Invest in people. Easy, right? While more money than ever is being deployed around the world into new ventures, Oslene Carrington is leveraging her own entrepreneurial experience to ensure entrepreneurs in Guyana and the Caribbean have access to financing as well. Oslene is not one to wait around for change to occur. She decided she would create her own community of angel investors.
By expertly explaining the risks of financing innovation abroad, especially at the angel stage, some of that risk is mitigated by tapping an angel network with first-hand experience within these unique cultures and landscapes. With the Caribbean Diaspora Angel Investor Network Trust and !nnovate Guyana, Oslene is accelerating the trends of access and democratization of private markets with a veteran approach.
3:45 - Fostering and funding great ideas from home
Oslene traveled home to Guyana and witnessed some innovative business presentations. When she realized those great ideas would need greater support to develop, she started a program to award capital to the most viable ones.
“I happened to be at home in Guyana at one point visiting five years ago and was at the university there where I have friends and saw some really amazing things happening in terms of innovation. Like a lot of universities, they have these annual presentations of student research conferences...I had experienced doing startup programs and finding funding for them, and commercial relationships with the private sector and with the academic environment and so on and so forth. And so it just clicked for me very easily to create something. And so what was born from that is something called the Guyana Innovation Prize, which is like an MIT prize or any of these other university-based prizes where I go find money. I find capital. Either initially as donations, we started out and in many ways still are a philanthropic endeavor, and find capital and match those up with great ideas. And so annually, we have a competition and the funding is awarded to the best commercializable ideas.”
5:53 - The angel of the Caribbean
Oslene’s second major venture was founding the Caribbean Diaspora Angel Investor Network (CDAIN), an angel investor network that takes the concept of funding great ideas in the Caribbean further, this time backed by corporate sponsors and government grants.
“That brought me to my second business idea, which is the Caribbean Diaspora Angel Investor Network, or CDAIN. Because, you know, again, we would find the funding. We have corporate sponsors now, you know a USA government grant. But [the] point is, now we're able to take these ideas and go to the next stage. So you can sort of say that the initial support is pre-seed. And that what we then do is, you know, you can sort of categorize pre-seed and stages. Maybe there's a pre-seed A, and a pre-seed B round, or whatever you want to call it. I mean, we can pretty much make up anything we want in this space, because it is still pretty much angel. And so now through the network, we're able to bring those products along further and get them ready for [an investment], or actually get them invested.”
9:55 - Invest in solutions aimed at solving big problems
In Oslene’s eyes, community members are best positioned to know exactly what they need. Investing in ideas that meet fundamental needs feels much less risky than other investing endeavors.
“The idea of a community coming together to find opportunities that we're all familiar with, or that we can connect to in some way, because it's either from places that we know, or it's addressing problems that we know happens, quote-unquote, back home, that's kind of how it all came together. To your question about risk, I mean, we don't see these things as risky. Because we know what the challenges are. We know what the needs are...It's amazing what people consider risky. Like I would never put my money, for example, in penny stocks. I would never put my money in yet another IoT solution when most people in America and in the world are not living in quote-unquote smart homes. Like I would never do that. And I'm not saying that stuff isn’t smart, I'm not saying that it's bad investing to do that. I'm just saying there are so many other problems in the world that are fundamental. And there are a lot of smart people in other places that have solutions for these problems. And if the capital met up with that, there'd be a lot of very, very wealthy people. And it's the basis of that, that I said, well, why not us? Why couldn't it be us? Who we're not only pooling our money to solve the problems, but potentially experiencing a wealth boom.”
12:23 - Solving for the southern hemisphere
Seven billion people live in the southern hemisphere, where primary concerns revolve around agriculture more than tech. Problem-solving in one agricultural area, for example, has immediate potential to expand to other, similar areas.
“I know about my particular area of the world and the sector, which happens to be ag-tech, agro-processing, and ag science. Right. Because the part of the world we're talking about is heavily agricultural. But so are a lot of other places in the world. And so we feel like we're not just solving for a country or a few countries in this region. We're talking about any place in the world that's heavily agricultural and tropical. Well, guess what? That's the vast majority of the world, right? Southeast Asia, Southern Africa, the Caribbean. The Southern half of the world is as populated as the Northern part of the world, and the Southern part of the world is tropical. So we're talking about half of the 7 billion people in the world and solving for them. So this isn't risky. We're not talking about is somebody going to buy this IoT solution versus this other one, is somebody gonna buy this electric car versus the other one? That is real risk. Solving for problems that affect billions of people is not risk.”
