While 2020 was a bleak business year, several Caribbean companies managed not only to survive but also to thrive in a socially distant world. Industries range from food to finance and data to delivery. They all have one thing in common: a technology-based foundation.
“The pandemic played into the hands of many tech companies as people switched to work from home. The demand for digital tools and services rose by leaps and bounds. This led to double-digit and triple-digit growth for companies in the industry. While traditional companies already using technology were well positioned to grow, ”said Kyle Maloney, co-founder of TBR Lab, a Caribbean-based accelerator program designed to connect regional startups, corporations and government agencies with global resources.
Maloney and his partner Kirk-Anthony Hamilton are committed to expanding the region’s technology landscape. With Tech Beach Retreat, a platform connecting the Caribbean to leading global tech companies, they have sought to give startups exclusive access to resources and mentoring from global tech managers.
To that end, various Tech Beach alums were perfectly poised for success as the world shifted to a largely virtual existence, including these five Caribbean startups that successfully used technology to make significant profits amid a global pandemic:
ChefMade, an online meal preparation and delivery service in Trinidad and Tobago, saw an increase in business. ChefMade has seen steady growth since its launch in 2018 by keeping its promise to make healthy eating enjoyable and easily accessible. However, lockdown measures resulted in a dramatic increase in orders almost overnight. According to Kiev Wilkie, Head of Operations, between March and April the company saw the largest increase over the previous month.
“The pandemic played into the hands of companies that were two things – necessities and digital. We are a food company that offers its services exclusively through digital interaction. While most of the companies in our space have adjusted to reaching customers and delivering deliveries digitally, that has become part of our DNA, ”said Wilkie.
By the end of 2020, ChefMade’s year-over-year growth was nearly three times its 2019 rate, and Wilkie is confident they will maintain that momentum in 2021.
Che Bowen, CEO of MDLink, with Irene Arias Hofman, CEO of IDB Lab. (Photo: Courtesy TechBeach)
MDLink’s offering of online medical consultations meant it was well positioned for a global health crisis that restricted physical interaction. The Jamaica-based telemedicine platform, which offers services throughout the Caribbean region, has been connecting patients with doctors virtually since 2017. As accommodation orders expired across the region, MDLink saw a significant surge in physician registrations and the patient database quadrupled to 25,000 in just a few months.
“When the virus hit and everyone was forced to stay home, telemedicine was the only way to see a doctor without exposure to the deadly virus. This brought our concept home and increased our software utilization tremendously, ”reports Che Bowen, CEO of MDLink.
With the business boom, MDLink had to scale, staff, and introduce new service offerings almost overnight, including MDLabs for COVID-19 testing. a COVID-19 AI chatbot in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank; as well as a virus disinfection unit.
The mass online migration of businesses resulted in an exponential increase in transactions for the Caribbean online payment platform WiPay. As many companies across the region closed their stores and opened up to the idea of virtual operations, WiPay has seen an exponential surge in signups, seeing a surge of up to 200 percent in some of its newer markets.
Aldwyn Wayne, CEO of WiPay, explains: “Our entire business is based on an online platform. All of the solutions we offer are designed to be successful in a purely digital space. Having that at its core prepared us well for the pandemic. “
Since March 2020, WiPay has accelerated the rollout of its solutions not only in the private sector but also in governments as many government agencies have tried to enable cashless payments to reduce the need for human interaction in their offices.
In the first few months of the pandemic, Insights agency Blue Dot lost around 90 percent of its business as many clients took a break and adopted a wait and see attitude, according to the company’s CEO Larren Peart. Fortunately, Blue Dot had started its digital transformation journey before the success of Covid-19 and was able to move to full online operations in record time. Together with its new virtual business model, the company was able to identify a critical gap in its customers’ information relating to consumption patterns in a socially distant world.
“During this time, we have been able to convince our customers that they need to measure consumer behavior more than ever because consumer patterns are changing. That’s why we’ve taken on more data analysis projects and done these exercises digitally instead of going into the field and doing face-to-face interviews, ”said Peart.
Between June and November 2020, Blue Dot exceeded its sales of the previous financial year. The company will also continue to push aggressive expansion plans across the region in 2021 after travel restrictions prove that a physical presence is not required to do business in new markets.
The in-house food restrictions in the first few months of the pandemic meant that restaurants and guests alike flocked to the DROP Caribbean food delivery service in Trinidad & Tobago. The app, which found moderate penetration in early 2020, saw its number grow rapidly in the second quarter, as its service naturally met the needs of restaurants that wanted to keep their kitchens open even if their dining rooms were closed.
“The numbers we expected, especially in 2021, came in just a few months in 2020. We now have an average of over 21,000 registered app users and are delivering hundreds of orders every day with a fleet of over 300 drivers,” said Ayanna Mc Clean from DROPS Caribbean.
DROP did not have to make any changes to its business model, instead, according to Mc Clean, its biggest challenge was to be able to scale quickly in a short period of time “because a demand that should have occurred in the next two years appeared in two months”.
About TBR LAB: TBR Lab’s vision is a solid partnership with IDB Lab, HubSpot, PwC and the DMZ and is to radically transform the digital landscape of the Caribbean and emerging markets. TBR LAB’s mission is to promote the emergence and diffusion of high-growth technology start-ups and enable business organizations and governments to deploy effective technology-driven solutions.