IN 2017, when One on One Educational Services faced financial challenges, Ricardo Allen, the company’s founder and chief executive officer (CEO), turned to the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) for help.
He said that at that point “we were running out of money” and he had made the difficult decision to close the physical office space and operate remotely.
The DBJ came to the rescue, providing Allen with financial support and guidance, enabling him to not only rebuild but also grow his business outside of Jamaica.
One on One now has contracts with customers in the Caribbean and the United States.
Allen said One on One was able to fund the development of software “that the government of the Bahamas now uses, the government of St. Kitts, all these people. I just got my first contract from California, in the United States of America.”
One on One Educational Services is among a number of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) that have received billions of dollars in financial support to improve and expand their operations through a range of products and services offered by the DBJ .
Founded in 2013, One on One offers a range of digital education and training solutions as an innovative technology company.
Based in New Kingston, the company has built an award-winning online learning platform, offering personalized courses for students as well as businesses and governments in the Caribbean.
Clients benefit from e-learning courses, online training, educational design services, and expert educators and trainers. About 400,000 students were served via the online platform.
Allen said the DBJ has been with the company “every step of the way.”
He recalled that “when we started the company and started the online learning platform, we felt like we needed money. We raised money from the market and we got investors, but we ran out quickly. With this big idea we went to the DBJ, and they supported us [under] the Innovation Grant from New Ideas to Entrepreneurship (IGNITE) program.
IGNITE enables Jamaican entrepreneurs, especially SMEs with innovative business ideas, to access grant funds to develop and commercialize their products and services.
Allen noted that once he received the grant from the DBJ, there was a team of people who provided the needed guidance.
“When I sat in that boardroom with DBJ, they had the ability to just sit and listen to my crazy ideas, and their attitude is, ‘how can we help to support?’ And so, from day one, when we got that $2.5 million IGNITE grant, it worked wonders for us.
“That allowed us to create a technology and software or online learning platform that we can now deliver to anyone, anywhere,” he said.
One on One has also received loan support through DBJ’s Credit Enhancement Facility.
This is a risk-sharing arrangement where the bank provides partial guarantees to approved financial institutions to enable them to extend more credit to SMEs.
With the outbreak of COVID-19 and students studying online, Allen again approached the DBJ for help developing an innovative product that will give people access to the internet, particularly in remote rural areas.
“So we created something called Internet-in-a-Box. It’s a really small device, and what we do is download a version from the internet onto this device and we deploy it in rural Jamaica,” Allen explains.
“I grew up in Jackson Town, Trelawny, and when you say that… [device] in Jackson Town, students gathered around it, just like with Wi-Fi. They can use any internet-based resources on that device, without the need for internet,” he further explained.
“We had to bring that to market, and we went back to the DBJ and said we have an innovation and we need the funding to go. They had the perfect opportunity, which is this innovation fair [fund]and we have applied for it,” he added.
Allen zei dat het subsidieproces rigoureus was “omdat zij[DBJ)ervoorwildenzorgendatwaarzehungeldookaanbestedenietsisdatzalleidentotnatievormingDuswehebbentoeganggekregentotdesubsidieenwezijnnubezigmethetproducerenvandezeapparatendieweinheelJamaicagaaninzetten”[DBJ)wantedtoensurethatwhatevertheyareputtingtheirmoneytowardsissomethingthatisgoingtoleadtonationbuildingSoweaccessedthegrantandwearenowintheprocessofproducingthesedevicesthatwe’regoingtodeployacrossJamaica”[DBJ)ervoorwildenzorgendatwaarzehungeldookaanbestedenietsisdatzalleidentotnatievormingDuswehebbentoeganggekregentotdesubsidieenwezijnnubezigmethetproducerenvandezeapparatendieweinheelJamaicagaaninzetten”[DBJ)wantedtoensurethatwhatevertheyareputtingtheirmoneytowardsissomethingthatisgoingtoleadtonationbuildingSoweaccessedthegrantandwearenowintheprocessofproducingthesedevicesthatwe’regoingtodeployacrossJamaica”
The innovation grant required the company to prove that it has consistently earned more than $75 million in revenue over the past three years and also demonstrate that the product could be commercialized.
“Our product is currently being commercialized, so it’s not ready for the market yet. It’s something we’re building. The product had to be necessary for the market, and the DBJ looked at this, and the next thing they looked at was the quality of the team behind it. Can they keep this promise because many of us have ideas, but can’t keep that promise,” Allen noted.
Meanwhile, the One on One CEO said he appreciates not only the DBJ’s financial support over the years, but also the mentorship and advice that has enabled his company to capitalize on the opportunities to grow.
He recalled that five years ago, when he made the decision to run the business from home, “the DBJ team came into my bungalow, and they sat down in a little corner and they … worked through every problem I had. They gave me all the solutions. They never left me.”
“They have a team of people who are head and shoulders behind you to make sure it gets done and implemented, plus they also connect you to their network of people and organizations to give you that support,” he said. .
Allen noted that with the help of DBJ, One on One has become a truly regional company, noting that “90 percent of our customers are located outside of Jamaica.”
“We couldn’t have done it without DBJ’s vision, funding and mentorship,” he said.