Two groups of local entrepreneurs, investors and mentors toured the tech side of Cayman on Tuesday and Thursday, May 4 and 6, getting a close-up view of what the island nation has to offer and what it might bring to the future.
The tour participants also got a taste of a galaxy far, far away as they encountered Han Solo, Yoda, storm troopers, X-wing pilots and even a Wookie along the way. Tuesday’s tour coincided with Star Wars Day (“May the 4th be with you”) and the tour members good naturedly high-fived the characters and even posed for selfies. The characters showed up again on Thursday to keep the element of fun on the tour.
Hosted by the University College of the Cayman Islands and sponsored by Digital Cayman, the event was intended to promote the country’s tech industry capabilities and included a tour of the UCCI campus and a pitch showcase by local startup companies.
“The university is acting as the convener to bring different elements of society together related to the tech industry,” said Tom Jenkins
Jenkins, a local retired tech executive, organized the event. While he has put together similar programmes many times in other locations, he believes this was the first tour of its kind in Cayman.
UCCI President and CEO Stacy McAfee said the tour spotlighted the type of proactive role the university can take.
“In recent months, there has been a great deal of talk about the potential of a vibrant tech industry here in Cayman,” McAfee said. “In providing education and training that will equip students with the necessary tools to succeed and flourish in the tech industry, UCCI is an active player in its development. But we can also serve as a catalyst, creating synergy among the leaders in this field by bringing them together in a fertile environment. The Innovation Tour is one example of that.”
On Thursday, Andre Ebanks, the newly appointed minister for investment, innovation and social development, was on hand for a portion of the UCCI tour and met with local students, entrepreneurs, mentors and incubator executives. Ebanks said such events are beneficial.
“It’s incredibly important for us to be on the cutting edge of technology,” Ebanks said.
Showing local experts and entrepreneurs the potential of programmes and Caymanian students at UCCI is important, Ebanks said. Adding that those students “are the future.”
The tour was sponsored by Digital Cayman. Managing Director Polly Pickering said it was a chance to show off Cayman’s tech potential.
“Being a part of this tour is a good example of what Digital Cayman is all about,” Pickering said. “We set out to help diversify Cayman’s economy and support community innovation. It is really exciting to help drive this process forward.”
Others who partnered with the tour were equally excited.
"Being a part of the innovation tour aligns well with our goals," said Cayman Enterprise City CEO Charlie Kirkconnell. “Cayman Enterprise City is focused on building a comprehensive technology ecosystem for companies of all sizes and stages of development. Our mission is to help diversify Cayman’s economy and develop a business community where innovation thrives."
Gene Thompson, co-founder and chairman of TechCayman, said the tour was part of a larger effort to boost the local tech industry.
"These innovation tours have provided a showcase for the work being done to develop the local tech ecosystem, which is quickly becoming a key sector of Cayman's economy. Developing an ecosystem requires a multi-disciplinary, cross-section of players to embrace a spirit of competitive collaboration. Our team at TechCayman is committed to enhancing its role in this ecosystem by facilitating and supporting technology creation and innovation on all three of our islands, thereby creating more opportunities for Caymanians."
The daylong schedule included a stop at Cayman Islands Centre for Business Development and tours of Tech Cayman and Cayman Enterprise City before arriving at UCCI. There they were greeted by steel pan music, the Star Wars characters and host President and CEO McAfee.
Participants met with entrepreneurs who are using digitally based strategies to change the business landscape, from food delivery to easing online access for services such as license registration and bill payment.
A campus tour included stops at the Cisco Networking Academy, the chemistry lab, the solar observatory and the new One Stop Centre, where various Star Wars-themed pastries and food sculptured created by the hospitality students were on display. There was also a student presentation of the recent CFA research competition, where UCCI won first place among universities in the Caribbean and Atlantic division.
A luncheon catered by the hospitality students, featured Star Wars themed items, such as tie-fighter-shaped sandwiches and storm trooper patties.
Following lunch, local teams of entrepreneurs participated in a pitch competition, presenting solutions for local challenges that have the potential for global export, such as an app for mobile services, online appliance sales and a gaming program designed to reduce stress and anxiety.
Jenkins said education and cooperation were the goals of the event.
“We’re bringing angels (mentors) together with entrepreneurs and industry leaders to talk about the possibilities here in Cayman,” Jenkins said. “It shows that the Cayman has enough critical mass in its tech ecosystem for this kind of thing to happen. It’s great news.”