HRA Business Investment Expo and Conference was a hit in Haiti

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • February 3, 2014 5:18 PM EST

After four successful editions in Washington, DC, the HRA Business Investment Expo and Conference  launched on January 17-18 its first event in Port-au-Prince. The Expo brought together over 450 attendees from Haiti and the Diaspora, 62 exhibitors and over 30 conference speakers. It was a very expected event that aimed to connect the Haitian and international business community and share knowledge. While many people from the business world were excited and eager to participate, some were skeptical about how this type of conference will go in Haiti and if it will come through.

Organized by the Haitian Renewal Alliance (HRA), the event took place at the Karibe Convention Center and included conference sessions, a business expo, and the very expected Investor’s Tank session, an opportunity for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to potential investors.

“It went very well. It went beyond mine and everybody's expectations. It was well attended, everybody was really satisfied with the outcome and with the connections that they made,” said Firmin Backer, president of HRA.

Conference topics and speakers

The conference sessions took place during both days of the event. The topics discussed were:

  • The Role of Women in Economic Development,
  • Innovative Solutions to Food Security Priorities: Ministry of Agriculture,
  • Agri-Business Private Sector Panel: Improving Food Supply Chain Value,
  • The Role of the Diaspora in Haiti’s Economic Development,
  • Competing in the 21st Century Global Marketplace,
  • Fostering Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Haiti’s Untapped Treasure,
  • Current Trend in Haiti’s Business & Banking Legislation,
  • Project Financing Opportunities,
  • Business of Tourism – Serving A New Generation of Travelers,
  • Energy & Infrastructure – The Key to Economic Development

Among conference panelists where representatives of the Government, as well as those of the local and international business communities, including:

  • Danielle St. Lot, Ambassador at Large,
  • Fritz A. Jean, President Chambre de Commerce du Nord Est,
  • Katleen Felix, HHTARG/Zafen,
  • Eddy Daniels, President of AgroIndustries,
  • Myrtha Desulme, Haiti-Jamaica Society;Cedric Chauvet, American Chamber of Commerce, Haiti,
  • Dr. Joseph Baptiste, Maryland Governor Commission for Caribbean Affairs,
  • Nadia Cherrouk, PADF,
  • Claudine Francois, YUNUS Social Business,
  • Mamadou Deme, Haiti Reconstruction Fund, World Bank,
  • Gesly Leveque, Banque Populaire Haitienne,
  • Bernard Gousse, Business Reform Commission,
  • Dr. Kit Miyamoto, Miyamoto International,
  • Dr. Renée Jean Jumeau, Ministry of Energy,
  • Richard Buteau, Haiti Tourism Association,

Among others.

Local businesses slow on sponsoring

While the conference was well sponsored, surprisingly the sponsors were mostly the traditional partners of the event, and not so many local businesses jumped on the opportunity.

"Many businesses in Haiti really don’t have a marketing culture and they usually sponsor social and cultural events because these are the events that are mostly attractive to a lot of people, so I think that's the reason why. When they are looking at a business conference they really don’t see the high value for them to sponsor because they know that you are not going to have thousands of people in a business conference. I think that's an issue that they don’t really see the business community as their customers. So I think that's the reason why there's a lack of diversity in their marketing strategy," noted Firmin Backer.

Diaspora was present and active

The first HRA Business Conference and Expo in Haiti raised interest among the members of the Diaspora. There were 22 exhibitors from the Haitian Diaspora in Guadeloupe, France, Mexico, Jamaica and the US; and about 150 attendees from the Diaspora.

"We are on the path of creating that link between the Diaspora business people and the in-country business people to form partnerships and links on their business strategy," shared Backer.

The Investor's Tank was a hit

Inspired by the popular TV Show, The Shark Tank, The Investor's Tank - a hot spot of the HRA’s DC Conference, raised a lot of interest in Haiti as well. During this session 12 entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas to a panel of investors. Three of the 12 presenters were from the Diaspora.

“The Diaspora presenters were sharper in their presentations, but I think that the in-country ones also saw how to present themselves and it was a learning experience for them as well. It was well received; there were a lot of people in the room,” said Firmin Backer.

For this event the organizers decided to award the best idea. The initial prize consisted of 1,500 US Dollars and technical assistance. However, Nickson Toussaint, from Azur Resort & Spa, matched the amount raising the award dollars to 3000. The winner of the Haiti Investor’s Tank was not formally announced yet, but we found out that it is an in-country participant.

Controversy around the ticket price

The attendee ticket price of $55 raised some eyebrows among some representatives of the business community. Some people considered that the price was too high, and this might be the reason why the event did not attract more participants. The organizers, on the other hand, believe that the price was very low considering the value and benefits of such event.

“The conference is not expensive, because it only charges you $55 for both days. And if you look at it, it's a small investment for a businessman to come and network with other business people in order to do their business or expand their business. And also it's not that we are looking for a lot of people, we are looking for the right people to come and participate. Because we can have a conference with a lot of people, but if you don’t have the right people it can be neither valuable nor beneficial,” pointed out Firmin Backer, president of HRA.

“The price was very low, but in Haiti they are not used to the culture where you go to a conference and pay, because most of the conferences are free.”

Next is the HRA CARIBBEAN Business Investment Expo and Conference in Washington, DC

HRA is extending its annual DC Expo and Conference to cover not only Haiti but also other countries in the Caribbean. Themed “The Caribbean: Beyond Sun, Sand and Sea - Strengthening Trade among the Caribbean Nations”, the next event is planned for June 6-7, 2014 at the Washington Convention Center, in Washington, DC.

“We are expending the expo to invite all the Caribbean countries to come and participate. Just to engage the Caribbean Diaspora to invest in the Caribbean,” said Backer.

“This year’s key topics and theme will address global development solutions to the regions pressing problems around Energy and agriculture; other sessions will include social business and investment opportunities in infrastructure, technology, Tourism and improving Diaspora engagement strategies,” announced HRA on their website.