A Conversation With Ingrid Riley, Jamaican Tech Guru

Riley (right) chats with attendees at Social Mingle
Riley (right) chats with attendees at Social Mingle

The BETA Pitch segment is one of the highlights of any Kingston BETA event. Can you share any success stories from these pitches?

Over almost nine years, we have had over 200 aspiring and current tech entrepreneurs pitch their ideas there. You see, we define success differently. Kingston BETA, especially the pitch segment, is a safe place for anyone to share what they are thinking, what problems they are solving, see what they are working on, so entrepreneurs lay themselves bare in this sharing process to get feedback from more experienced entrepreneurs and investors in the audience, to learn, connect and do better.

So we have a range of entrepreneurs at different stages – some who are ready to be invested in, others who are about to launch or just launched and having traction/people using their products. The fact that we have entrepreneurs pitching at every event is success, because in the early years people were scared. Now, we can’t keep them off the darn stage. Plus, it’s not easy to put yourself on stage – it’s an act of openness and trust and that’s what community does for you.

We measure success now by how many more people we are helping to inspire and change their mindset of thinking about problems, not from the position of a complainer, but from a position as a problem solver who can create a solution and build a profitable business from it. Did you leave our event knowing more people in your field than when you came – did you expand your network? Did you leave there having joined one of our online communities to continue your engagement?

That said, the following startups have pitched at Kingston BETA – edufocal.com (founder Gordon Swaby was inspired by coming to one of our events), jamaicansmusic.com, TheVineslist, Agrocentral, PandoSoft, Chune, Radial. CrimeBot, grik.ly, On the Ground News Report, StartupRobot and KraasImages.com, to name a few. We have also had Skype video pitches from Cayman, Trinidad, Barbados, the United Kingdom and the USA as we opened the platform to the Caribbean and Diaspora.

What are your thoughts on the current state of tech entrepreneurship in Jamaica?

Nascent and growing. I am very excited! Yes, we still have lots of work to do in our high schools and colleges. You see, entrepreneurship is first a mindset, and that mindset allows you to see problems differently and how you choose to solve those problems – using technologies – internet, software, mobile phone is up to you.  I am very bullish on our where we are now and where we are headed.

Do you think Jamaican tech entrepreneurs are being sufficiently bold or innovative? Why or why not?

Yes, for the most part. It’s not easy being an entrepreneur. It’s not for everyone! That said, there is nothing sweeter than seeing when a woman or a man tests themselves, their ideas, engage their resourcefulness, build out and leverage their network to help them and have fun grinding out the hard parts of the process – being an entrepreneur is a marathon, not a sprint! So while we are a nation of sprint excellence in sports, we now have to grow this new part of our Jamaican-ness: brilliance, endurance in this marathon that is entrepreneurship!

And the more individuals in prep school and high school connect with the faces and stories of others who are doing it and did it, the more we will see happening. Just as we had to build out the ecosystem and environment for our sports to be so spectacular, we are now in the process of building an ecosystem and environment that will allow our tech entrepreneurs to launch and prosper and create a lasting impact in creating jobs and building wealth for themselves and others. We live in a fantastic time to do that. This is the digital age, the connected age, a time were the playing field has never been more level – so let’s see about how best we can leverage all of that.

Have there been any recent local tech developments that you are excited about?

I’m happy to see additional micro groups coming up to joining the community, such as Women Who Code, Jamaican Girls Coding and animation, developers and bloggers groups, in addition to the Jamaican Software Developers Association and Startup Caribe groups – all on Facebook.

I love seeing the growth of the community. I love seeing the government getting behind the tech entrepreneurial community with this Startup Jamaica Accelerator and the facilitation of the growth of an angel investor culture here. I know that there are more co-working and startup and training spaces opening up in 2016, and with that, many more events that can get the right people in the room to learn, connect and network.

Do you have any new projects coming up that you would like to tell us about?

Yes, just a reminder that my company ConnectiMass is a Caribbean tech media and events organisation. We’ve been at it eight years now and we’re continuing our mission, which is to connect people to the stories and knowledge on the possibilities of the Internet/technology and its ability to change the way they live, work and do business for the better by creating compelling technology media content and technology events.

So with that in mind we will continue to produce events for aspiring and current entrepreneurs/ startups like our bi-monthly Kingston BETA meet-ups, resuming in January 2016 and Startup Weekend Jamaica, which happens over the first weekend in July 2016. We have also added five new Caribbean tech events that will have a mixture of in-person and online formats, focusing on other facets of the fast-growing Caribbean tech industry, such as mobile, bloggers and social media. We will also have our first Diaspora tech event in New York in 2016.

Added to that too remember, that we publish SiliconCaribe.com which after eight years, is still the most read and respected Caribbean tech news site. It now has a fresh new look, an editorial that reflects the Caribbean and Diaspora and with focused efforts this past few months now attracts just over 500,000 unique users per month. We have also added new directories and resources – bloggers, startups, startup ecosystems, and a job board is to come. We will also still co-produce workshops, hackathons, competitions and conferences with partners in the region.

We are excited about 2016 and working smart and having fun!