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Tourism start-ups pitching to ‘sharks’

THE GOVERNMENT plans to host a ‘Shark Tank’-style pitch room to evaluate its ongoing tourism incubator participants.

“At ‘Shark Tank’, entrepreneurs can have one of two results: The entrepreneur can be chosen by a member of the panel who considers the project a good fit for his or her own enterprise by way of a partnership, or the entrepreneur will move on to the final stage within the [incubator],” stated the tender document, titled ‘Procurement for the Tourism Innovation Incubator’.

Shark Tank is a US reality show that pitches business start-ups to a panel of business titans for capital. The show first aired in 2009, but was a spin-off of the Japanese-based Money Tigers, which first aired in 2001. There are over nine franchises of the show globally, including Dragons Den in the UK. The Tourism Enhancement Fund, TEF, pitch room is not associated with the show.

The local incubator focuses on ideas to enhance the sector, but also health & wellness, ecotourism, cultural heritage, food, sports, and entertainment. It endorses the ‘blue ocean’ strategy, which aims to develop new markets and demand in the sector. Consequently, the incubator aims to prepare these new businesses to swim among the sharks.

“For the Tourism Innovation Incubator, we have adopted an ecosystem model. Therefore, we work through our partners to execute the innovation challenge and its components,” stated Delano Seiveright, senior adviser in the Ministry of Tourism, in response to Financial Gleaner queries. “We will be utilising the networks of both our partners.”

Seiveright listed the Founder Institute and the University of Technology-based Technology Innovation Centre,as the partners. He added that existing venture capitalists, angel investors, equity funds, and so on, would also be invited to participate.

“The TEF is primarily coordinating these resources; we are not reinventing anything that already exists,” he noted.

The incubator is ultimately aimed at generating new revenue streams for the sector, which suffered under the pandemic. Prior to the pitch room, stakeholders will hire a consultant to design 3-D mock-ups of storefronts, websites and other digital offerings of the participants, according to the tender, which closed on March 29.

The designer will “complete a series of one-on-one meetings with each of the 11 participants in the Tourism Innovation Incubator programme”, according to the tender document.

The TEF, an agency in the Ministry of Tourism, will act as the procuring entity. As context, the ministry set up the incubator last year following a call for proposals.

The incubator will eventually culminate in the ‘shark tank’-style investor selection event, according to the document. Panellists will invite candidates to make a presentation of their most viable product.

The tourism ministry wants to reimagine and reinvent the tourism product and its value chains.

“Specifically, the incubator will look to identify and assist in the development of ideas that are innovative, useful and convertible, and add value,” it explained.

The tourism sector has returned to pre pandemic levels arguably faster than expected. The new revenue streams are, however, aimed at swelling income and employment beyond the traditional boundaries of the sector. Jamaica reportedly welcomed 2.9 million visitor arrivals in 2022 and generated revenue of an estimated US$3.58 billion.

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