Water company cops first prize in JMMB Bank’s Accelerator Programme Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

In 2016, veteran graphic artist and photographer Gary Harris took a leap of faith to open his purified water refill store in Mandeville, a town where he had no friends and knew no one.

Last year Harris’ fledgling company, Water Drops Limited, was chosen as one of 24 micro, small and medium-sized businesses (MSMEs) in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago as part of JMMB Bank’s two-year Accelerator Programme.

Last Wednesday evening, Harris was all smiles as Water Drops walked away with the first prize of $500,000 in the JMMB Group SME Accelerator Pitch Competition.

“Any business you are going into, research it first”, said Harris at the awards function and mingle at the AC Marriott Hotel in Kingston.

Harris, who continues to work as a graphic artist, said he learned everything about the purified water business for three years before starting.

Water Drops currently has two locations in Mandeville and employs six persons full-time and two part-time.

“If you know anything about Mandeville, you know it’s a different place”, Harris said about the town in central Jamaica.

He explained that Mandeville is home to Northern Caribbean University, has many Seventh-Day Adventists, and people tend to retire to bed early during the weekdays. This makes for some peculiar decisions when it comes to business.

“Mandeville is a church town. On a Saturday, people tend to come in the evenings when you’re closing. But if someone comes late I will reopen for them. I build my business through word of mouth and relationships”, Harris said.

The Accelerator Programme is offered by JMMB Bank in collaboration with the Technology Innovation Centre (TIC) under the Joan Duncan School of Ethics, Entrepreneurship and Leadership at the University of Technology, to provide these MSMEs with the necessary expertise, training and coaching, network and support services, to assist their businesses to scale and grow.

In the Accelerator Programme which will run for two years, the MSMEs are exposed to topics such as governance and accounting, business ethics, human resource management, project management, operations management, customer service and marketing

In the competition held at the end of year one, entrepreneurs were asked to pitch their proposal to a panel of judges for 10 minutes, on the business’ vision and mission, the problem in the market they were solving, how the funds would be used to improve their market position, time management, organization among other things.

Shani Duncan-Falconer, senior corporate manager, SME Resource Centre, JMMB Group in her remarks commended the “acceleratees” for accepting their assignments as growth opportunities and attending the workshops at UTech and JMMB Bank’s SME Resource Centre.

“As your mentors, we are extremely proud of how you have magnified your power. We have also learned valuable lessons about determination from you and appreciate that you have entrusted us to guide you along your entrepreneurial journey”, she said.

The second place prize of $300,000 went to Sankhard Company Limited, a producer of condiments made from Jamaican fruit and vegetables headed by the husband and wife duo Richard and Sandra McLeish; while third place of $200,000 went to STEM Builders, an online learning business led by CEO Kavelle Hylton.

The first cohort of MSMEs are drawn from diverse industries: hospitality, manufacturing, construction, agriculture, creative services, real estate, insurance and retail services.