Technology & The Future Of An Island Paradise

February 13, 2015

[Opinion column written by Jahde, Founder of Code 441]

Today I am sharing some observations about the island and a specific opportunity that I see arising in the current economy. Bermuda is in a very unique position. While I have been off island for the past few years, I have kept an active watch on the current news and happenings in Bermuda, particularly in the business arena. Based on my observations, our small island finds itself stuck between two economic race horses.

On the one hand there is the struggling tourism industry, which faces competition from locations which offer similar services and attractions at far lower prices. Then on the other hand we have the international business sector which has thrived over the last 20 years to surpass tourism as our main economic driver.

It therefore appears that our economic development over the past 30 or 40 years was a double edged sword because as our standard of living greatly increased so did the prices of our products!

Let’s consider our tourism industry. We face increasing competition from locales in the Caribbean such as the Dominican Republic, where a family can get a similar experience for half the budget. A potential visitor can go online today and find an all-inclusive one week package to DR at $700 per person which includes flight, hotel, food, drink and activities.

Bermuda’s beaches are far better and our rich cultural history is an experience in itself, but when you consider a middle-class family from Long Island with three kids, is Bermuda a viable option? Can you really blame them for choosing that package over ours?

I would love for Bermuda’s tourism industry to boom once again like the 1970s and 1980s but there is a time for optimism and a time for realism and we must be realistic about our expectations of the tourism industry for the future.

Men lie, women lie, numbers do not. Although tourism will always play a factor in the economy of Bermuda it will certainly not return to the heyday we have seen in decades past.

This undoubtedly will upset a lot of people but we cannot let our emotions cloud our judgment when presented with the facts of the current economic climate.

On the other hand, although the international business sector appears to be steadily growing and expanding into different business lines, I believe there could be issues with sustaining job growth in the foreseeable future.

We will continue to see consolidation across the reinsurance industry and this will result in further job losses at those merged or acquired companies.

It’s important to note here that the current situation in these two economic drivers of tourism and international business were heavily influenced by a myriad of external causes. The current events in Bermuda are no direct fault of the current government or the previous government but rather a culmination of the changing business and economic environments over the past 15 years.

The September 11 attacks and the 2008 Financial Crisis all played an important role in Bermuda’s economic development and all egos aside, neither the PLP or OBA can influence global financial markets.

These are some serious issues facing the island but these things can easily be observed reading the newspaper or walking around on Front Street any day. I would like to now turn your attention to a potential business opportunity for Bermuda moving forward.

We have all experienced the technological advancements and innovations that have occurred in the world these past few years. The internet in particular has changed all spheres of influence over our lives from business to politics, entertainment to sports and communication to personal relationships.

These changes have included all segments of society and have been faster and more disruptive than almost any other human development in recent time. You are just as likely to see your grandmother on Facebook as your younger niece or nephew!

Bermuda has not been immune to these developments and has actually embraced much of these innovations firsthand. We have one of the highest internet users as a percentage of the population and among the younger generation I know there are some people with specific skills adept at social media and internet marketing.

Although I am a software developer, I had to ask my 14 year old niece how to set up my Snapchat properly! In short I believe Bermuda could become the next startup center and technological innovation hub of the world akin to Silicon Valley [where Google, Amazon and Facebook all had starts], if not on a smaller scale.

First, Bermuda can lend itself as the go-to spot for team building exercises of early stage startups. For example, let’s say we have an imaginary startup called “Loquat”. “Loquat” was founded in 2012 in Brooklyn, New York and has a small team of 20 employees.

They recently secured a Series A funding round of $8M [so they are a little bit past the bootstrapping stage and can spare some expenses].

We can approach this company and bring their team to one of our hotels or guest houses for a week of team-building. They can also still do work as all they would need is a fast internet connection.

Second, as our infrastructure improves and reputation grows as being startup friendly we can offer satellite offices to these startups. Referring to the previous example let’s say “Loquat” has a messaging product similar to Whatsapp or Instagram.

They could benefit of having a satellite office in Bermuda because it could be used as a controlled testing environment for new products or features. “Loquat” might be experimenting with a new way to send picture messages so they can test this new feature on the island then collect feedback from locals on the pros and cons of the service.

Young Bermudians are very familiar with new apps and this could be a beta testing environment before they launch that new product or feature officially.

In addition, as more companies and startups come to the island for work, they will also bring their knowledge with them. This means that local Bermudians can enter into internships at these companies to learn software development, graphic design, UI/UX design, database management, computer systems analysis, information security and the list goes on and on.

It’s a win-win for both sides as the companies could potentially receive tax benefits when they incorporate or set up offices on the island and their employees would enjoy a beautiful island work environment as opposed to the frigid cold of New York.

For Bermudians, there will be benefits of a new and exciting industry to work in, secure and high-paying job growth and then the usual economic benefits of increased spending at local shops, vendors and fulfilled rental apartments.

There is a severe shortage of talent for technology jobs across the world and this would help to ease some of our unemployment woes.

Furthermore, the prospects for job creation in the technological field is not only limited to those that write code or are computer whizzes. We must remember that technology touches almost every industry that we know of today. When you go to get an MRI, when you scan food at the grocery store, when you run on the treadmill and record those steps to your running app.

