The Caribbean entrepreneurship space has been quite busy for the past seven years. Millions of Euros and Canadian dollars have been invested to help stir up a desire for enterprise development and to strengthen existing structures to improve local economies. What is the strategy for continuity once funding is no longer being designated for Caribbean entrepreneurship?
COSME, an EU-funded project targeted at Small and Micro-Enterprises has been investing $15 Million Euros in the Caribbean Overseas Territories. The program ends in 2018. The European Development Fund, from which the funds came does not have entrepreneurship designated as one of the areas of focus for EDF 11 2014-2020, which is now coming on stream across the globe. More than 30 billion Euros are in this funding cycle but for the Caribbean, entrepreneurship is not one of the areas to be funded directly.
A 20-million dollar program funded by the Canadian government through the World Bank comes to an end later this year. The Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC) has for the past seven years supported key initiatives in women’s entrepreneurship, climate change innovation and mobile app development among others. The program will be evaluated before a decision is made on whether a new funding cycle will be given.
There are other initiatives with these two being among the largest and span both independent countries and overseas territories. If per chance neither of these funding programs continue, how will entrepreneurship across the Caribbean be encouraged? Translated: When entrepreneurship is no longer sexy to the donors what happens to Caribbeanpreneurs?
I’m going to believe that this will be a good thing and just what is needed to actually make entrepreneurship more than a fad but the main driver of economic growth. With governments and agencies relying on international aid to execute projects, we have all become dependent on outside help to accomplish even the basics of running a country. Dependency on others is the antithesis of entrepreneurship. For innovation to happen; for businesses to break new ground, entrepreneurs must go inward and find the ideas and ability within themselves to thrive.
Years of donor support have not fixed two fundamental issues of entrepreneurship in the Caribbean. Banks still aren’t racing to finance ventures from Caribbeanpreneurs and with the advent of ecommerce, entrepreneurs still struggle with collecting payments online.
A multiplicity of currencies and central banks, legislature which does not support ecommerce and archaic banking rules continue to hinder growth of small and medium-sized businesses. This is not a small island problem. Entrepreneurs from Jamaica to Trinidad & Tobago continue to have this challenge.
The years of funding have produced lots of data and more research papers.
Yet, we are still lacking the stories of entrepreneurs who are working in the regional space. While things have improved, and we now have business coaches and “influencers”, the conversation and challenges remain the same. Where are the homegrown mentors who willingly share their knowledge with young business owners? How do I get funding? How do I export my products without exorbitant shipping costs? How do I find reliable team members?
The marketplace is now global and small island brands are in competition with companies in China, Eastern Europe and North America. Social media is pushing the impression that we can be all things to everyone all at the same time. It is impossible to do that. A common Caribbeanpreneur trait is to have a multiplicity of skills that they can earn money from and in an effort to make ends meet, they are spread too thin.
- Caribbeanpreneurs must give up their reliance on funding agencies and even banks to be the solution to their growth. Tweak your product. Move headquarters. Find another way to finance it without ending up in jail.
- Caribbeanpreneurs must build strong global networks and be more open to collaboration across borders. We are networking with our friends rather than making connections that can take us into new business circles. That has to change if we plan to build businesses that can grow.
- Caribbeanpreneurs must be solutionists and find ways to negotiate in spaces they may not feel confident. If you have a shipping challenge, speak to shippers and logistics specialists. Could the product be made in a factory abroad and allow you to leverage those global shipping channels?
- Caribbeanpreneurs must leverage their location and see it as a plus and not a minus. A recurring moment of laughter for me is travelling across the region and hearing entrepreneurs complain about their small market/population of 100,000 or a million. I live on an island with 5000 people and so doubling or tripling our population increases possibilities exponentially. If you believe your space is too small then it is.
- Caribbeanpreneurs must become masters of one. Master one business then build on it. Attempting to launch multiple brands and services at the same time is a recipe for disaster.
Funding in the entrepreneurship space will continue to be a challenge whether international aid continues or not. It is never enough and can never solve every issue. We must find a way to be the biggest part of the solution rather than live with cap in hand waiting for someone else to fix it for us.
Nerissa Golden writes on entrepreneurship, leveraging technology and media to change lives and communities. She is a six-time author, now fusing business strategy with romance in novels.