Clear Waters of Opportunity for Caribbean Entrepreneurs

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10 January 2014

Accra Beach (Photo by: Andrew Hulsmeier)

Accra Beach (Photo by: Andrew Hulsmeier)

At a time when Barbados, like other Caribbean and developing countries face tremendous economic challenges, opportunities abound for entrepreneurs who can add value to their economies by creating or even adapting products and services which may be available in countries with more developed economies.

Barbados exists in an opportunity-rich median – a halfway point between undeveloped and developed economies. Many entrepreneurs in developed countries have led the charge of developing and refining numerous products and services for their markets. Their learnings and experiences can be effectively leveraged by entrepreneurs in developing countries who need not reinvent the proverbial wheel. Instead such entrepreneurs can shrewdly adapt and implement these products and services for their local market while sidestepping many of the hurdles encountered by the pioneers in developed countries. In Barbados there are many such opportunities waiting to be exploited by the savvy entrepreneur.

In considering the creation and growth of a business inspired by enhancements made in the public transport sector overseas, the writers quickly reached the following conclusions:

Catch the fish close to the surface

Developing country entrepreneurs can catch the figurative fish that swim close to the surface by simply keeping a keen eye out for local problems or deficits within an existing sector. The next step is to identify methodologies and experience gained in countries where pertinent solutions have already been implemented. The final step is to tailor them to the local context so as to monetise them.

Value execution as well as invention

Many developing country product and service shortfalls have already been addressed in the international arena.  These have created vast online resources, which can be readily leveraged for local applications. Understanding what has gone before and smartly applying it in our own arena is as important – if not more important – than invention (or innovation) in the sense of creating an entirely original product or service.

Effective adaptations are particularly valuable in a small Caribbean nation like Barbados, where we are so often hampered by the failure to execute. Against this backdrop, actually doing what is necessary to capitalize on existing ideas which may be untried in our market can sometimes be even more impactful than coming up with a “new” idea. This is not to say that we should undervalue innovation. However, there are many opportunities arising from tried and tested innovations made elsewhere. As a developing country, Barbados like others in the Caribbean can still enjoy enormous success if we catch the “fish at the surface” – adapting and utilising existing innovations relevant to our reality, before we go “deep sea fishing”.

And this is very real. Here are some examples of international products that could be adapted and localised:

Zillow.com (Real Estate) – Aggregates many real estate resources and then gives users and easy to use platform to compare, contrast and educate them about real estate trends, deals and opportunities. The site monetizes its service by selling advertising for realtors, wireless companies, et al.

Mint.com (Personal Finance) – Provides a free centralised dashboard for all of personal financial transactions. Consumers view all of their bank accounts, credit-cards, mortgages and investments in one place to track their spending, set budgets and monitor their expenses. The site monetizes its service by selling advertising i.e. promoting targeted financial products (based on spending) to users.

Glassdoor.com (Career Comparison) – Allows users to post job related information about their companies (work culture) and their industries (salary or promotion expectations etc). All feedback is anonymous, and users and employers can use information as a benchmark against others in their industry or when switching employers or industries. This site monetizes its service by advertising jobs and employers based on user’s interests.

Of course not all of the opportunities are tech-based. Explore the wider array on entrepreneur.com or kickstarter.com.

A case study: EasyTransit by Caribbean Transit Solutions

Barbados bus stop by ulybug 340x340 Clear Waters of Opportunity for Caribbean Entrepreneurs

Bus Stop By Ulybug [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

The entrepreneurs at Caribbean Transit Solutions (Transit Caribbean) saw a major opportunity in the public transport sector in Barbados and the wider Caribbean. It was obvious that many commuters have little or no information on Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) schedules with which to plan their travel. Consequently long wait times and delays while traveling are common.

Transit Caribbean investigated a number of options to address this problem, including RFID tags on bus stops, a distributed user service like Waze where all users could be part of the solution to tell us about the location of PSVs and many more. Ultimately, they focused on the simplest solution and opted for the tried and tested GPS technology.

GPS technology allows precise tracking of vehicles, mobile devices or persons at any moment in time. Many large US and EU cities have public transportation systems where commuters know exactly where the bus is and when it will arrive. Caribbean Transit took its model from large UK and US environments and tailored the approach to providing up-to-the-minute information on the status of PSVs with the local product, EasyTransit. EasyTransit will solve a problem faced by over 44,000 daily commuters in Barbados and many multiples of that in the wider Caribbean.

By localizing an existing approach, additional benefits are delivered to commuters. After commuters confirm the arrival times of the buses at their desired stops, they can see what retailer specials are available along the route. Running an errand or buying a meal can now be sensibly planned into their journey. A complementary feature provides an alerts option which notifies commuters in advance of arrivals at their chosen stops so they can plan to conclude business well in time to meet their buses.

EasyTransit will deliver a number of products/ services to commuters, insurance companies, retailers and transport system operators (“Stakeholders”) including a mobile and web app for PSV commuters to help them plan their commute and access information about nearby retail specials and incentives.  It will also provide online portals through which insurance companies and transport system operators will receive relevant information about the PSVs and which will significantly improve risk management and transport system management.

Transit Caribbean did not have to reinvent the wheel! By utilising a combination of existing approaches, it  crafted a unique opportunity to deliver a product and service to  commuters and Stakeholders in Barbados that can enhance public transportation, improve risk management and road safety and provide opportunities for targeted retailer marketing.

Transit Caribbean found some fish close to the surface and is making a good catch!

The Transit Caribbean case study presents a viable model which can be utilised by entrepreneurs in the Caribbean and other developing countries. There are many opportunities which can add value in our Caribbean environments, by cleverly adapting products and services from other countries and integrating them into local life and business.

Caribbean entrepreneurs, let us “fish” in our beautiful warm waters of opportunity!

About the Authors

Khalil Bryan

Khalil Bryan

Khalil Bryan is a Director and the Business Development Lead of Transit Caribbean.

Melanie Jones

Melanie Jones

Melanie Jones is an attorney-at-law at Lex Caribbean and a Director of the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation.