"Haiti is not open for business. Haiti is open for disruption." says Christine Souffrant Ntim, a Haitian-American entrepreneur and driving force behind the Haiti Tech Summit. Inspired by SXSW, Christine is determined to transform the narrative around Haiti's brand as a nation - from images of devastation and poverty to entrepreneurialism and innovation - by bringing tech investors and innovators to Haiti to engage with the new generation of Haitian entrepreneurs. According to Christine, Haiti has one of the most dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystems in the world (from street markets to tech platforms) and she would know: Christine grew up selling in the streets of Haiti with my grandmother and mother.
What's happening in Haiti's innovation and entrepreneurship eco-system today?
Christine: I'm excited around the momentum of tech events across the country. In the past few weeks there have been two hackathons tackling transportation and tourism, an international women in tech summit with over 200 attendees, and a center of finance tech event with 100 influencers in attendance. All the hackathons, tech events and startups emerging across the country is great, however, the entrepreneurial activity is not being centralized digitally via Meetup, or groups on social platforms (Linkedin or Facebook) or even using event management tools, such as Eventbrite.
Why is it important to bring Silicon Valley venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to Haiti?
Christine: 80% of Haitians have some form of a business to make ends meet. The ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of the Haitian people is incredible and investors are missing out on it because the global narrative on Haiti does not position it to be a haven for startups. Haiti's narrative cannot continue to be charity and relief efforts. Its problems are great business opportunities! And Haiti has tons of areas in need disruption.
What's your advice for local entrepreneurs on growing globally?
Christine: Look to the startup ecosystems of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean that are more closely aligned with countries like Haiti. Mpesa transformed payments in Kenya and Jumia transformed e-commerce in Nigeria and Alibaba is the main source of products in China. These are examples of startups that completely leveraged the local circumstances to gain traction and scale differently from Silicon Valley standards. Haiti should source inspiration from this.
What's needed to scale startup ventures in Haiti?
Christine: Global visibility. Of course training, access to mentors and funding is important but one of the biggest roadblocks to the startup ecosystem in Haiti is that it is not digitally visible. Ecosystem mapping is crucial so local and global stakeholders can identify the tech hubs, programs and entrepreneurs to monitor within the country.
If you were to start a business in Haiti today, what would it be?
Christine: A "Craig's List" directory for entrepreneurs, innovators and startups to find the resources they need and to help each other. An open platform would accelerate dialogue across industry sectors and pockets of innovation in an organic way.
What Haitian entrepreneurs / initiatives should we be watching / paying attention to?
Christine: A few initiatives to watch are -
ManManPemba - Events, bars, restaurants, new local places : once a week, ManManPemba sends you an email with the best of Port-au-Prince and Haiti.
Ramase Lajan - The phrase Ramase Lajan literally means, "Picking Up Money." Ramase Lajan is committed to creating jobs and income opportunities through recycling in Haiti. This program collects the plastic bottles clogging the canals as well as jugs overflowing the dumpsters, and the 1,500+ tons of NEW plastics imported into Haiti every month, turning all of this plastic garbage into business opportunities.
Payment platform, HaitiPay - The "Venmo of Haiti", Lajancash offers secure and convenient mobile payment services that work with any phone.
Thoughts on the other startup ecosystem events taking place in the Caribbean?
Christine: Haiti may be the new player within the global startup event ecosystem but this region hosts a number of the high caliber tech events from ATECH Conference in Aruba, Tech Beach Retreat in Jamaica and the Caribbean Startup Summit in Barbados. Previous speakers at these events include the founder of the Next Web, Director of Technology at Burning Man, Partners from 500 Startups, the CEO of the Richard Branson Centre, and influencers from Drop Box, Airbnb, Paypal, AT&T, Time, Essence, and more. What can be better than the experience of a vacation plus access to top influencers!
Anything else you'd like to add about Haiti's entrepreneurs?
Christine: If you can equip entrepreneurs to launch their startup and scale it across a population of 11 million people on an island, then you can be confident they'll be prepared to scale it globally.