Like you, 2020 made me spend most of my time on Zoom calls. So in December, feeling like I’d been imprisoned for way too long in Paris, I decided to travel somewhere FAR AWAY, as far as I could. I jumped on a plane, with just a negative COVID test, my hand baggage, and my little sister. We landed in the Caribbean, on a beautiful island with less than 400,000 inhabitants: Martinique.
It wasn’t long before my phone started getting notifications on Instagram & Facebook Messenger… Some local tech entrepreneurs were inviting me to their gatherings. As my work is my passion, I felt lucky to discover the land through the eyes of local entrepreneurs.
There are fewer taboos with entrepreneurs: problems need to be exposed in order to be solved. Thanks to them, I’ve learned a lot about the context of the Martiniquans. My view on it as paradise quickly switched to another reality. Before sharing with you some inspiring examples of founders I’ve met, let’s get some context.
The island’s history is rooted in slavery and sugar production.
In total, 216,000 enslaved Africans were brought to the island between 1500 and 1848 to work on the plantations. The legal framework for rights was set by the Code Noir, in which slaves are considered like “furniture”.
The economy is locked up & the land poisoned.
Nowadays the Bekés - the descendants of the first European settlers - represent 1% of the population but own 52% of the agricultural operations & factories. Most of the commodities are imported from France, increasing the cost of living to make it 20% higher than on the mainland. And the unemployment rate is high, 18%.
Bananas are the top crop, which led to an ecological disaster due to chlordecone, a very toxic pesticide that has been outlawed since the 1990s but still largely remains in the soil.
The prevailing mindset is administrative.
25% of the working population is employed by the government.
From the ‘60s to the ‘80s, in an operation called BUMIDOM, 160,000 men and women of the French Caribbean islands, Guyana and Réunion, were recruited and sent to work in construction, the health services and local administrations.
And a few important things for tech entrepreneurs:
Fiber optic service only covers 14% of the territory.
Local talent goes away - 3,000 people leave each year for their studies, only a few come back.
Amazon doesn’t deliver here.
And Stripe finally started to be available for local startups just a few weeks ago!
Thanks to the Internet, entrepreneurs set their own standards of ambition by reading, watching and applying what’s shared by other great founders all over the world. And I must say that I was very impressed by how all of the entrepreneurs I met already knew The Family from our videos, both in English and French (through Koudetat).
All the barriers I mentioned above are making their innovations so different than what I'm used to, so specific. But these particularities aren’t just limited to their territory. They are potentially scalable as well.
Let me give you a few examples.
Empowering the kids: Learning Creole while having fun.
It’s crazy when you think about it, but there are no books for kids in Creole. So in just a few months Grégory started Yekrik, a box with cool comics sharing the Caribbean culture in its language. Hundreds of parents subscribe to receive their books each month. A tiny market? 1.5M people speak French-Creole and 76M people speak English-based Creole.
Allowing patients to book and meet physicians, offline or online.
When you’re living outside of the big cities of the world, you’re in what is called a “medical desert”. That’s why Rodolphe, an engineer and son of a doctor, started Clikodoc in Martinique. Today Clikodoc is serving more than 200,000 users and he quickly realized that Guadeloupe, Réunion and Côte d'Ivoire had the same “patterns”, being regions where the population has inadequate access to healthcare.
Helping women access natural cosmetics while recycling.
Every year nearly 270,000 tons of bananas are transported by boat to Europe, but 40,000 tons will never be sold. Kadalys’s mission is to recycle and valorize agro-waste generated by the banana industry. Introduced to the Creole pharmacopoeia at a very early age by her mother, Shirley, the founder, combines her desire to enhance the ancestral cosmetic virtues of the banana tree with her passion for plant research. And Shirley is inspiring young female entrepreneurs in building their own natural cosmetic brands, like Coralie, the founder of Nateya, who uses guava in her range of cosmetics.
Growing the rich variety of fruits and vegetables the land can provide.
Two sons from a family of farmers going back 4 generations and a web marketer started Petit Cocotier, delivering the best of local farms every week: fruits, vegetables, eggs, all grown in Martinique, all without pesticides. Hundreds of clients order their baskets each week. Not only have they managed to value their soil while teaching farmers better growing practices, but they’re proving that it’s possible to change. So many places around the world still suffer from an economic dependency on monocultures inherited from colonialism. Petit Cocotier’s know-how is precious and needed in many tropical environments.
Accessing pure water.
Vincent started Caribaqua in reaction to the chlordecone scandal. He’s been creating a filtration system that anyone can put directly on their tap to prevent all kinds of substances from flowing into your glass of water. And where in the world are we really 100% sure of the cleanliness of the water pipes? Vincent launched his product a few months ago and is already profitable.
If there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that you can’t fake your drive. And your drive is directly derived from your own experience. These entrepreneurs have the determination to expand beyond their island and go global. Now that the world is trying to figure out how to wake up from the pandemic, they are building what seems to me to be the most important thing: an independent, sustainable and conscious economy.
And hey, who wants to keep on living in a big, crowded & polluted city now, seriously?
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