IN 2017, when One on One Educational Services was facing financial challenges, the company’s founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Ricardo Allen went to the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) for assistance.
He said that at the time, “we were running out of money” and he had made the tough decision to close the physical office space and operate remotely.
The DBJ came to the rescue, providing Allen with financial support and guidance, which not only enabled him to rebuild but also to grow his business beyond Jamaica.
One on One now has contracts with clients across the Caribbean and in the United States.
Allen said that One on One was able to fund the development of a software “that now the government of Bahamas is using, government of St Kitts, all of these folks. I just got my first contract out of California, in the United States of America”.
One on One Educational Services is among a number of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSME) that have benefited from billions of dollars in funding support to improve and grow their operations through a range of products and services offered by the DBJ.
As an innovative technology company established in 2013, One on One provides a range of digital education and training solutions.
The company, located in New Kingston, has built out an award-winning online learning platform, with personalized courses for students as well as corporations and governments across the Caribbean.
Clients benefit from e-learning courses, online training, instructional design services, and expert tutors and trainers. Some 400,000 students have been served through the online platform.
Allen said that the DBJ has been with the company “every step of the way”.
He recalled that “when we started the business and started the online learning platform, we felt like we needed money. We raised money from the market and we got investors, but we quickly ran out. 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, particularly MSMEs 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 guidance needed.
“When I sat with DBJ in that boardroom, they have this 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 IGNITE grant of $2.5 million, it did wonders for us.
“That allowed us to create a technology and a software or online learning platform that we could now deliver to anybody anywhere,” he said.
One on One has also received loan support through the DBJ’s Credit Enhancement Facility.
This is a risk-sharing arrangement under which the bank provides partial guarantees to approved financial institutions to enable them to increase lending to MSMEs.
With the onset of COVID-19 and students studying online, Allen again approached the DBJ for assistance in developing an innovative product, which will provide people with access to the Internet, particularly those in remote rural areas.
“So, we created this thing called Internet-in-a-Box. It’s really a small device, and what we do is download a version of the Internet on this device and we deploy it in rural Jamaica,” Allen explained.
“I grew up in Jackson Town, Trelawny, and if you put that [device] in Jackson Town, the students would gather around it, just like they do with Wi-Fi. They can consume any Internet-based resources on that device, without the need for Internet,” he explained further.
“We needed to bring that to the 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 grant [fund]and we applied for it,” he added.
Allen said that the grant process was rigorous “because they[DBJ)wantedtoensurethatwhatevertheyareputtingtheirmoneytowardsissomethingthatisgoingtoleadtonationbuildingSoweaccessedthegrantandwearenowintheprocessofproducingthesedevicesthatwe’regoingtodeployacrossJamaica”[DBJ)wantedtoensurethatwhatevertheyareputtingtheirmoneytowardsissomethingthatisgoingtoleadtonationbuildingSoweaccessedthegrantandwearenowintheprocessofproducingthesedevicesthatwe’regoingtodeployacrossJamaica”
For the innovation grant, the company had to provide evidence that it was making more than $75 million in revenues consistently over the past three years and also demonstrate that the product could be commercialized.
“Our product is in the process of being commercialised, so it’s not yet ready for the market. It’s something that we are building. The product had to be needed by the market, and the DBJ looked at this, and the next thing they looked at was the quality of the team behind this. Could they execute on this promise because many of us have ideas but cannot execute on that promise,” Allen pointed out.
Meanwhile, the One on One CEO said that he values not only the financial support provided by the DBJ over the years, but also the mentorship and advice that have allowed his company to take advantage of the opportunities to grow.
He recalled that five years ago, when he made the decision to operate the company from home “the DBJ team came into my bungalow, and they sat down in a little corner and they … worked through every problem I was having. They gave me all the solutions. They have never left me.”
“They have a team of people who stand head and shoulder with you to ensure it is done and is executed, plus they also connect you with their network of people and organization to give you that support,” he said.
Allen noted that with the assistance from DBJ, One on One has become a truly regional company, noting that “90 per cent of our clients are outside of Jamaica”.
“We would not have been able to do it without the vision, without the financing, the mentorship from DBJ,” he said.