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The Minister’s Speech – i2i Awards Ceremony 2014

Posted: Wed 10 Sep 2014

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Wednesday September 10, 2014
Digicel IMAX, Woodbrook
2014-2015 i2i Grant Awards
Senator Dr. the Honourable Bhoendradatt Tewarie

The Idea to Innovation Grant (i2i), now in its third year is targeted at enhancing and directly facilitating innovative actions through the participation of citizens with direct benefits and positive impact on development and economic growth. In the past three years this project has engaged citizens in not only thinking about innovation but taking innovative ideas to the marketplace where we can compete with these indigenous ideas, inventions and creations on a global scale.

The Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development, through the Council for Competitiveness and Innovation is proud to be facilitating this programme. I reiterate my deepest gratitude and congratulations to the members of the Board of the CCI, the Chairman Mr. Richard Young and the Executive Director, Dr. Rikhi Permanand and of course the dedicated staff who are toiling to make the i2i an institution in its own right. This is by no means an easy feat, and for all of the hard work that has gone into making the i2i an institution of hope and opportunity, I thank and congratulate the staff of the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development and the Council for Competitiveness and Innovation (CCI). It is also through collaborative efforts and sharing that we have gotten to this point. The other agencies that have played a crucial role are equally deserving of the utmost gratitude. I would like to acknowledge the members of all of these organisations by asking the representatives present to please stand, the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI) and the National Entrepreneurship Development Company Limited (NEDCO) who provide the technical and professional support to the grant winners.

I would also like to add that as much as the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development, the CCI, CARIRI and NEDCO are facilitating this programme, the true drivers at the helm are the innovators who have seen the opportunity and have participated in the programme. I would like to officially congratulate you on all of your accomplishments to date.

I would like to summarise the programme’s general achievements to date:

In 2012, approximately 400 entries were submitted to the programme with 50 of them being selected. In 2013, there were 471 submissions with 53 receiving grants from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, ranging from $75,000 to $200,000 to take their ideas to proof of concept, in one year. These grants are part of a $10 million Innovation Financing Facility established by the Government, to provide finance for enterprises and initiatives that will contribute measurably to the sustainable development of Trinidad and Tobago. This present cohort consists of forty–two (42) applicants selected as recipients of the 2014 idea to innovation (i2i) grants and comprises individuals, project teams, and companies selected from 493 submissions to be awarded grants ranging from $75,000 to $200,000 to take their ideas to proof of concept within one year. This year’s awardees carry the number of grant winners thus far to 145 ideas developed by individuals, teams and organisations from Trinidad and Tobago.

The grants have totalled TT$ 3.75 million and are funded by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago through its $10 million Innovation Financing Facility, a resource which was established to support entrepreneurial initiatives which have the potential to contribute to economic growth and diversification.

As small as 145 ideas may seem in the global marketplace, these numbers here are still quite encouraging to me because this means that there are approximately 145 innovations existing with the potential to materialize into strong businesses. If we do some simple mathematics and say these businesses employ at least 2 people then the potential benefits can spread to 290 individuals. This can also trickle down to their families, communities and so on and has the potential to snowball positively. Whereas, if we do nothing we end up with just that, brilliant ideas and innovations with no outlet or possible avenue to reach full potential.

Sustainable development cannot be achieved without entrepreneurship and innovation as a backbone. A nation cannot survive by depending on Government to invest solely, provide welfare support and be the solitary leaders in innovation. Entrepreneurs through civil society, the private sector, individuals and organisations are a vital link in the transformation of low income traditional economies to modern, thriving, competitive economies. In developed societies entrepreneurs and the private sector contribute to more than 50% of the GDP and this is where we must aim to be by creating a base through initiatives such as the i2i where individuals can create small and medium enterprises and even cottage industries all contributing to a strong, thriving entrepreneurial sector in Trinidad and Tobago.

