Agrocentral: A Caribbean Startup Success Story in the making

Jermaine Henry, left, and Janice Mc Leod, two of the creators of Agrocentral at Gordon House, Jamaica

A beautiful thing about living in the Caribbean is being part of a Diaspora of developing nations, in which people are faced the same issues you contend with at home. Seen through the right lens, the so-called Third World transforms from an environment defined by limitation and constraint, to one in which you’re surrounded daily with opportunities to develop meaningful answers to complex, deep-rooted and inter-related problems, and you have a global market for any marketable solutions that you can deliver!

It’s all a matter of perspective. Somewhere in Jamaica, for example, there’s a farmer growing really high quality produce, but whose assured market is so small that she suffers perennial spoilage. Meanwhile, over in Trinidad and Tobago, there’s an agro-processor who insists he could make it big, if he only had a more consistent quality from his supplier. And up north, in the Bahamas, a medium-sized restaurant is on the verge of breaking through but needs assured delivery of agricultural produce.

Now, if some young, bright, entrepreneurial, innovative minds were to get together, surely they could design a system that allowed the farmer to get to market and find the best offers, and allowed the businessmen to access produce at competitive prices. Just ask 23-year-old Jermaine Henry, one of four thinkers behind AgroCentral, Jamaica’s new digital agricultural clearing house.

AgroCentral is a Web and SMS application that allows businesses to buy directly from farmers. The app was born in October 2013 at Startup Weekend Jamaica (SWJA), where Henry joined up with other 20-somethings Janice Mc Leod and Adrian Thompson to form the team that would eventually claim the top SWJA prize.

“Since then, we’ve moved from idea to prototype,” Henry said, explaining that their website has undergone a couple of redesigns in the process.

“Our plan for year two is to go into export. In year three, we plan to move into new markets. If it can work here in Jamaica, we’re sure there’ll be other farmers and businesses elsewhere in the world where we can customise and deploy our solution.”

Agro Central again emerged tops, winning an Investment Readiness award when the World Bank, its global entrepreneurship program infoDev, and the University of the West Indies (UWI) launched the Caribbean Mobile Innovation Program (CMIP) in Jamaica on June 10. AgroCentral won an all expense paid trip to the international Startup Festival. Two equal runners-up from Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica will have partial expenses paid to the event.

"We at Connectimass Foundation are very happy about Agrocentral's progress since winning our first Startup Weekend Jamaica last October," said Ingrid Riley, founder of Connectimass, who organised the inaugural SWJA event.

"Since they won, they are being coached by one of our amazing assigned mentors Arthur Phidd, a Jamaican serial entrepreneur who lives in USA and does business in Jamaica, Trinidad and China. He has marshalled them through so many processes in making them a better team and startup. I am not surprised that they won the CMIP Investment Readiness award: they are a smart, passionate, driven team that's very focused on being a Caribbean startup success story. We are happy to be playing a role in their acceleration process."

"The entrepreneurs at today’s launch, show that many of the problems being solved by our mobile apps and IT talent are not just regional ones, but global as well. That's why collaboration is so important,” said Julian Robinson, Jamaica’s minister of State of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining.

CMIP is new partnership to recruit and nurture the next generation of talented mobile entrepreneurs in the Caribbean. The program is a regional initiative executed by the UWI Consortium under the Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC), and funded by the Government of Canada.

"Innovation and entrepreneurship are key drivers for growth. This initiative is part of our efforts to create the right eco-system for young talents in the region to be investment ready and start new businesses that will create value-added jobs," said World Bank Director for the Caribbean, Sophie Sirtaine.