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THE ISSUE: Needed now more than ever

Shawn Cumberbatch

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Barbados is no stranger to entrepreneurship.
The word might be modern but the concept of working for oneself has been a fact of life for several generations of Barbadians, be they the small trader or more financially well-off individual whose idea gains national acclaim.
As the island continues its quest for sustainable development, something which in recent years has arguably been overtaken by the search for solutions to five years of economic stagnation, the concept of entrepreneurship has taken on even more important proportions.
This was illustrated in 2010 with the formation of the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation (BEF), a private sector-led non-governmental organization which was “born from a vision to make Barbados “the number one entrepreneurial hub in the world” by 2020. Even before the BEF’s existence, however, others have been facilitating the entry of Barbadians, especially the youth, into the world of entrepreneurship.
These include the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme, which was established in 1995 “to promote youth empowerment and development through the establishment of viable and sustainable micro and small businesses”, and the Barbados Youth Business Trust, started in 1996, and which helps individuals between 18 and 35 turn their ideas into businesses.
BEF was also preceded in 2008 by the Student Entrepreneurial Empowerment Development (SEED) at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus.
With private and public sector jobs under growing pressure, many have accepted the concept of entrepreneurship. Others have said that regardless of the rate of employment the country not only needs people with innovative ideas but those who are willing to implement them.
One supporter of the concept is Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, when was speaking in November 2010 at a BEF gala dinner, said entrepreneurship was something the country needed more of.
“It must be underscored, and clearly so, that if Barbadian entrepreneurs seize those opportunities which are increasingly being made available through global outsourcing or by creative niche marketing, effort must not be spared by these businesses themselves to improve their core essentials, including effective best practice management; enhanced human resource capability, and equally important, intellectual capacity building,” he said then.
“I do believe that the time is ripe for the business community of Barbados to note that while Government will continue and with the fiercest of determination, to create an enabling environment in which businesses can thrive and be successful, as entrepreneurs it remains your duty and responsibility to do whatever it takes to get the next contract; to source the most cost-effective and quality inputs; to deliver the type of customer service that is second to none; to stay ahead of your competitor; and to ensure repeat business.
“Your success will ultimately depend on you,” he added.
BEF chairman Peter Boos was confident that his organization’s goal to “transform Barbados into the number one entrepreneurial hub in the world by 2020” was attainable and said it required a new, strong entrepreneurial dynamic to permeate the business community.
“One that is widely understood and valued by the people and is supported and encouraged by the government and all the agencies of the state and the labour movement,” he said.
At the official launch of UWI’s SEED in September 2008, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Principal Sir Hilary Beckles, who’s brainchild this venture was, said it would demonstrate how to assist the transformation of society and participate in economic growth.
He said the goal was to see “students moving to graduates, to entrepreneurs, and create jobs for themselves, families and friends . . . that’s the SEED project”.
The increased focus on entrepreneurship has also been manifested in other ways, specifically the creation of contests where young entrepreneurs are able to meet others like them, get good business advice from experienced entrepreneurs and, in the case of some, eventually winning monetary and other prizes.
Examples of this are the recently concluded Automotive Art Entrepreneurship Competition and the Bank On Me contest. A number of private institutions have also held business plan competitions.
In the case of the Automotive Art project, which was held for a second time this year, it attracted 74 business concept entries, and the Bank On Me competition had 30 entries to start with.
The potential of Barbados truly becoming an entrepreneurial hub was also recognized in October 2012 when the island hosted the annual Inter-American Forum on Microenterprise, which was jointly organized by the Inter American Development Bank’s Group’s Multilateral Investment Fund and the Barbados government.
The estimated 1 000 participants at this event discussed a number of issues, including what some consider the greatest hurdle to entrepreneurship and small business – finance.
Research mentioned at the event estimated that more than 35 per cent of the more than 1.1 million formal small and medium-sized enterprises in the Latin American and Caribbean region did not have access to credit, and the existing financing gap amounts to between US$125 billion and US$155 billion.
IDB president Luis Alberto Moreno said that institution would continue to support small and medium enterprise development
and the Inter-American Development Corporation has been supporting SME development “through several programmes ranging from capacity building for women entrepreneurs, technical assistance for financial institutions to better assess credit risk of SMEs, and investments in venture capital funds”.