Trinidad and Tobago
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CARIRI supports ideas, innovation, new products

Nicholas Maraj Planning Minister Pennelope Beckles. File photo/Ayanna Kinsale
Planning Minister Pennelope Beckles. File photo/Ayanna Kinsale

"Put caraille in doubles, or shrimp or goat – that is innovation," suggested Minister of Planning and Development Pennelope Beckles during a function on Wednesday.

The Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI) was celebrating the achievements of its programme Bridging the Gap to Commercial Application of Innovation at the Hyatt. The programme was explained in detail and local innovators and beneficiaries displayed their creations.

The idea behind the programme originated at the Danish Technological Institute, which trained a team from CARIRI to execute a programme like its Idea Advisory Service in Trinidad. CARIRI partnered with the Inter-American Development Bank to execute the project and classed innovators into two groups: those interested in a business start-up, and those seeking to license their ideas to an existing company in exchange for royalties.

CARIRI's project takes innovators who have an idea to the prototype stage, where CARIRI tests if the right idea is being advanced and if the idea is worth building. Once it passes the test, the product is created and marketed.

Since 2018, over 1,000 innovative ideas have been submitted by students, people in rural communities and anyone who just had a good idea, said CEO of CARIRI Hans-Erich Schulz.

He added, "The key problem to be addressed was the low level of innovation exhibited by enterprises and entrepreneurs in TT, which is a constraint to economic growth and competitiveness."

Chairman of CARIRI Hayden Ferreira quoted the Global Innovation Index of 132 economies, in which TT ranked 97 in 2021.

"As our friends at the Intellectual Property Office will tell you, 97 out of 132 is not great. Even though we are on the right track, we still have a lot of work to do in this area.

"We speak about diversification on a regular basis and CARIRI is providing potential avenues for our people to commercialise their innovation."

Beckles address began by reminiscing about how recording has moved from a slate to a cellphone.

"If I brought some of the younger ones and gave them a slate and say, 'Write down all what is said,' they'd wonder, 'What is this?' because we can't envisage ourselves without a cell phone.

"Fast-tracking to covid, how did we figure out ways of getting food? We became creative. How many of you cooked during covid, who never cooked before? Sometimes, what appears to be so negative like covid, can force within us creativity.

She said she had gone to her Arima constituency recently "and bought a doubles with caraille – you find that right? But you know, we also need to understand that even if you feel it have to have the channa, there is nothing wrong, because sometimes people take things the wrong way.

"So I had a doubles with caraille and I mixed it with patchoi.

"If you think about customer service and if that is what I want and you have it, what's the big thing? Some people think you have to be traditional, but that is what allows our society to grow. Because there I was in Queens, New York and people were buying shrimp and goat and chicken doubles. As a Trinidadian you feel, 'What going on here?' but the point about it is, that is what the people wanted."

Her anecdotes, she explained, showed the importance of innovation in otherwise ordinary situations.

Sterling Braithwaite and his niece Samara Braithwaite know this well. They are the creators of Spice Life: Caribbean Cakemixes, a local version of Betty Crocker. Sterling had an idea to boost Samara's baking sales, so: "We designed a cake mix. We have a fruit and sponge cake mix that only requires three simple ingredients – eggs, oil/margarine and water.

"We submitted our idea at CARIRI's Idea to Innovation project, through their advisory service, and we were accepted. The team led by Mr Millard took our product from idea to viability on grocery shelves.

"So far, we're on Trinishop in the airport, and we do online sales through the Market Movers as well as CARIRI provided a lot of educational insight and funding to get us where we are."

Rajeev Singh, 24, is the creator of Inkreaper – a moisturising cream that helps to heal and rejuvenate old and new tattoos. He was in research and development for two and a half years and the product has been on the market for a year.

"We only use things from the earth. All our ingredients are found naturally in TT, such as the trinitario cacao and mango seeds and skins. We have a native species of bees where we get our beeswax from. We create a butter through that. It has no preservatives like Vaseline or petroleum jelly. That is the main distinguishing factors when compared to the competitors."

He said CARIRI's impact on his product was huge.

"It impacted the shape of the business, physically and in terms of paperwork. They would have highlighted things I needed to have in place, like a manufactured product, understand guidelines and the target market."