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Jul 18, 2021 News
…on a mission to create opportunities for local tech professionals
“We have actually had at least 25 persons trained in conversational AI. So, we train them through our non-profit and employ them through our non-profit, all with the support from CLINC in Michigan.”
By Rehanna Ramsay
Kaieteur News – In today’s world, almost every sector is being transformed by technology-driven devices and like the rest of the planet, Guyana has been embracing the use of technology to enhance its overall growth and development.
But the nation has been slow in creating intentional employment opportunities for persons who work in Information Communications Technology (ICT) and provide digital services.
This week, Kaieteur News features a company and non-profit whose start-up goal is all about giving tech-driven Guyanese, the opportunities they need to thrive in their respective digital fields. V75 Inc. and its non-profit NEXUS Hub Inc. is the brainchild of local tech entrepreneur, Eldon Marks.
The company which started out in 2014 has developed into a leading provider for digital and software solutions. In fact, Marks said that V75 is the only local company that specialises in cnversational Artificial Intelligence (AI) software.
“We are the only conversational AI company in Guyana and arguably in the entire region,” Marks said as he reflected on how the company has developed from strength to strength.
The tech entrepreneur explained that V75 Inc. and its affiliate non-profit really came about because he was able to discover himself, professionally, a realisation which was made possible through a mentor who saw his potential while he was still a student at the University of Guyana (UG).“While I was finishing up my Degree in Computer Science at UG, project supervisor, Malcolm Williams, recognised potential in me that I never knew existed and encouraged me to apply as an Assistant Lecturer to teach in the Department of Computer Science. Being part of this environment helped me to discover the talent that he saw,” Marks said. He noted that there are not a lot of deliberate environments to help young professionals realise what they are truly capable of.
Marks said that he tutored and did freelance web solutions and consultancy work here and there before it dawned on him that there were many students who were capable of more than they realised and there are not enough job opportunities available for people with similar skill sets.He revealed too, “my students who were aware that I was freelancing often came to me and asked questions about work and we had discussions…I felt the need to pay it forward; to help them as I was helped. This inspired me to create a tech community for knowledge transfer which was registered under the trading name Version 75 Solutions. The NEXUS Hub Inc. Founder noted that ever since, he has been on a mission to “create more deliberate environments for other tech professionals to find themselves, the way that I did.”
According to Marks, Version 75 Solutions, which later became incorporated as V75 Inc., was also treated as a training ground for persons operating under its umbrella.
“So the group of students I took under my wing learned as they worked. One of our first major jobs as a community was working for an insurance company in Canada. Some of the students even started their own companies which are still operating today, namely, Housty Designs, UV3 Media, and MicroTech Vision,” Marks added.
When the initial beneficiaries branched off on their own, Marks was able to build a core team under Version 75 Solutions and continued operations.
“Our first office was in the back of my house, and then we moved to a cramped conference room with just about six of us,” Marks said.
As V75 Inc. began to expand, Marks and his team pursued social impact-led activities. He felt the need to explore and empower the local tech ecosystem and ventured in activities that would give him that insight.
In 2017, the tech entrepreneur led the nation’s first Digital Exhibition (DEVX) 2K17 where he engaged local tech builders, professionals, innovators and entrepreneurs at various levels.
Marks said that the small but meaningful exhibition allowed him to collect the data he needed to embark on his next venture, the non-profit, which he called NEXUS Hub Inc. However, the tech entrepreneur explained that at the time the company was in no financial position to start the non-profit.
He said that their fortune turned after an encounter with the founder of an AI company “Clinc” in Michigan USA, Dr. Jason Mars.
Mars visited the small but growing V75 Inc. community in Guyana and heard their concept for the non-profit and offered his support.
“We pitched the idea to him and he decided to give us a shot. He offered to train two persons from our staff by having them travel to the USA at no cost to us. The company sponsored their training and their initial assignment was to build software for Ford Motor Company in the USA, they did an exceptional job and he demanded that I send more of my people. We collaborated on more projects and that created a revenue boost for us. Some of the funds were directed to train people and start the non-profit,” Marks added.
Through the venture, Marks noted that his company and non-profit continues to benefit significantly.
“We have actually had at least 25 persons trained in conversational AI. So, we train them through our non-profit and employ them through our for-profit, all with the support from Clinc in Michigan,” he said.
According to Marks, when the company initially started to attract clients overseas, they did work supplying logistics software for a company in Florida but today, the company is able to take on bigger names like Barclay’s (a financial company in the US) as well as the US-based Ford Motor Company.
In fact, he noted, “we are Clinc’s only outside affiliate partner that specialises in building conversational AI technology.” Marks said too that the company which once employed six persons today has a staff complement of at least 30 persons which includes consultants.
On the other hand, the non-profit which was started in 2019 has provided training opportunities for over 150 students.
“We have made a lot of strides. We are executing our second IDB Lab grant which is focused on developing Guyana’s ICT sector…,” Marks said. He said that the current grant seeks to connect foreign industry opportunities with local ICT firms while providing industrial training for talented youth in tech. According to the founder, the grant project is positioning to introduce Video Game development this as a new area of specialisation which will open locals to the possibility of providing their skills to the overseas gaming software market which accounts for more than US$66B in the United States.
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