Critical Elements Missing for Montserrat to become an App Development Hub, says Lavabits developer

Dr Samuel Joseph
Dr Samuel Joseph

BRADES, Montserrat – Several critical elements are missing from the equation if Montserrat is to become a mobile application development hub, says Dr. Samuel Joseph of Lavabits.

Dr. Joseph, CEO of Lavabits, a local software development firm was speaking at Monday’s After Work Chat organized by the National ICT Council as part of ICT Week activities.

He noted that the top companies across the globe didn’t exist 10 to 15 years ago and that Montserrat needed to keep pace with the new technologies which have changed how we live and do business. Playing devil’s advocate the developer said Montserrat couldn’t become a mobile app development hub as it was missing the key factors that created Silicon Valley and other software development centers.

“The development hubs at Silicon Valley, Boston and Seattle have this in common. Top universities in close proximity from which the brightest minds have converged and are constantly challenging the status quo. They also have people with a lot of money around them and willing to invest in the process to develop the next Google or Facebook.

“Montserrat would have to import developers and we do not have people who are willing to invest in research. The Government cannot fund it and they also don’t have the ability to pick the right companies to invest in,” explained Joseph.

The developer said another key reason is that Montserratians as in many other Caribbean territories subscribe to a very linear method of thinking. “We reward people who follow the rules. We continue to protect the old industries but they must die for new technologies to take over. Start-up hubs need a liberal environment to flourish. They develop in spaces where strange ideas are allowed to be birthed and then strange solutions are sought. We are not willing to let go of the idea that tourism is the answer although we can see from neighboring countries that they are in financial trouble although they are welcoming millions of tourists every year.”

Joseph noted that Montserrat’s economy was small and without a vibrant private sector, calling it a false economy as it was driven by international donor funding. He added that the OECS Economic Union and the CARICOM Common Market also did not encourage cross-border collaboration and getting products to market would be a challenge because of the various regulations and different central banks which would need to give approval.

“The government would need to give money and forget about it but as they are run in five-year cycles, they would want to see success by the next election. There needs to be the political will for Montserrat to have a chance in this sector. Our education system also needs to be changed, mentors with experience would need to be available to guide the entrepreneurs through each phase,” the developer told the gathering.

However, Joseph believes there is still opportunity for Montserrat and other Caribbean islands to play a part in the software development sector.

“No major technology has come out of the Caribbean which means it is still there to be done. We have to decide we want to make money and not just enough for ourselves but to invest in others. Google, Facebook, Snap Chat and the other tech giants were funded by other technology entrepreneurs who understood the system and were willing to support the next big thing.

“What is needed he said is an institution to gather like-minded and brilliant developers within the same space to collaborate. They would need access to professors, lawyers, marketers, accountants, and funders. Nine out of ten of the ventures will not make it so a different funding system is needed. Banks won’t fund start-ups. You need venture capitalists who will take a share in the company. All you need is one company to succeed which will make up for the nine which fail,” Joseph declared.

He said developers need to look at the problems which need to be solved within the government and private sector. Find a solution and then package it for marketing across the region and globally.

This is the first year that the National ICT Council in partnership with the Ministry of Communications & Works is hosting ICT Week. Activities continue until Friday, November 14.