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The eight teams of budding student entrepreneurs, who emerged from the 22 teams participating in the 2020 Vincent HoSang UWI Venture Competition (UWIVC), demonstrated an apt response to the ‘new normal’ business environment by showcasing digital solutions to current problems and gaps in the market.

Copping the first-place prize was Kristen Gyles of Factions News, a mobile application that collects news data from ordinary citizens across the country for broadcast on various platforms, providing Jamaicans with authentic news in real time. Second-place winner Nkrumah Fong of CERES Laboratories, a unique research company that focuses on new technology known as vehicular exhaust absorbers, seeks to preserve the natural environment using this technology. While the third-place prize went to the duo of Stuart Payne and Cereta McDougall for Epic Escape Room. This is a digitally enhanced business that provides a 60-minute real-life adventure game with virtual capabilities that are mentally stimulating, featuring uniquely designed concepts and puzzles for its users. The top three finalists walked away with almost J$800,000 in prize money.

Further demonstrating the digital entrepreneurial thrust was Mother Theresa Driving Academy, which is a business co-owned and operated by Leneka Rhoden, offering a digital approach for all driver education needs, including applying for learner’s permit, acquiring educational materials and driving-test preparation for a Jamaican driver’s licence. Rhoden, a second-time participant in the competition, walked away with two noteworthy prizes for her business venture, namely: the JMMB Joan Duncan Award for Corporate Social Responsibility and the award for Digital Transformation, presented by sponsor Baymac. Mother Theresa Driving Academy amassed J$250,000 in prize money.

The top teams were shortlisted after their presentations, by judges Wayne Sutherland, director, JMMB Group; Professor Jennifer Bailey, assistant professor, Babson College; Wayne Beecher, founder and CEO, Alt^Catalys; and Douglas Lindo, chairman, Vincent HoSang Entrepreneurship Programme board.

In addition to the prize money awarded to the top teams, these winners are to participate in an all-expenses-paid trip to New York, courtesy of the competition’s benefactor, Vincent HoSang, where they will be given the opportunity to tour the Caribbean Food Delights facilities. While in New York, the winners will also be exposed to business and cultural experiences, in addition to meeting with, and learning from, several successful Jamaican entrepreneurs. This year’s trip has however been postponed to 2022, due to the current COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Speaking during the recent awards ceremony, aired via YouTube, Dr Indianna Minto-Coy, academic director for masters of science programmes and co-head of MIBES (marketing, international business, entrepreneurship and strategy) at The University of the West Indies, Mona, who brought remarks on behalf of Executive Director of the Mona School of Business and Management (MSBM, Dr David McBean, encouraged the finalists to continue their development as they become high-growth entrepreneurs of Jamaica with the assistance of their partners and benefactors.

Ava-Marie Ingram, corporate communications manager, Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority, in her sponsor’s remarks, noted, “This competition, in addition to its many successes, continues to create a culture of resilience and innovation, which we so very much need now more than ever.” A similar sentiment was also echoed by multi-year sponsor of the competition, JMMB Joan Duncan Foundation. Patricia Duncan-Sutherland, chairman of the foundation, also underscored the value of the UWIVC which contributes to the development of the entrepreneurship ecosystem, an approach that is in keeping with the foundation’s commitment to support youth entrepreneurship.

The partners and sponsors of this year’s competition were: Vincent HoSang Family Foundation and Caribbean Food Delights, Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority, JMMB Joan Duncan Foundation, Development Bank of Jamaica, Jamaica Venture Capital, Regus Caribbean, Baymac and Mona Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Centre.

The competition, which was first held in 2002, seeks to harness the talents and skills of students within the UWI community and facilitate the development of their ideas into full-fledged businesses.