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Atech conference Aruba
Aruba: Sun, Sea, Sand and Startups!

Aruba is known for Sun, Sea and Sand, but can soon add another S to our repertoire: Startups!

Aruba hosted a very successful international technology conference, ATECH, at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino August 28th and 29th. The conference offered tech startups and entrepreneurs the chance to interact with key global players in the technology and startup scene as well as the chance to win $20.000 for best startup idea.

The main purpose for the Atech conference was to educate local entrepreneurs, business owners and startups by international industry leaders in their fields. Additionally, the conference was also a starting point to stimulate and facilitate local and international entrepreneurs to establish their business on the One Happy Island.

With 21 international speakers, who are all top influencers in the tech startup industry, 10 local speakers, a main moderator such as Angus Nelson and approx. 400 people attending, the 2 day event can surely be called a success! In this article you can read all about the conference and learn some interesting facts from the speakers who were present.


The Competition

Out of the 46 local and international startups contending for the grand prize of $20.000, only 5 were selected to pitch their innovative idea to international jury. These 5 were Juicy from Aruba, Croissant from New York, USA, Sali from Santo Domingo, AgroCentral from Jamaica, and ShareShed from Vancouver, Canada. 

The winner, AgroCentral, is a Jamaican web platform that allows agri-businesses to effectively manage their suppliers using Web, Email and Mobile services.  Jermaine Henry, CEO of AgroCentral:

“We were quite intimidated by the caliber of the startups, but we did feel confident about our chances, as we have won competitions before. But in this competition there were startups from the US, Canada and also from home base Aruba. With the price money we’ll invest in a new developer and we’re hoping to expand our platform to Africa; there it’s very common in the agriculture business to make mobile payments”.


From Rags to Riches

That entrepreneurs can be sometimes very young is no secret, but that they could be as young as 22 and have already sold their first company at 21 years old, that’s a whole other level! John Henry from New York is such a successful "rags-to-riches" story; he inspired everybody at the conference.

“My father always told me that the way you do anything is the way you do everything. So when I was a bellman at a residential building at 18 years old, I made sure that I was the best bellman I could be for our residents. I asked about their day, their children, even their pets. One of them owned a Laundromat and gave me the opportunity to start collecting the residents’ laundry and bringing those clothes to his laundromat for a whole sale price. The word spread and I started doing laundry for movie sets based in New York with my first big gig being “The Wolf of Wall street”.  From there the client list just kept on growing with names such as BoardWalk empire, Law & Order, Orange is the New Black and with celebrities like Beyoncé, Jay Z and Broadway shows like Mama Mia. I sold this company when I was 21 and then started CoFound Harlem. Basically we want to create a community of startups in Harlem, guide them through the startup phase and hence create a startup hub in Harlem.

Aruba certainly has great potential for becoming a technological hub in the Caribbean, what I have seen is that the market is wide open and people should make use of the opportunity. Also Arubans all seem well-schooled, multi-lingual and broad minded and as an island Aruba has a strategic position in between Europe and America. What we need are just 3 startups here in Aruba, to raise capital and to put Aruba on the map. I will be back here in a few months to speak at the University of Aruba and to work together on a curriculum focusing on entrepreneurship”.

John Henry gives you a few tips on how to target and segment your customers:


Wise Words from Michael 

Michael Tchong, called the most influential trendspotter in the US by the Daily Telegraph, is an Aruban born American entrepreneur, famous for MacWEEK, Atelier Systems, CyberAtlas and ICONOCAST. His latest startup, Social Revolution LLC, seeks to revolutionize digital marketing by focusing on the total user experience. Later this month Michael will launch his own app: Cross ARM, which he describes as “an app that’s going to allow all apps to communicate with each other in one marketing language, making digital marketing much easier”.

“Companies should leverage trends to become innovative, because if you’re innovative you will grow. Just look at Starbucks, they have passed Subway in being the 2nd biggest global food chain (McDonald’s still being number1). By offering free WIFI and facilitating mobile payments, Starbucks has become the living room of the future. For Aruba, I think the first steps are taken by organizing this conference, setting up the dialogue and increasing awareness for local businesses to embrace innovation and to promote startups. Sure there are some restraints but the first stone has been laid! 

*Fun fact: Aruba has the first Starbucks in the Caribbean


J.Kelly Hoey’s Strategic Suggestion

One of the moderators for the event was J Kelly Hoey, an Inc.com columnist who appears regularly as an investor panelist on CNBC’s Power Pitch, and is named one of the 100 most influential women on twitter. She also has invested in a language app called Smigin, which is a great example of a tourism focused mobile tech solution with global appeal.

“The ATECH conference was a well-executed and focused event. I was so impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the ATECH audience and speakers who traveled from all around the globe to participate. From my experience at ATECH, it would appear that Aruba has the drive and ambition to be a startup hub. With expertise in tourism and hospitality plus a focus on sustainable energy options, I'd suggest focusing your efforts on those verticals to become the leading hub for new ventures solving challenges in those areas. The next Hotel Tonight, Airbnb or Alice (mobile request management platform for hospitality) should originate from entrepreneurs who are based in Aruba”.


Rockstart- We Love Startups

Oscar Kneppers is one of the most successful serial entrepreneurs of the Netherlands and a celebrated internet publisher. He has launched several cross-media brands since 1998 –all focused on new media and technology. After selling his media businesses in 2002 and 2008, Oscar founded Rockstart in 2011. Rockstart, “The Global Startup Machine”, helps startups be more successful in their first 1,000 days through funding, mentorship, community building and also facilitates an office space. They also organize many startup events and accelerator programs.  

“For a small island as Aruba, I think they did a great job with the conference. The most important thing is that the dialogue has started.  I hope that with my presentation that I could spread my message: Just start! There are many people that don’t dare to start their own company, for reasons such as fear of leaving a steady job with the monthly paycheck, but until now I haven’t met anyone who had to sleep in the street because they started their own company. It’s just a mental threshold, you have your own purpose in life to follow and you will be fine in the end!”.

Check out the Startup Manifesto by Rockstart:


ATECH XL

Following this successful event, ATECH will create a global accelerator program together with Startup Chile, Rockstart from Amsterdam, Grand Central Tech and CoFound Harlem from the US starting January 2016. Every accepted startup will receive funding, an office space and will be guided by mentors in finance, marketing and branding. Application starts the 1st of October and both local and international startups can apply.  Visit www.atechconference.co or www.facebook.com/atechconference for more information. 

About the blogger: Jane Vermaas
Born and raised on the One happy island Aruba, her passions include everything Aruba has to offer. From the best snorkel spots to authentic cultural experiences, she will give you the inside scoop on where to beach bum and where to get the best local dish, where to go salsa dancing and the island’s best practices to happiness!