They are all instances of using technology in non-traditional ways.

Finally, tech startups employ people from all different walks of life. Have you heard of Buzzfeed or seen those annoying “TOP 10 REASONS WE MISS THE 90s” articles on Facebook? There is someone getting paid close to six-figures to write those types of articles, mixing funny memes with words.

Young Bermudians can fill those positions. A young man or woman going to school for journalism and communications can come back to the island and work for one of those startups, writing content, producing videos and handling their PR.

The beauty of the technology industry today is that it creates ancillary opportunities and jobs that previously we never knew could exist.

In the long run Bermudians will hopefully gain the experience and expertise to create startups of their own and become full-fledged entrepreneurs employing others along the way. The process of learning new technologies has become increasingly cheaper and widely available which makes it a great opportunity for the island.

Who’s to say that the next Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat can’t come from a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?

We can even look to Singapore as an example of a small country, with limited natural resources that has thrived through the result of technological innovation.

On a 21-mile plane of land, our greatest export was and forever will be, our intellectual and human capital. Whether it was the culture that propelled tourism so long ago or the friendly international business environment over the past 20 years, human and intellectual capital has always been our forte.

We must capitalize and build on that strength moving forward.

I founded Code 441 last year to inspire and teach the next generation of young Bermudians in the world of STEM technology, engineering and business. My hope is that Code 441 can empower young Bermudians to be producers and creators.

In today’s world, tech is at the forefront of every business whether that’s reinsurance, healthcare or social media. In much the same way, technology can unlock a new paradigm in Bermuda for innovation and creation.

Time will tell whether the America’s Cup is a success and although I hope it could be for all Bermudians, we also need something more sustainable and advantageous for us decades from now. From gaming to transport, communication to ecommerce, I truly believe that technology can provide that path for us if we have an open mind.

It will certainly not be an easy road and we will need to invest heavily into education and retraining in the workforce, but it is one of the most fruitful prospects for our tiny island. It’s an industry that is exciting, fun and has the potential to change the world. Let’s work together to make sure that we are not late for the party.

“What a computer is to me is the most remarkable tool that we have ever come up with. It’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” – Steve Jobs

- Jahde

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Comments (12)

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  1. Jeremy Deacon says:

    Great to see this and I totally agree. Tech has had a profound effect on Bermuda (consider outsourcing) and we totally rely on it as an Island. However, we have never set out to explore how Bermuda could benefit from changes in technology.
    This will never be the third pillar – a third pillar is going to have to be the sum of lots of smaller things – but we must investigate, urgently, how Bermuda can take advantage of tech innovations.

  2. somuchless says:

    Thanks for speaking out on tourism. Everyone knows that we have an issue but the ones who are in a position to make change refuse to do it and wonder why tourism continues to fail.

    I forgot that they had to bring in someone and pay them 295 thousand a year to say what? His results haven’t changed. So what does that tell you?

  3. huh says:

    I would suggest Bermuda should look to leverage things that we have. BIOS, marine environmental research , risk modelling, weather research, niche tourism – eco, cultural, history. Arbitration, ship and plane registry, etc..

  4. Quinton Berkley Butterfield says:

    This. Is. Excellent. I hope the government is listening!!

  5. Herb says:

    What an interesting article, enjoyed reading it, just wish i was a younger man to take advantage of what the gentleman is advocating.

    Thank you for the information.

    Herb

  6. Bermudian. says:

    Well done.

  7. js says:

    dream on

    the only reason why facebook or any other tech start up has any value is because of their overly inflated stocks listed on exchanges such as NASDAQ

    for a local to try to develop a similar company without the opportunity to list on these exchanges is an exercise in futility

    • Jahde says:

      Hi js, it’s not only NASDAQ listed technology stocks that are creating value.

      There are hundreds, if not thousands of startups around the world which are proving to provide increasing value in the marketplace. Many of those companies employ large groups of people, generate revenue but are not listed on any stock exchange.

      The goal of a startup/tech company is to provide value to people through their goods and services. You don’t need to be listed on the stock exchange to do that.

  8. ImJustSayin says:

    And what percentage of Bermudian’s are academically inclined to be employed in that industry? Answer:not many.

    • Inclined says:

      I do actually. I have a Master’s: Engineer in Computer Science (ECS) specializing in Media Arts and Science. Myself along with many other Bermudians hold BA’s and MA’s in similar IT areas…

      As such it should be encouraged to our young students, those in middle school/highschool/university , those of us already employed in the workforce – to get involved in this area, pursue a technology related degree and also to encourage a wave/mindset of Entrepreneurship. We can and we WILL create, own and employ!

      • Jahde says:

        Additionally the academics required to excel in the technology industry is often less than other industries. Whereas similar jobs in Bermuda (lawyer, doctor, actuary, reinsurance etc.) require years and years of college, residency, tutelage and certificates you can be employed at most tech companies with a 4 year undergraduate degree.

        Furthermore the industry is shifting to the arena where skills are more valued over credentials. There are many companies in silicon valley hiring people that never went to college simply because they do great work.

        In a nutshell, the ability to learn is valued more than pieces of paper or certificates. And that is something we can teach the next generation of young bermudians.

        http://qz.com/180247/why-google-doesnt-care-about-hiring-top-college-graduates/

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