Initiated with funding from the EU Octa-Innovation Grant, the Government of the British Virgin Islands and International Connector will establish the BVI Innovation Business Lab (IBL) to provide the infrastructure, education, and programs required to empower students and entrepreneurs to create meaningful, sustainable innovations.
To establish the lab, the partners will renovate a government building in Tortola, creating 15 local construction jobs during renovation. IBL will encompass three pillars: an Innovation Hub, an Entrepreneurship Education (Entre-Ed) Curriculum, and an Accelerator program. The Lab will create six new permanent jobs – four full-time staff to oversee the lab and two part-time positions to implement programs such as the Entre-Ed curriculum.
The Innovation Hub will be a workspace providing access to technologies such as satellite internet connectivity, computers, and other tools for approximately 1,000 community members, entrepreneurs, students, and established businesses. The Hub will provide a physical space to safely design, test, and develop new tech and entrepreneurial ideas, and will also provide community workshops for at least 300 people, with an emphasis on gender equity and women's leadership throughout. The Entre-Ed Curriculum will introduce students to the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and how to identify, structure, operate, and grow ventures which add long-term value for the BVI.
Finally, the Accelerator will train participants to launch new businesses with the support of experienced mentors and connections to funding for ideas ready to be brought to market. Participants in this program will contribute a small percentage of future revenues back to the program to ensure its sustainability and support future generations of BVI innovators and entrepreneurs. Initial projects in the program will be focused on health and environmental sustainability in order to prioritize projects that will directly improve local conditions in the BVI, generating additional revenues, limiting current costs, and reducing the burden of health issues.
To govern the IBL and ensure long-term success and community buy-in, an advisory committee will be created and will include representatives from the local private and nonprofit sectors. The partners' goal is for the center to be operated fully by local talent within the first three years of launch.
May 2019 – Develop work plans; “soft-launch” the program.
June 2019 – Partnership building with CGI and others; start construction elements of the space.
July 2019 – Finalize funding and internal set up of the space.
August 2019 – Launch community-focused skill-based engagement workshops.
September 2019 – Launch and open technology space.
October - December 2019 - Initiate Entre-Ed curriculum and launch initial Accelerator projects.
Due to the geographic nature of the Caribbean, internet connectivity and literacy has proved a major challenge for developing Caribbean nations wishing to participate in the global digital economy. In the British Virgin Islands, which relies on its financial services sector, a lack of technology literacy threatens the economy and sustainability of the country and its people. The Internet Society (2017) reports that, "In addition to difficulties related to their geographic isolation, small size and low-income levels, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) often lack a sufficiently competitive communications market environment. Such environments add to their burdens and result in the high cost of Internet access and services, which, in turn, limits adoption and use by citizens and the extent to which they can participate in the digital revolution."
Studies confirm that access to internet increases economic growth; according to the World Bank, "for every 10-percentage-point increase in broadband penetration in low- and middle-income countries, economic growth increases by 1.38 to 1.5 percentage points.” At the same time, the UN Sustainable Development Goals emphasize technology as a key basic service and tool for poverty reduction and economic growth globally; in particular, goals 1 (No Poverty), 8 (Good Jobs and Economic Growth); and 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure) highlight the need to expand access to technology and communications, expand training opportunities in diversified economic sectors including technological upgrading, and provide resilient infrastructure that can not only support economic growth, but also speed up the recovery of individuals after natural disasters.
There is an opportunity for the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to become a leader in the Caribbean digital economy and enter the global marketplace. With a talented, vibrant citizenship, the BVI has an opportunity to build a competitive advantage through digital and entrepreneurial skills that will transform the community for generations to come. With technology assistance, the BVI can enhance the work of its primary industries, as well as develop new sources of economic viability, creating new jobs, new income streams, and realizing a more resilient future.
The partners are seeking additional financial resources, additional technology partnerships to enhance technical offerings, and additional implementing partners to enhance skill-building workshops.
The partners can provide the following support to other organizations: implementing best practices and normalizing operations of a technology center within a community; community-focused social investment; technology expertise, including resilient communication systems; coordination of co-operative partners; community participatory strategy; entrepreneurship curriculum from internationally-recognized institutions; support and access to capital/resources for budding entrepreneurs; and community capacity building training.