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Public, private sectors need to step up

Published: 
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Launch Rockit hosts another StartUp Weekend
Gerard Thomas …founder of Launch Rockit Photo: Nicole Drayton

The idea of being an entrepreneur has been glamorised for much of the last decade. Most times, what is seen is the end result—a successful business—but the effort, sacrifices and failures along the way often go unnoticed. Shining a light on what being an entrepreneur is really about is Launch Rockit; a non-profit organisation and community of passionate entrepreneurs focused on developing successful businesses. 

Every year for the past three years, Launch Rockit has been the main organiser of StartUp Weekend T&T (SWTT). Over the course of one weekend (54 hours to be exact) and for a fee of $500, aspiring entrepreneurs are brought together to work on turning their ideas into a potential business. This year, the event took place from June 17-19.

At the end, pitches are made, ideas are judged and relationships formed that serve as fuel to keep the entrepreneurial flame burning. 

For the past three years, more than 500 locals have been participants of SWTT. These participants—from all across T&T and from differing cultures and backgrounds—spend one intense weekend huddled together developing innovative business ideas. 

 Gerard Thomas, founder of Launch Rockit, said he believes that SWTT has been a gift to the local entrepreneurial landscape. 

Speaking at the University of T&T (UTT) O’Meara campus, the site of this year’s entrepreneurial marathon event, Thomas said: “We needed an entrepreneurial event to bring the community together and to show people that it’s not just about thinking up ideas and writing fancy business plans but about getting your hands dirty and getting started on building a potential business.” Thomas noted that SWTT’s slogan is what drives every aspect of their approach to turning ideas into potential businesses. 

“SWTT slogan is: No Talk and All Action and through our company, we are committed to helping entrepreneurs develop better businesses faster.” 

Questioned about the types of business ideas that have come out of SWTT, Thomas pointed out that a vast cross-section of innovative ideas had been developed during the 54-hour event. 

“Every SWTT is different. We’ve seen all types of amazing ideas with real potential developed here. We’ve seen a lot of apps, but we also see people who have social ventures that are trying to incorporate technology. We’ve seen people with agri-business who want to use technology and we’ve even seen people developing new ideas and concepts for ways to do tourism.” 

Thomas said what tends to surprise most participants is the sheer volume of work that they are able to accomplish in the relatively short period of time. He said: “Most participants underestimate how much they could have got done in a weekend. They also didn’t realise the number of connections they could make in such a short space of time that could really forge long-term business relationships.”  

Thomas, however, was quick to mention that SWTT is not solely focused on technology businesses. “SWTT is not only about tech businesses. It’s for any type of business that is innovative in its approach to solving problems or creating new ways of doing things.” 

Asked if any SWTT business ideas had gone on to find real-world success, Thomas said that though necessary, more than just one weekend at SWTT was required to translate an idea into a successful enterprise. 

“Moving from idea to business success takes a while. After the adrenaline rush of SWTT dies down and the realities of life settle back in, many ideas fall by the wayside. That being said, Launch Rockit continues to work with other organisations such as Youth Business T&T (YBTT), to give the startup ideas and would-be entrepreneurs the boost they need to continue moving forward and to keep pursuing their dreams of building a business.” 

On the topic of funding startup ideas, Thomas stated that was not the priority of SWTT, adding that SWTT was about creating the spark. 

“We’re really focused on ideas generation, refinement and collaboration over the course of the weekend. Funding is not really a priority since these are just ideas that require more support in other areas to see whether they can actually be viable products and actually generate revenue. That being said, we (Launch Rockit) work with YBTT to provide the necessary tools and support to potential entrepreneurs to test their ideas, develop their business models and once that has been successfully done, a more detailed conversation about funding can take place.” 

Thomas did point out that, to date, his organisation has assisted four start-up companies in accessing government funding for their respective businesses. 

Business environment

According to Thomas, not enough is being done, both in the public and private sector, to foster a more entrepreneurial environment in T&T. 

“Our local environment is not enabling enough when it comes to building an entrepreneurial culture in T&T. There are too many bureaucratic processes and organisations that hinder entrepreneurs from connecting with each other, sharing ideas and moving at the pace that the modern business world has grown accustomed to.”

Thomas suggested that how state entities themselves are configured is part of the problem. 

“We need the government organisations to be there to support innovative business ideas. We think they have a major role to play. Sadly, however, we don’t have enough actual entrepreneurs running those organisations and in positions that have the greatest impact.” 

He added that a mental shift in how entrepreneurship is perceived is a must if state agencies are to provide the kind of assistance entrepreneurs require today. 

According to Thomas, state agencies tend to approach entrepreneurship as an academic exercise and often times lack the urgency and real-world insight that is required in helping entrepreneurs get things done. 

He advocated a fresh approach to communicating with budding entrepreneurs as the first step in shifting the way they approach entrepreneurship.

Thomas stated that entrepreneurs themselves need to take the proverbial “bull-by-the-horn” and be more active participants in charting their own success. 

“It’s not only our state organisations that needs to do work. The entrepreneurs need to do work in really learning and applying skills and techniques from more advanced societies that have mastered the art of building successful businesses.”

Turning his attention to the private sector, Thomas believes that for the long-term viability of their companies, private sector players should take a keen interest in the local entrepreneurial movement. 

“If these companies plan on being around for the next 50 to 100 years, they need to get involved and pay attention to the entrepreneurial landscape as it exists today.” 

Going further, he added that innovative ideas can be either beneficial or destructive to established businesses depending on how they treat with creative entrepreneurs today. 

“Entrepreneurs tend to be the disruptors that have caused change across major industries throughout the world. Finance, technology, manufacturing and media have all been affected by disruptive entrepreneurial ideas in one way or another. This trend is not going to reverse. So, really, the private sector has to pay keen attention to entrepreneurs whether it be by adopting innovative ideas to make their companies better, or working alongside them to build them into successes in their own right,” said Thomas.

 About StartUp Weekend

Startup Weekend is a global grassroots movement of active and empowered entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of founding startups and launching successful ventures. It is the world’s largest community of passionate entrepreneurs, with events in over 100 countries and 600 cities around the world. 

All Startup Weekends events follow the same basic model: Anyone is welcome to pitch their startup idea and to receive feedback from their peers. 

Teams organically form around the top ideas and then it is 54 hours of business model creation, designing and market validation. The weekends culminate with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders with another opportunity for critical feedback.