Entrepreneurship contributes to a more diverse economy and even cultivates a more creative, risk taking culture allowing for shifts in the traditional economic sectors by facilitating the following:

  • The creation of new businesses, although mostly small to medium with massive potential for growth.
  • The absorption of surplus labour or the combination of talent from diverse sectors. In many cases of the i2i we see individuals from a number of different fields working together to develop ideas that are cross cutting.
  • They provide innovative applications to the production process that many final goods producing firms can access. Innovation does not always mean developing something totally new. Processes and systems can be enhanced through the work of innovators.
  • They have the potential to raise both productivity and employment across sectors.
  • Globally, the growth of small, private innovative entrepreneurs has been an important contributor to rapid growth and declining poverty according to a 2013 United Nations World Institute for Economic Development Research study.

The i2i encourages innovation in seven strategic areas highlighted as areas of growth for a diversified Trinidad and Tobago. We are presently mobilising our diversification drive through the development of these seven areas and the i2i supports these seven areas which include:

  • Energy is one of them: there is a great deal of innovation in this sector from local companies, especially in the services sector. However, within the last quarter there has been a surge of interest and investment from foreign energy organisations.
  • Tourism: this needs more imaginative capacity. A lot more can be done. More resources in addition to what is being done need to be harnessed and deployed. Products need to be created and marketed. Services require greater sophistication, precision and dependability.
  • Food sustainability: the opportunities in this area are as boundless and the food scene in Trinidad and Tobago is increasing.
  • Culture and the creative industries: this is a labour intensive, skills intensive, imagination intensive set of industries that can flourish beyond Carnival and reach way beyond Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Maritime industries: Location presents endless potential and opportunities through Panama Canal, Brazil, China, India, our energy industry base and positioning between East/west trade routes. Our sheltered harbours and bays also provide an edge.
  • Information Communication Technology (ICT): Many of the past projects that have been selected feature a strong and brilliant ICT reliance and some of the present projects contribute greatly to this area as well.
  • Financial services are beginning to take off. This contributes to job creation as well as enhanced GDP.

The 2014 i2i submissions which have been selected are categorized as follows: Manufacturing and Manufacturing Related – 10; Services – 13; Creative Industries – 7; ICT – 7; Alternative/Remedial Energy and Energy Efficiency -2; Environment (clean technologies, eco-related activities) – 2; and Agro-industrial Processing – 1.

Some of these ideas/projects include: eliminating the problems of the development of cracks and other deformities on metal through the use of a metal sinking sheet, alleviating pain caused by arthritis through a hand massager which overrides pain sensation with touch sensation, improving the efficiency of greenhouses through the use of a desiccant cooling system, and assisting visually impaired individuals through the creation of a mobile product which uses a range of sensors, GPS, cameras, and microprocessors in order to help them navigate and avoid obstacles.

This is a fair mix of sectors that with the right approach and attitude will lead to the right growth. I have always called for the private sector to play a significant role in enhancing the innovative output of Trinidad and Tobago. The Economic Development Board and the Council for Competitiveness and Innovation have been working with the private sector to get their views on how we can enhance competitiveness and innovation in Trinidad and Tobago. Some of the areas where more can be done include the following and more:

  • Skills development and training.
  • Organizing similar programmes or offering to take up this one and running with it.
  • Venture capitalist investments or angel investments into the projects.
  • Mentorship support.
  • Being leaders of innovators themselves, so as to motivate and inspire.
  • Developing sources of finance with favourable rates that can be accessed.
  • Directly investing in projects that have high market potential whether within or outside of their firms.

Some of the other things we are doing to support the growth of entrepreneurialism in Trinidad and Tobago are:

  • In June 2013 the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI), which falls under the ambit of the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development, collaborated with the Scientific Research Council of Jamaica in an agreement with the World Bank for the execution of Phase 1 of a 5-year project called the Caribbean Climate and Innovation Centre (CCIC). This Centre is also located at the Centre for Enterprise Development.