14:33 - Establishing trust outweighs the data
When a community already knows what needs to be done, they don’t immediately worry about what the data says. Building trust and the narrative becomes the focal point.
“The risk aversion is a different kind. It has to do with trust. And it's not about data. So, you know, how do you bring data to the picture to establish a level of trust? So the fact is, if I say to you, Andrew, I've got this great offering, this great opportunity. Probably because you don't know the region or the area, you're probably going to look at all the numbers. Probably try to do some additional research outside of what I share with you to see whether what I say is in fact the truth, or if I've missed anything, or if there's more, assuming you're interested. When we're talking to people who already know what the problems are, now it's well, I want to be sure that I'm not going to lose my money because you're talking about people that I don't know. So it becomes much more of about ‘who are you?’ versus ‘what is this opportunity?’ And so we are using technology to sort of strip away this whole, ‘who are you?’”
16:01 - Non-accredited investors are underserved
Oslene’s target investors have a deep understanding of international affairs. They are intelligent and interested in an equally sophisticated investing experience.
“If you're an accredited investor and you're doing private investing, you're not writing a check to somebody. For the most part, you're entering into a data room. You're looking at stuff, you're interacting on a professional level. And so we wanted to bring that same experience. Why should we pull punches, or have people have a ‘less than’ experience, just because we're targeting a different part of the world or a different group of people? Who by the way, are not accredited. They’re sophisticated. And so another point is that some of the technology that's out there is not an option for us. Because we don't want to do crowdfunding for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is a crazy cap table. You know, we wanted to get to people who were not gambling for a smart enough, sophisticated. And then when I say smart, I don't mean intelligence-wise. I mean, able to look at documents that would go with an offering and discern what's there, and talk to their attorneys and do their own research and so forth. So we wanted that person. We just wanted to remove the barrier that says, you know, you have to have, I think it's about a million dollars in net worth, and take that off the table, but still give you the same quality experience using technology.”
19:47 - Removing barriers to entry
There are clear requirements to become an accredited investor. The problem is that the majority of the population falls just below that threshold. Oslene hopes to give them an investing opportunity beyond crowdfunding.
“If you are ready to invest, say you have $25,000. Say you have $50,000 that you want to put into two or three or one particularly strong investment. But you can't check the box that you're an accredited investor because you make $180,000 and not $200,000. Or when you put in your mortgage and your car, you're at $600,000 in net assets or net worth versus one million. So what, you don't get to invest? The best thing that we have to offer you as an investment community is crowdfunding? What is that? Come on! There's stuff in the middle. And I don't think that many people are interested in it. Because like I said, the folks who were raising want to do it quickly and with a small cap. That's not my aim. My aim is to do it reasonably quickly, but it's also to offer people like me the opportunity to have wealth without having to jump through, you know, ten hoops, which are unnecessary by the way.”
30:09 - Creating a community
There is a vast number of Caribbean Americans in the U.S. Oslene’s next goal is to bring more people into the network she’s established to create an even stronger community of investors.
“Top of mind for me is bringing more people into the network. So we're all women, by the way. I didn't mention that [earlier], but we're all just an amazing group of women. Some of whom I knew before I started this. Others, not even a little bit, didn't know them from a can of paint! And we want to get more folks involved. We want to make sure we do that in a way that nobody gets upset, like the authorities. We're not selling anything. We are just trying to create a community. So the next 12 months for me, I think, is about getting more people to hear this story. Because I don't know if you know this, but I believe according to the most recent data I looked at, there are 14 million people in the U.S. who are immigrants from the Caribbean. That doesn't include first and second generation who very much would culturally associate with the Caribbean. And so we want to get those folks engaged. That's a lot of people, that's a lot of purchasing power.”
31:14 - Blockbusters or bust
Oslene’s 3-5 year goal is to see some of the ideas in which they invest become blockbuster successes, bringing wealth to the CDAIN community.
“Without question is bringing resources, and I don't just mean money. I mean intellect, experience, everything else to bring the products that are part of the companies that we have in the fold to really have them build some blockbusters. They're already building blockbuster products, but to really create wealth. To have them get acquired or, you know, gangbusters in sales, and just stay private, whatever. We're not really looking at IPOs and things like that, although certainly that could happen. But the vast majority of companies that have exits are acquired. And so that's what we want to do. We want to have a couple of, more than a couple, but a few exits in the next five years that really create wealth for the community of investors that make up CDAIN.”