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The Innovation Sweetspot: When startups, governments and funders meet

Session Replay



Startups and small businesses are key drivers of economic growth and innovation on islands. With the right combination of people, organizations, governments and capital, the development of innovative technologies and solutions to the world’s problems can be accelerated. This panel will highlight how public and private entities can work together to create thriving ecosystems that work to the benefit of islands’ economic and social development.


Consultant in Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Business Development

Samir Da Cruz Silva

Samir Da Cruz Silva is a Consultant in Entrepreurship, Innovation & Business Development. He’s also a Certified Trainer and Facilitator of Lean Startup, Design Thinking, Strategy, Marketing and Financial Model for Entrepreneurs. Samir is a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow || 2017 Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneur || 2016 Alumni YALI Regional Leadership Center Dakar and member of the Youth Advisory Council in the Cabo Verde Government.

Founder & CEO, MashupLabs and WorkEvolved

Andrew Button

After a 15-year career working in rural Atlantic Canada with the various government agencies and economic development organizations, Andrew founded Mashup Lab (; a for-more-than-profit company focused on one thing: unlocking the entrepreneurial potential of remote, rural, and island communities.
Mashup Lab’s activities fall under two primary business units; the Mashup Lab Virtual Business Incubator ( and 2 rural co-working spaces that operate under the brand WorkEvolved ( located in Bridgewater and Liverpool, Nova Scotia, Canada. In just the past 36 months Mashup Lab has successfully scaled its Virtual Business Incubator to over 80 rural, remote, and island communities, working with 200 innovative entrepreneurs to start and grow 130+ businesses in those communities.

Andrew is also co-founder of Awesome South Shore (, a community-backed micro-fund that has given away over $80,000 in “no-strings-attached” cash to people that want to do something awesome in their community.

Andrew holds an MBA from Saint Mary’s University and a BBA from Acadia University.  Most recently he was selected into the Wallace McCain Institute’s Entrepreneurial Leaders Program as one the Top 30 high-growth potential entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada.

Andrew is originally from a small rural community on the island of Newfoundland, Canada. He now lives in a small rural community in Nova Scotia, Canada with his wife Eva and their two boys, Josh and James.

Director of Economic Development, Linden Fund USA

Onika Benn

Climate change negotiator, sustainability expert and stakeholder management professional are three of the terms that describe the technical expertise of Ms Onika Stellingburg. She is also, however, is a skilled communicator, analytical and critical thinker, engagement specialist and project management professional. She is known to produce results in all her endeavours, whether developing projects for funding at the community level or negotiating global agreements at the international level.

Onika currently serves as the Director for Economic Development at the Linden Fund USA, a 501 ( c ) registered organization in the United States, and registered in Guyana as the LFU Guyana Inc. In this role, she is driving the local execution of the vision for an economic rebirth of the community of Linden and Region 10 focusing on small business development, corporate social responsibility, workforce development and public-private partnership.

Her execution of this role is ably complemented by her background in multilateral diplomacy, international policy development and stakeholder engagement. She gained these skills while serving as Advisor on issues related to renewable energy, climate change, forests and sustainable development at Guyana’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations and the Group of 77 and China (G77) Coordinator for the Climate Resolution in the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Onika has also received training by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) as a climate change negotiator, further representing AOSIS in global climate meetings through the negotiations of critical sections of the Paris Agreement Rulebook.

Locally, Onika has substantial experience working in both the public and civil society sectors at the senior technical level. She has supported the development of national budgets for Guyana through the mainstreaming of sustainable development initiatives, crafting high-level indicators and working with ministries to aid their internal planning and budgeting processes. She has also lead national consultation processes or the development of the Green State Development Strategy: Vision 2040, a 20-year national development plan for Guyana.

Outside of the professional world, Onika has been very active and continuously engaged. She is one of the first Guyanese selected by the World Economic Forum youth initiative, the Global Shapers Community, working with other local leaders to develop and execute projects to improve the state of their communities. She has also orked along with the Guyana Youth and Environment Network raising over 1 million dollars for projects. Internationally, Onika serves as the Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean within the Royal Commonwealth Society and was previously the Board Member responsible for Communications within the Caribbean Regional Youth Council.

Onika is a true daughter of the soil, gaining an Associate Degree in General Studies at Queens College and her Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Guyana. She was subsequently awarded a Government of Guyana scholarship which facilitated the successful completion of her Master of Science Degree in Sustainable Environmental Management at the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich in the United Kingdom. Onika spends her leisure time as an adjunct professor at the University of Guyana, lecturing students in Environment and Development and the Fundamentals of Climate Change. She is also very active in her church, serving as a board member of the church and an executive in the youth ministries department.

Director Foreign Economic Cooperation, Government of Curaçao

Vanessa Toré

Vanessa Toré was born and raised in Curaçao, Dutch Caribbean. She is the Director of the Foreign Economic Cooperation Division of the Ministry of Economic Development of Curaçao. She was also the acting Secretary General of the Ministry of Economic Development until May 2014. She has held both positions since respectively July and August of 2011. In June 2015 she assumed a new challenge by becoming a Policy Advisor to the Minister of Traffic, Transport and Urban Planning. From November 1994 till June 2011 she worked at the Curaçao Chamber of Commerce and Industry (17 years). She was the manager of the Investment, Trade Promotion and Business Services department where she designed and implemented various programs and services for entrepreneurs, SME’s, Investors and Exporters. She holds an MBA degree and has followed training in Management, International trade and Investment promotion in Geneva, Netherlands, USA and Canada. She participated in various trade related committees internationally and recently she served a two year term on the board of the Caribbean Association of Investment Promotion Agencies (CAIPA). She speaks Papiamentu (mother language), Dutch, English and Spanish fluently and communicates at an intermediate level in Brazilian Portuguese. In her spare time she dedicates time voluntarily to Culture where she is active in the Jazz Scene of Curaçao promoting local Jazz musicians internationally.

Innovation and Investment Manager, Invest Puerto Rico

Brian Bourgerie

Brian is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for building collaborative communities that positively impact the economy. Much of his career has revolved around launching tech companies, online investment platforms, and advising blockchain projects. These experiences along with the active networks of entrepreneurs and investors he’s developed provides him with a unique perspective and ability to innovate in areas such as technology, finance, and economic development. He currently leads efforts in Innovation, Investment, and Entrepreneurship for Invest Puerto Rico based out of their San Juan Office.

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