While 2020 was a dismal year for business, several Caribbean companies managed to not only survive but thrive in a socially distanced world. Industries range from food to finance, data to delivery, but they all have one thing in common — a technology-based foundation.
“The pandemic played into the hands of many tech companies as people transitioned to work from home, so the demand for digital tools and services skyrocketed. This saw double and triple-digit growth for companies within the sector. While traditional businesses that already leveraged technology were well-positioned to grow,” says Kyle Maloney, co-founder of TBR Lab, a Caribbean-based accelerator programme designed to connect regional startups, corporations and government agencies with global resources.
Maloney and his partner, Kirk-Anthony Hamilton, have made it their mission to expand the region’s technology landscape. Through Tech Beach Retreat, a platform built to connect the Caribbean with leading global technology companies, they have sought to provide startups with exclusive access to resources and mentorship from global tech executives.
To that end, various Tech Beach alums were perfectly poised for success when the world shifted to a primarily virtual existence, including these five Caribbean startups that successfully leveraged technology to make significant gains amidst a global pandemic:
With stay-at-home orders in place and in-house dining restricted, ChefMade, an online meal prep and delivery service in Trinidad & Tobago, experienced a surge in business. ChefMade has seen steady growth since it launched in 2018 by making good on its promise to make healthy eating enjoyable and easily accessible. However, lockdown measures resulted in a drastic uptick in orders almost overnight, with the company recording its largest month-on-month increase between March and April, according to Head of Operations, Kiev Wilkie.
“The pandemic played into the hands of companies that were two things — necessities and digital. We are a food company that offers its services purely through digital interaction so while most businesses in our space were now adapting to reaching customers digitally and providing delivery, this was built into our DNA,” Wilkie said.
By the close of 2020, ChefMade’s year-on-year growth sat at nearly three times that of 2019 and Wilkie is confident they will maintain this momentum in 2021.
MDLink CEO Che Bowen with CEO of IDB Lab, Irene Arias Hofman. (Photo: Courtesy TechBeach)
MDLink’s offering of online medical consultations meant it was well-positioned for a global health crisis that limited physical interaction. Based in Jamaica and offering services throughout the Caribbean region, the telemedicine platform has been connecting patients with doctors virtually since 2017. As shelter-in-place orders swept across the region MDLink experienced a significant increase in doctor registrations and its patient database quadrupled to 25,000 in a matter of months.
“When the virus hit and everyone was forced to stay home, telemedicine became the only way to see a doctor without being exposed to the deadly virus. This drove our concept home and increased our software utilisation tremendously,” reports Che Bowen, CEO of MDLink.
The surge in business meant MDLink had to scale almost overnight, expanding its staff and introducing new service offerings, including MDLabs for COVID-19 testing; a COVID-19 AI chatbot, in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank; as well as a virus sanitisation unit.
The mass online migration of businesses resulted in an exponential increase in transactions for Caribbean online payment platform, WiPay. As many companies throughout the region closed their storefronts and opened up to the idea of virtual operations, WiPay saw an exponential rise in sign-ups, recording increases as high as 200 per cent in some of its newer markets.
According to WiPay CEO Aldwyn Wayne: “Our entire business is built on an online platform so all the solutions that we provide were built to thrive in an all-digital space. Having that at our core, made us well prepared for the pandemic.”
Since March 2020, WiPay has seen accelerated adoption of its solutions not only by the private sector but also governments, as many state agencies sought to facilitate cashless payments to reduce the need for human interaction at their offices.
The first few months of the pandemic saw insights agency, Blue Dot, lose approximately 90 per cent of its business as many clients pressed pause and adopted a “wait and see” attitude, according to the company’s CEO, Larren Peart. Fortuitously, Blue Dot had begun its digital transformation journey before Covid-19 hit, and it was able to pivot to a fully online operation in record time. Along with its new virtual business model, the company was able to identify a critical gap in its clients’ intel as it relates to consumption patterns in a socially distanced world.
“During this period we were able to convince our clients that they needed to be measuring consumer behaviour now more than ever because consumer patterns were shifting. So we took on more data analytics projects and conducted these exercises digitally, versus going out into the field and doing face-to-face interviews,” Peart said.
Between June and November 2020, Blue Dot surpassed its revenue for the previous financial year. The company will also be moving forward with aggressive expansion plans throughout the region in 2021, now that travel restrictions have proven that a physical presence isn’t required to conduct business in new markets.
In-house dining restrictions during the pandemic’s early months caused restaurants and diners alike to flock to Trinidad & Tobago-based food delivery service, DROP Caribbean. The app, which enjoyed moderate penetration early in 2020, saw its numbers skyrocket in Q2 as its service naturally met the demands of restaurants desperate to keep their kitchens open, even as their dining rooms remained closed.
“The numbers we expected to see, more so in 2021, materialized in a few months in 2020. We now average over 21,000 registered app users and we deliver hundreds of orders daily with a fleet of over 300 drivers,” said Ayanna Mc Clean of DROP Caribbean.
DROP had no alterations to make to its business model, instead, its biggest challenge, according to Mc Clean, was having to scale quickly in a short space of time, “because a demand that should have materialized in the next two years occurred in two months”.
About TBR LAB: A robust partnership with IDB Lab, HubSpot, PwC and the DMZ, the Vision of TBR Lab is to radically transform the digital landscape of the Caribbean and emerging markets. TBR LAB’s mission is to empower the emergence and proliferation of high-growth tech start-ups, as well as enable enterprise organisations and governments to deploy impactful tech-driven solutions.