Last updated: 02:03 PM ET, Wed October 07 2015

Tech Paradise: Aruba Hopes to Become the Caribbean's Silicon Valley

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | October 07, 2015

Tech Paradise: Aruba Hopes to Become the Caribbean's Silicon Valley

Photo via Twitter/ATechConference

Aruba is an extremely popular island destination — its name synonymous with the concept of a tropical paradise. The beaches and ever-sunny climate make it the go-to choice for many travelers, both from North America and Europe. Even people from other islands in the Caribbean like to vacation there. Plus, since it is outside of the so-called Hurricane Alley, there really is no low season.

This locale has taken advantage of its attractive attributes with resorts, eco-tourism, diving options and casinos.

Now, the island wants to be known for more.

From tourism to tech

A recent conference was meant to highlight Aruba as a possible haven for tech startups. An event called ATECH was held there in late August. It featured local and regional entrepreneurs along with international investors and industry experts. The main goal of the conference was to give Caribbean tech startups the chance to showcase their talent and make connections with global players in the industry.

But ATECH also wanted to showcase Aruba itself as a business destination instead of just a place to lay on the beach with a cocktail.

This is not a new story. Many countries want to cash in on their homegrown talent. The skills of local entrepreneurs and computer programmers are like an untapped natural resource. The problem is that it takes time to build the education system, business culture and international interest that can lead to Silicon Valley-like success.

Why Aruba can succeed as a tech center

Aruba has a lot going for it as a business destination. For one, it is a multilingual island. Locals speak to one another in the creole-like language Papiamento, but most are also fluent in Dutch (the official language), English and Spanish. These language skills will give Aruba a “foot in the door” in North American, South American and European tech markets. The island is connected to these continents by air with regular flights from Amsterdam, New York, Miami and Bogota.   

Government-facilitated investment, tax breaks, a growing list of startup-friendly facilities and a decent pool of local talent could also help make Aruba a destination for international companies seeking a base for new projects. The dry climate, beautiful beaches and attractive mixture of Dutch, Latin and Caribbean culture will certainly draw interest as well.

A regional tech hub

The first step will most likely be to develop into a regional tech hub. The ATECH conference had a juried contest for the best startup idea. Some entries came from the U.S. and Canada, but some were from the Caribbean (in addition to a local entry from Aruba, there were teams from Jamaica and the Dominican Republic). The Jamaican group, AgroCentral, won the juried contest (and a $20,000 prize) for their communication and payment system that was specialized for the agriculture industry.   

Aruba is actually not alone in its computerized ambitions. Its sister island, Curacao, has an organization called Startup Curacao that is trying to provide an ecosystem for tech companies as well. 

Taking pressure off the tourist industry

But why this tech push? Aruba gets nearly 90 percent of its income from tourism. This single-industry focus has worked well for the past 25 years. Aruba’s economy has grown at a healthy pace during this time. However, an economic hiccup in 2009 and 2010 showed that diversifying is a necessity. 

However, the autonomous Dutch island is going to have some stiff competition for the title of “Caribbean Silicon Valley.” Other sun-and-sand destinations that rely heavily on tourism are also looking to the world of tech to bring in some much-need economic diversity. Jamaica and the Dominican Republic have produced some notable startups, and countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados are also on the map for investors and tech firms looking to relocate to the tropics.

Linguistically, culturally and even geographically, Aruba may have an advantage over these other islands, but not a significant one.

At the very least, vacationers who fall in love with Aruba or another Caribbean destination can have an extra excuse to daydream about starting a business on the island and relocating there permanently

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