiniti Partnership. For those who don’t know, what does it do?
KAH: We are architects of opportunity and simply put, we make things happen. We craft in roads for organizations seeking to penetrate or navigate new markets, raise capital or innovate in unique ways by connecting them with the people and resources necessary for success. Ultimately we leverage our extensive socially capital globally towards maximizing the potential of the organizations we work with. We work quietly with our visible outlets being Tech Beach Retreat, where Kyle Maloney is my Co-Founder and The Destination Experience.
Grit Daily: What’s one thing visitors should not do in Jamaica?
KAH: Don’t say “yeh-mon.” Contrary to popular belief that’s not how we say it.
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