You really don't know what to expect when you put a dozen-plus Caribbean entrepreneurs in one room for a week.
But one thing was clear when 15 entrepreneurs–all women–came together in Port of Spain in April.It was the start of something good.
The ladies gatheredto share experiences and build strategies for future collaboration.Besides their Caribbean heritage and passion for productivity, these go-getters had something else in common. Each had been competitively selected to take part in the first-ever facilitators training for the Women's Innovation Network of the Caribbean (WINC) program. The initiative is a World Bank project tosupportwoman entrepreneurs in the region. It isfunded via the Canada Development Bank.
Theone-week workshop focused on teaching participants how to run courses targeted at other goal-oriented women in their home territory. Up to 10 of the 15 would receive funding to run the course for one year. For Nerissa Golden, though, the big win wasn't in the funding but the friendships.
"This has been an incredible opportunity to connect with other women who share this same passion for entrepreneurship and empowering others to launch and grow a business," she said.
Goldenmedia, the company that she started 12 years ago in Montserrat, is a small business rooted primarily in the cultural and technology industries, and specialising in publicity and multimedia content creation for brands and entrepreneurs.
"The other ladies and I decided even before arriving in Port of Spain that the greater gift was in having this new connection and awareness that we weren't alone in our desire to serve our communities with business growth programmes. We're already exploring ways that we can work together to help each other achieve our business goals long after the project funding runs out. Each woman is a professional in various disciplines and so the opportunity to learn from them has been quite a gift. We've all been strengthened by being able to connect and find common ground on which we want to build future collaborations."
WINC is part of the Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC), which is being implemented by infoDev, a global multidonor program in the Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice of the World Bank Group, with support from Canada's Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD).
The program is being implemented across the region by Enterprise Hub a T&T-based company specialising in providing support services to a wide range of start-ups and established entrepreneurs. Enterprise Hub founder and lead consultant Ashley Mitchell, himself an entrepreneur, said that "intermediary agencies," such as the World Bank's infoDev, can be a significant source of financial support for budding businesses.
Beyond simply acting as a bridge to start-up financing, Enterprise Hub works alongside the business owners to open their eyes to fresh opportunity, enhance their ability for innovation and increase their tolerance for risk-taking.Encouraging people to take initiative and challenge received wisdom–even within the constraints of a full-time job–is crucial to unlocking the region's entrepreneurial potential, Mitchell said.
"Our young people have been conditioned and sheperded over time to simply get on a track of academic pursuit. There's nothing wrong with that but it's not for everyone. Some of our Caribbean people are very willing to take entrepreneurial risks but that ability is not being harnessed in a constructive way by our formal education systems."
Entrepreneurship, says Mitchell, is a mindset. And you can act entrepreneurially even without ever leaving your job, he said.
Nor should local entrepreneurship depend on foreign agencies or even national governments, Golden underscored.
"Entrepreneurship is still one of the sexy topics for governments and international donor agencies. However, we have to see it not as a 'hot topic' but essential to how every nation is going to grow its economy."
More cohesion is needed in how programs are implemented across the Caribbean, as many have the similar goals but resources are not used efficiently, she said.
"I would like to see more entrepreneurs being given the capacity to unleash their ideas by having the financial support they need, the theoretical knowledge and the access to markets. Bottom line is entrepreneurship challenges won't be solved by governments, only entrepreneurs can do that," she said.
A life's work
Golden participated in the Grow Your Business boot camp, another WINC project, in 2013 and 2014, and before that had been working with entrepreneurs for more than 10 years, through Goldenmedia.
"My vision is to create opportunities for the Caribbean to grow and an important way to do this is through the media. Most of what will generate revenue and transform our nations are the ideas inside of us waiting to be unleashed. I like being a part of providing the platforms as well as guiding how these messages can connect with the people ready to hear it."
She said she saw WINC as a way to continue with her life's work.
"Much of the work I do is centered around job creation and empowerment, so this is an extension of that. I began hosting my own entrepreneurship conferences in 2006 simply because I realised other people had the same need as I did to learn about starting a business."
The latest WINC initiative, coordinated by the Enterprise Hub, covered eight subject areas including Marketing, Technology, Networking and Financial Management, giving Golden and others rich resource from which to draw for future growth.
"I am looking forward to first implementing the new ideas I learned or were reinforced this week to help my company continue along a growth path, then it will be extended out to Montserrat and neighbouring islands," she said.