Shannon: award-winning software engineer
Name: Shannon Clarke.
Education: University of the West Indies St Augustine; University of the West Indies, Cave Hill; Harrison College.
Qualifications: BSc in electrical and computer engineering
(Upper Second-Class Honours).
Occupation: entrepreneur/electrical and software engineer.
If you opened a magazine to a short paragraph summarizing who Shannon Clarke is, what would it say?
Shannon Clarke is a proactive engineer and self-driven innovator with experience in the construction and utility industries in Barbados. He is extremely passionate and curious about improving lives around the world through technological and social innovations. Shannon is an artist at heart, with a talent in illustration and playing music with the clarinet.
What drives you and keeps you motivated? What is always at the forefront of your mind?
I keep myself motivated since I am extremely grateful for being alive in this golden era of innovation and instant communication where we are more connected than ever before. I am also very grateful for the opportunities presented to me and to those who continue to guide me on how best to capitalize on those opportunities.
I try to show this gratitude to others and myself by committing myself to kaizen, which is the practice of continuous improvement, often attributed to the Japanese. I try to apply kaizen to my business practices, as well as to my relationships.
As an engineer, I’m often overthinking the way that we do things in business and life, which leads me to come up with new ideas for making change. I usually have to stop myself from acting on those ideas by trying to find out if implementing the ideas will indeed be practical for me and those whom I hope will benefit.
After completing only one year each in sixth form at Harrison College and at UWI, Cave Hill, you moved to UWI, St Augustine. What was the motivation behind these decisions?
First, I realized I could save myself a lot of time (and stress) if I entered university as quickly as possible. Of course, I received a lot of support from my parents, family and other mentors in making this decision. I’ve never regretted it.
As it relates to UWI, Cave Hill, I was doing the “Prelim” programme since I did not finish A Level/CAPE at Harrison College. During that period, I attended UWI, Cave Hill, to finish my studies in CAPE/A Level physics, chemistry and biology, which helped me to successfully gain entry to the electrical and computer engineering programme of UWI, St Augustine Campus, Trinidad.
Some of us may not know what an electrical engineer does. Having worked in this role over the past seven years, would you share with us some of your responsibilities?
An electrical engineer is involved in the planning, design and implementation of the installation, maintenance and operations of electrical systems and their individual components. This ranges from wiring residential homes to designing power plants.
In my role as electrical engineer, I’ve had the opportunity to also design and implement physical systems in commercial and industrial buildings, as well as supervise teams of trained professionals to ensure they were ably equipped to safely conduct their duties. At each of my previous employers, I was fortunate to have been paired with some of the best and most experienced engineers in the local industry.
At Barbados Light & Power, I worked with the plant inspection team to modernize the vegetation management and pole inspection processes. Additionally, I designed and supervised the installation of the electrical systems in the new Administration Building at UWI, Cave Hill, while working at Leverage Consulting.
Over the past year, you have made a shift from engineering to entrepreneurship. What led to this transition?
During my engineering studies, I aspired to getting a job at Barbados Light & Power Ltd or Cable & Wireless (now Flow) in order to achieve my full potential as an engineer and aspiring intrepreneur (someone who brings entrepreneurial practices to a well-established institution). I enjoyed my job; however, I yearned to do more engineering and less supervision of daily operations.
This led me to enter several innovation competitions, eventually winning a few local, regional and international awards.
What has been the greatest lesson learnt so far as an entrepreneur?
I have learnt that business is all about building, maintaining and growing relationships with clients, partners and mentors. While it is impressive to win awards and receive investment, the core of business is learning how to create a relationship with clients and customers through which they will pay you for the value that you bring to them –– whether it is via service, entertainment or a sold product.
Since business is personal, it is important to only work with those who complement your work habits as you seek to deliver the best service to your clients and customers.
Unfortunately, this is not often the focus when entrepreneurship is discussed publicly. I fear that entrepreneurship has become a buzzword often referring to showmanship rather than the actual running of a business.
If you had the opportunity to live your life over again, starting from the time you entered secondary school, what one thing would you do differently, and why?
Since I only get to choose one thing, I would place more focus on completing some of the many side projects I started during my teenage years –– so I could gain more experience with project management and build an impressive portfolio from an early age.
If you could solve one global problem, what would it be?
I would solve the congestion and pollution caused by traffic, and the excessive use of private cars. This would require strategic planning and improvement of the quality of public transportation infrastructure, such as trains, subways and public buses.
Tell us about MediRevu, the company of which you were co-founder and which you served as CEO. why you started it?
Yes, I am involved in MediRevu full-time because I believe I can make a more meaningful contribution to the Caribbean (and the world) by focusing efforts on creating needed change to people’s lives. Making the decision to work on MediRevu full-time was a simple one, since two experienced Barbadian innovators (Lybron Sobers and Samora Reid), who also shared this vision, joined me.
