The new staff at the V.I. Research and Technology Park introduced two new programs, Tuesday to promote budding entrepreneurs and assist young Virgin Islanders with a technology background in finding jobs in the territory.
Executive Director Peter Chapman took over the position nine months ago, bringing with him more than 20 years executive experience, most recently at the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. He earned a master’s degree in public policy from Tufts University and his undergraduate degree is from Wesleyan University.
At a forum held Tuesday to introduce the new staff and new programs to the community, Chapman said RT Park has “evolved” from the previous model to a new level, with a new website that includes names of current clients, how to apply for benefits, a list of attorneys who can help with the application process and other information.
Previously, the park has had an executive director and perhaps one other staff member – a lack of capacity to do the necessary work, Chapman said.
Chapman introduced the new staff members, whose job descriptions he had written. There are positions such as director of business attraction and entrepreneurship, held by Eric Sonnier, who founded a software company and worked in technology centers on both U.S. coasts before moving to the Virgin Islands.
Sonnier introduced one of the new programs – the accelerator program, which involves companies in their early stages, operating on a smaller scale than the other RTPark clients. Called cohorts, the fledgling companies will have access to capital, mentoring, office space, technical assistance, education and tax incentives. They will create revenue for the territory with the potential to grow into Tech Park client status. This program should begin later this year with one company chosen each year to participate.
To be eligible for the accelerator program a business:
– Must be registered, or willing to register, in the USVI.
– Have at least a minimum viable product (MVP) – a product with enough features to satisfy early customers and provide feedback for future development.
– Have not generated more than $500,000 in annual revenue.
– Have received investment totaling less than $2 million.
– Have the ability to grow (no traditional small businesses).
The acceleration cohort will sign a 15-year contract and the business will become an RTPark client when it completes either year five in the program, records gross revenues of $1 million, or receives investments totalling more than $5 million after entering the program.
During the community briefing, attended by about 40 people, Sydney Paul, manager of business intelligence and marketing, talked about the second new program – a talent bank. By the fourth quarter of this year, she plans to have started a database of tech professionals who were born here, are spouses of Virgin Islanders or have graduated from the University of the Virgin Islands. The goal, she said, is to provide RTPark clients with potential employees and bring “ex pats” home. Paul is from St. Croix and has worked in communications and the media on the mainland.
During the event at the University of the Virgin Islands, Chapman announced there are now more than 60 RTPark members with, he hopes, another 10 closing by the end of the summer.
In addition to the new programs, Chapman talked about other goals, and creating a five year strategic plan. The park will focus on recruiting technology and knowledge firms, developing scholarships and other value added programs in the future.
“Our goal is to educate the community, not just the business community, but the public sector stakeholders, rank and file members in the community of the RTPark,” he said.
The RTPark is a fully autonomous, quasi-governmental public agency, according to Chapman. It receives no government funding. The mission, he said, is to become a “globally recognized economic development organization.”
To do that, park personnel will host forums, attend trade shows and develop a media campaign.
Other staff members introduced were: Aminah Saleem, chief of staff; John Harrison, director of finance and administration, who was not present; Siobhan Cioppa, senior manager of business development operations and compliance; and, Naisha Monelle-Joseph, operations manager. There also are two interns and one fellow working at the organization, located temporarily in the downtown Christiansted office. The building at the UVI campus is still being rebuilt after the hurricanes in 2017.