The role of the Caribbean Climate and Innovation Centre will be to engage entrepreneurs in a physical space where viable commercial solutions can be achieved through engagement, incubation, nurturing, and support for the creation of sustainable businesses related to climate change. Entrepreneurship does matter and it does make a difference. It comes from the imaginative capacity of the human mind and as we see through the CCIC it can contribute to the solution of social, environmental and economic challenges. Creating the enabling environment is the key responsibility of Government. This is one of many centres located in the wider Caribbean region.

  • In May of this year an historic agreement between CARIRI and Microsoft was signed to formally establish the Microsoft-CARIRI Innovation Centre (MCIC). This is the first of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean as centres already exist in Latin America, and is a direct offshoot of the strategic partnership that has been forged by these two entities with the realization that enabling and facilitating entrepreneurship through innovation is important. The MCIC is intended to assist developers, independent software vendors, entrepreneurs, researchers and students develop and deploy innovative software solutions based on Microsoft technology. The services provided are designed to boost information communication technology (ICT) development and nurture the growth of sustainable local software economies through skills and professional training and industry partnerships and innovation. This facility is also based at the Centre for Enterprise Development.
  • The economic Development Board of the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development has also worked to develop five geographic growth poles in Trinidad and Tobago pivoted on key business clusters coming out of the strengths of the poles. The five geographic zones include East Port of Spain; the South West Peninsula; the four Cs consisting of Chaguanas, Couva, Carapichaima, and Charlieville in Cantral Trinidad; the North Coast and North East Tobago. The business clusters, which also provide opportunities for development include pottery, agriculture, light manufacturing, creative industries, fashion, tourism, fishing among others.
  • The Chaguaramas Development Authority is now in the process of expanding the Boardwalk to phase 2, which will involve other spaces for vending, water sports and other activities for economic ventures.

An abundance of opportunities exist in Trinidad and Tobago and we need to seek out various creative ways to capture fulfill their potential.

We need to bear in mind the following:

  • “The Power of Entrepreneurship” can be applied to address specific social issues, underemployment, and poverty, alternative sectors of income, health, environment and overall quality of life.
  • We need to work harder to focus innovation in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider region, nurturing an environment that inspires our unique culturally embedded knowledge and enhances our capacity to compete in the global market sustainably.
  • While our traditional sectors have positively shaped our present, we cannot rely on these sectors to continue to sustain us. Sustained economic development requires diversification, which is precisely where entrepreneurship and innovation play their role, contributing simultaneously to economic prosperity and social growth.
  • Partnership among stakeholders is vital to continue to provide support to emerging entrepreneurs. The journey can be a scary one, having access to this technical support and guidance can make it less stressful for someone wanting to venture into the unknown world of small business.
  • Through n Secretariat established in this Ministry, we are also working on behalf of Trinidad and Tobago to host the VIII Americas Competitiveness Forum on October 8-10, 2014 right here in Port of Spain. We will be the first English speaking Caribbean nation to do so. The Americas Competitiveness Forum is the premier medium in the western hemisphere bringing together government, business leaders and academics to discuss innovative methods to achieve economic competitiveness and promote innovation in the Caribbean and the Americas. It arose from the recognition of the need to promote trade, entrepreneurialism, highlight the importance of investments in Research & Development as a key tool for competitiveness inter alia.
  • The theme of this year’s ACF is ‘The Human Imagination at Work: Driving Competitiveness, Powering Imagination’. This can also be applied to the core focus of the idea to innovation programme, which is aimed at challenging citizens to utilize their imaginative capacity, innovative ability, imagination and critical thinking skills to develop products, solutions, ideas that can enhance our world.

I close by congratulating all of the participants and awardees in this programme over the past three years. I also commend the organisations mentioned before, the CCI, CARIRI and NEDCO for taking this programme this far and for their future efforts to ensure that it is sustained. Let us all keep trying and striving, innovating and creating, imagining and dreaming to ensure that prosperity for all across Trinidad and Tobago is achieved.

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