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Fulbright Scholar turns education into a business

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Fulbright Scholar Ricardo Allen gives an animated presentation of the MyLocker software at the 2014 National Innovation Awards. Fulbright Scholar Ricardo Allen gives an animated presentation of the MyLocker software at the 2014 National Innovation Awards. Photo: Contributed

The relationship between One-on-One Educational Services Ltd and the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) began right after the company won the best innovation in education award for its MyLocker software at the 2014 National Innovation Awards and decided to expand its operations.

MyLocker is a successful e-Learning platform that has enriched the lives of more than 2,000 students. Secondary students have 24/7 access to course material online and can also work on their labs and student-based assessments (SBAs). Soon, says Allen, the company will expand its reach to serve tertiary students.

The company’s early success convinced owner Ricardo Allen that he needed capital to grow. He applied for a DBJ loan through Sagicor and got JMD $25 million for capital support and to develop new products and services. The loan was backed by a JMD $12.5 million loan guarantee, issued by DBJ’s credit enhancement facility that helps small and medium-sized enterprises satisfy the collateral requirement of lenders.

Allen is grateful that the DBJ gave him a platform to acquire loans at reasonable rates.

“The DBJ is still very supportive,” says the 26-year-old scholar and entrepreneur. He also recognizes the bank’s role in providing guidance and financial assistance that helped fund One-on-One’s Summer School’s entrepreneurial course.

One-on-One has a 97-100 per cent pass rate to show for its efforts. In 2014, it recorded 100 per cent passes in CSEC mathematics from 103 students taking the exam. That same year, Michael Pryce, a student of the institution, won the top national award for CSEC mathematics.

Allen was a 2010 Rhodes Scholar finalist and the Fulbright Scholar in 2013. In perhaps his boldest move ever, he turned down the US-based Fulbright Scholarship and decided to invest in his own company.

He tells new entrepreneurs to develop a solid plan, do proper research, and network vigorously, as he did. These days it is getting easier for SMEs to develop their business plan. Through the DBJ’s Voucher for Technical Assistance programme, SMEs can apply for vouchers to access capacity-building services from Business Development Organizations. These services help put together the building blocks for new businesses making it easier for them to find capital and develop marketing strategies.

Allen knows how to network effectively. Very early in the business, he contacted Danny Williams, Chairman of Sagicor Group Jamaica, and managed to convince the renowned and influential businessman to be his mentor.

With the DBJ/Sagicor loan, he recently signed a five-year exclusive partnership with Cable & Wireless to provide access to a wide variety of study materials for GSAT, CSEC and CAPE examinations to students across the Caribbean.

Under the arrangement, One-on-One educational materials – video tutorials for full online courses, video lectures, past paper solutions, and other examination preparation materials – will be distributed through the Flow Broadband service.

Allen’s other big victory is being selected one of the 24 young professionals for the 2016 Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative programme that US President Barack Obama announced on his visit here last April. Allen is Jamaica’s sole representative.

“I am extremely delighted to have been selected as Jamaica’s first recipient of the Youth Leaders of the Americas Fellowship,” he says. “Dedication has certainly won. This award is a testament to the wonderful work and support of my team. DBJ has provided us with the working capital support, along with invaluable advice and mentorship that was instrumental in our success.”

Allen says One-on-One is committed to advancing the education system and impacting future generations. “We’re on a drive to revolutionize the education industry in Jamaica and the Caribbean,” he explains, “and we’re thrilled that the DBJ supports us.”

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