EDITORIAL – Encouraging entrepreneurship
THE RECENT COMMENT from the lips of Miss Celeste Foster, president of the Barbados Small Business Association, that starting one’s own business is not a career option in Barbados is a comment well worth our attention, given that more and more leaders and policymakers in the society are hell-bent on youngsters starting their own businesses.
Perhaps more needs to be done to persuade young people that self-employment is a viable option, in spite of the natural inclination encouraged in many households of playing safe and getting a good job, either in the public service or in an established company of the private sector.
Indeed Miss Foster focused on this “play safe” attitude in her remarks. She is reported to have said that research had proven that we come from what she calls “risk aversion” backgrounds. That statement is true, and is perhaps one of the aspects of our historical legacy, for it is well nigh impossible for people who were themselves regarded in law as property, and in many respects denied the opportunity to own property, to encourage or even develop a culture of entrepreneurship in their offspring.
Many must have been the horror stories often repeated in local homes of those who tried “foolishly” to build a business, and failed even more so, because in one cultural anecdote, the “sow got under the shop counter”.
Yet social and cultural attitudes play a great part in this matter. Failure in business is seen here as a shameful episode in the entrepreneur’s life and the attendant social sidelining that the young would-be entrepreneur has seen “failures” face, would daunt all but the most courageous of potential business leaders.
In the United States on the other hand, success is encouraged, but failure on the road to eventual success is treated as a badge of honour, and many funders consider a first or second failure as par for the course, given the unpredictable nature of business.
In our view, there needs to be a similar approach and a completely different cultural approach to starting one’s own business here. The entire atmosphere and culture must provide the environment which nourishes young entrepreneurs, so that those sparks of responsible risk taking embedded in young psyches can be ignited into a fully burning ambition to make their careers in business.
There is a clamant need to create the same enabling atmosphere that encouraged a young Bill Gates to abandon Harvard, and motivated 16-year-old Richard Branson in Britain to tell his parents that he was finished with school, and that he wanted to start his own business. Most parents in our society would almost certainly have regarded them as crazy young men and urged them to complete their education first.
Yet, even if they had been encouraged to start getting capital, it might have been their undoing. Miss Foster refers to the red tape and bureaucracy that is embedded in the very organizations set up to help encourage and assist young potential business people.
Most of this is intended to ensure that the money lent is secured, but while security is important, true venture capital is not so much focused on the money as on the adventurer and his project. Certainly, if business is to be seen as a viable career option for young Barbadians about to enter the workforce, then there has to be a sea change among national agencies supplying the start-up capital.
Starting business can be a career option, but there has to be a complete paradigm shift in the provision of start -up money, which must be lent without the burdensome security normally demanded by the traditional banks. Risk aversion can be conquered, but lack of adequate capital will kill any business.