More recently, others have been joining our team with the focus of advancing our pace of innovation
In 2010 you were a semi-finalist in the Barbados Innovation Awards when you presented CleverGrocer. What can you tell us about CleverGrocer, and what was the outcome when
you entered the competition again in 2012?
CleverGrocer.com is an online grocery price comparison website where Barbadians can find and compare the prices of items found in our local supermarkets. I pitched CleverGrocer twice when I participated in the Barbados Innovation Awards in 2010 and in 2012.
In 2010, I pitched an earlier version of CleverGrocer and placed as a semi-finalist. However in 2012, I refined my ideas, advanced my market research and pitched an improved CleverGrocer, as well as an early version of MediRevu. I won the first place National Innovation Award for the presentation and pitch of CleverGrocer in 2012.
Last year, in Lyon, France, you attended the WEFO conference, emerging as one of the top five finalists at the WEFO CrowdDen. What type of conference is WEFO?
The WEFO CrowdDen was a live crowdfunding pitch contest, nicknamed Lion’s Den, which was very similar to the Shark Tank programme where investors and the audience collaboratively invested in the pitching start-ups.
The CrowdDen was one of the events during the WEFO’s October conference in Lyon, France. During the CrowdDen, I pitched MediRevu to a group of investors who gave me feedback on the progress we had made to date.
While we did not receive investment, it was amazing to be competing against other start-ups which have been operating for five plus years, as we had only started two months prior –– in August, 2014.
You placed first in a competition in Jamaica. What can you tell us about that one?
We actually placed first in the Expert Developers category in the Digital Jam 3.0 contest during the finals held in Jamaica. The Digital Jam 3.0 contest invited entries from Caribbean teams of concepts for mobile apps that could solve problems which we face in the Caribbean.
The teams with the selected entries were then given four weeks to quickly transform their concept into a working mobile app. Since we had to work quickly, I teamed up with Samora Reid and Lybron Sobers to develop MediRevu, as we all shared the common interest in contributing to the fight against chronic illnesses in the region.
It was quite amazing to not only represent Barbados in Jamaica during a regional contest, but to also take first place in the Expert Developers category!
You received the IDB Young Innovator Award. Why is this award so important to you, and what benefits have emerged as a result?
I received this award at the IDB Annual Summit in Busan, Korea, in March, 2015, for our work at MediRevu. It was humbling to be recognized internationally for our work, even though we are still a very young company. It was an opportunity to present MediRevu on the world stage and become a member of the IDB community and family, which are connections that last a lifetime.
For instance, when I had some immigration difficulties, the IDB came to my aid, even when the Barbados Embassy was unable to assist.
Tell us about your time in Amman, Jordan.
Shortly after winning the first place in the Expert Developers category in Digital Jam 3.0, we were offered the opportunity to travel to Amman, Jordan, and participate in the Oasis500 start-up incubator for four months.
The idea of migrating to the other side of the world was initially daunting, but, again, with the advice of friends and family, as well as the enthusiasm coming from my business partner Lybron Sobers at the prospect, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make. While the majority of time was spent on business development, we were pleasantly surprised at how different the people and culture in the Middle East was from how it is often portrayed by Western media.
Most notably, the people are extremely friendly and hospitable; so much so that even the guards and taxi drivers who could not speak English would often proclaim “Welcome to Jordan” when they found out we were from the Caribbean.
Do you volunteer with any organizations, and why is it important to you to give back?
Yes, I am currently volunteering with the Diabetes Association of Barbados, and aim to become an active member of the growing community of young people taking action to prevent the rise in the incidence of chronic illnesses in the Caribbean. I believe in the strength and power of communities to drive change, and giving back is one way to contribute to making that change a reality
What’s next for Shannon, and where do you hope to be in three years’ time?
I am currently focused on developing MediRevu as a better tool to help patients living with diabetes, as well as their doctors and nurses. We’re working on some very exciting projects, which will soon be revealed and will have a positive impact locally and regionally.
I’m aiming to realize this potential impact within the next three years, and to mentor other Caribbean innovators and developers who aim to take their concepts to the world stage.
What do you love most about yourself?
I love that my actions and experiences have inspired and motivated others to strive higher and turn their biggest dreams into reality. This seems to be the reason why I’m often selected for a leadership role, even though I rarely nominate myself since I believe I can be equally effective as a member of the team.
Still, to be able to add value to others is truly humbling, and motivates me to work harder.
Who has contributed to your success?
My willingness to humble myself and truly accept the advice of others have become a secret weapon as I continue along the road to success. Each of my major achievements have been spurred by the advice of others, including making the decision to enter university instead of finishing sixth form, entering the innovation competitions and travelling to the Middle East.
Accepting advice from others and listening to other perspectives have kept my eyes open to opportunities
(If you’re a young Barbadian professional or know of any worthy of being highlighted for their amazing contribution, please contact us at email@example.com)