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$120mn for IT entrepreneurs

Published: 
Thursday, May 18, 2017

Government is pumping in US$18 million ($120 million) to boost entrepreneurship in T&T, for businesses that use information technology to operate their businesses.

Tracy Hackshaw, manager of the Global Services Promotion Programme (GSPP) from the Ministry of Planning, said on Tuesday that after an assessment is done on the entrepreneur’s project/business idea, the entrepreneur would be awarded funding to operate the business. This means that not all entrepreneurs would get the same amount of funding. The project is expected to bear fruit in 18 months and a database of entrepreneurs would be developed.

The initiative comes after Standards and Poors as well as Moody’s downgraded T&T’s credit rating, making the suggestion that T&T should look for an alternative means of earning revenue away from the oil and gas sectors.

Recognising the need to boost entrepreneurship he said, when investors come to T&T they are looking for quantity and quality in skills. Explaining the process for awarding the funds, Hackshaw said the process would be a competitive one before the entrepreneur gets the amount of funds they are requesting.

“We are asking them to propose what they feel the project would cost. We at the ministry, the private sector and international experts would evaluate the business idea and then, the (entrepreneur) would be awarded the funds based on (certain criteria such as) impact (the business idea would have), feasibility and cost. We (the ministry) want to award the most projects with the highest impact.”

Hackshaw was speaking in an interview with Business Guardian during the coffee break at a seminar to launch the programme which was held at the Kapok Hotel, Port-of-Spain.

The funding to support the venture is coming from the Inter-American Development Bank and, so far, there has been, “a major intervention in Chaguanas where we are building a hub. That hub is a co-working space, as well as a tenanted space where people can occupy the space through paying rent, as well as plug into the services we offer which would be in terms of IT. The hub would also have extremely powerful wi-fi bandwidth, best of class accommodation as well as other resources.”

Hackshaw said members of the public can use the facilities for a fee either monthly or weekly. He added that the ministry wants to encourage those who are working in T&T, but sell their skills internationally, to be part of the programme.

“We know of many individuals who are selling skills through various platforms like freelancing platforms online or crowdsourcing-type platforms. We want to encourage that because it earns foreign exchange for the country and it creates many entrepreneurs across the sector who could themselves hire employees to do work.”

Asked what is the strategy for reaching the entrepreneurs and the public, Hackshaw said, “On Sunday a branding strategy tender was launched, and once we close off that we expect within a month or two that a marketing strategy would be developed to show what entrepreneurs can obtain from the programme. We are hoping that by 2018, you would see the first wave of new entrepreneurs coming out from the programme.”

Among the many skills entrepreneurs can learn is how to export their skills internationally.

InvesTT and the Ministry of Trade are going to be bringing investments into the service sector, he stated.

Referring specifically to the establishment of a database to keep track of entrepreneurs, he said a registry of entrepreneurs would be built, as well as a database for businesses that are part of the services sector . It will also include a network of diasporic people who are willing to be part of the programme and, lastly, a database of mentors would be built.

“What we are doing here is an initiative out of that programme, to ask employers—and these are employers who could be large employers, banks, insurance companies, IT companies, as well as small entrepreneurs in the sector, so you are talking about sole traders, small consultancies—to tell us what do they need to grow their business so they can, in turn, export and earn foreign exchange for their country.”