Mazuree Colin Ali, chief executive officer of TriniTrolley, is planning to launch the country's first privately-owned business incubator over the next 12 months.
"I would say 99 per cent of incubators in the US are privately owned. I am talking about incubators that helped launch platforms like Twitter. I am convinced that a privately-owned incubator will foster a dynamic and robust level of entrepreneurship within T&T. I have plans to launch the first formal privately-owned incubator in 12 months with mentorship, training, access to capital, venture capitalists and more," he said.
Ali spoke to the Business Guardian in an interview at Guardian Media Ltd, St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain, last Friday
In September 2013, Ali went to the United States on the "A New Beginning Programme: Business and Innovation," a project of the International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) of the US State Department.
On this visit, he was able to pick up many ideas on the business incubators among others he intends to implement in T&T over the next year.
The project was a follow up to United States President Barack Obama's 2009 "A New Beginning" speech in Cairo, Egypt, and the 2010 Presidential Summit on entrepreneurship.
The president's speech was such a landmark achievement and inspiration that the US Department of State and Entrepreneur's Organisation (EO) partnered for a four-year initiative called "A New Beginning: Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation" Programme to focus on business innovation and entrepreneurship for 28 delegates from emerging markets, developing countries, and countries undergoing significant transition.
Ali said the programme addresses important issues and challenges in advancing entrepreneurship, promoting job creation, enhancing access to capital and creating entrepreneurial networks.
"In its final year in 2013, T&T was nominated by our US Embassy and eventually selected by the State Department. It is quite an achievement for our country and the US Embassy stressed the importance of showcasing its merits. The three-week project included visits to several states such as Washington, Portland, Dallas and New York," he said.
Referring to the Ministry of Labour's IBIS programme and other local business incubators, Ali said the business incubators in T&T have not met their goal of helping start ups and it is time the private sector gets involved.
"Stories matter. Have you ever heard of any success stories coming out of government-owned incubators that are spending millions? I plan on showcasing every aspect of my incubator with hopes that other entrepreneurs start their own in T&T. It will succeed as opposed to public incubators because stakeholders will have vested interest in seeing your idea succeed.
"We all want to succeed and be successful. It is a lot deeper than just repaying a loan. It is about a vision and changing the way we perceive and think. We should not have to rely on the Government for jobs and certainly not for our ideas. That was the whole purpose of that trip and its importance. It is about the United States' belief that we as entrepreneurs are responsible for closing the gap between government and private sector. We owe it to ourselves as social entrepreneurs," he said.
Ali said many good ideas are lost everyday in T&T because young entrepreneurs do not have access to people who can help bring their ideas to fruition.
"Being a past coach and guest speaker at events such as Caribbean Digital Expo 2013 and StartUp Weekend (an international Organisation that recently started in Trinidad last year 2013), I am aware of hundreds of people with brilliant ideas that lack the resources to execute their ideas to fruition. I plan on changing that."
Ali said the problem in T&T is there is too much reliance on the State for everything.
"In the United States, however, the government does not create jobs, they rely on entrepreneurs to do that."
He said there is not enough coaching in local incubators.
"So I may get a few other investors and start screening people with business ideas that would realistically work. Then we provide resources from a phone to a computer to a room to whatever is needed. We, as the investors, would have our criteria on getting back the capital that we would spent. But we will make sure that start up succeed. So if you have an app you want to develop, come to TriniTrolley and we will help you and you can use TriniTrolley's resources and we will help you and give you a reasonable timeframe in which to develop your business idea."
Ali said he visited the head offices of some of the United States' large multinational corporations in 2013, which sparked additional ideas.
He visited the Nike World headquarters in Portland, Microsoft headquarters in New York and other Fortune 500 companies.
"They all exposed how they operate, and shared inside knowledge, tools and skills for running an effective business. Nike World headquarters was most inspiring, seeing behind the scenes of how the company was started, the challenges they faced and how they got to where they are and, of course, some of their strategies and advice. Seeing the Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods buildings and knowing that they frequent the headquarters to 'relax as a place of solitude' was unbelievable," he said.
Ali also visited Wieden and Kennedy Advertising in Portland, one of the largest advertising companies in the United States. The company is responsible for top international brands like Nike, Coca Cola, Chrysler and Facebook.
Ali said Wieden and Kennedy have a good incubator programme T&T can learn from.
"They have a incubator programme called Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE). It is a dynamic programme. They bring in mostly tech startups and there is a timeframe in which you have to complete your proposals. There is literally a clock that tells you the time in which you have to finish. It was a springboard for many ideas," he said.
Ali also visited Microsoft's New York head office.
"One of the top sales coaches in the United States, Jim Ryerson, also spoke to us about sales pitches and how to execute sales. He trains companies. People from Amazon's sales team also spoke to us," he said.
From that experience, Ali learnt that thinking differently leads to innovation.
"Being a game changer and adapting to the culture that surrounds is one of the lessons I learnt from Microsoft. I think that is what we have done at TriniTrolley, we have innovated."
One of the main ideas Ali got while on the business programme he hopes to implement in T&T is the new focus on business about not just generating profits, but the role of entrepreneurs in giving back to society.
He gave his experience in helping to pack food in the North Texas Food Bank in Texas on the programme in 2013.
"I visited the North Texas Food Bank in Dallas and helped package food. After they weighed the amount of food we packaged, they told us we helped feed 1,800 people that night! Then they showed us how we can implement strategies in our businesses and in our countries to help and become more socially responsible as entrepreneurs."
He wants to implement a similar model in T&T.
"I have already begun speaking to restaurants and food places that are becoming more involved and they are beginning to see the social impact for their business. Of course, it does not hurt their business advertising opportunities as being more socially responsible. I am showing them its a win-win situation. If executed effectively, we can ensure no one goes hungry in T&T again," he said.
He said businesses assisting the community is something that businesses in T&T do not really pay attention to and this has to change.
"We should not be relying on the Government to feed people or for jobs. It is the role of businesses and entrepreneurs to play this role. When you look at businesses in the United States, this is where they are moving to, they are giving back to society," he said.
Ali said TriniTrolley, which he founded in 2009, has several new services and features launching next year that will change the scope of e-commerce in Trinidad and the Caribbean.
TriniTrolley is viewed by many as a local Amazon.com where consumers order goods online.
Some of its future initiatives include partnering with multinational financial services company for an alternative form of payment on TriniTrolley which can be extended to other e-retailers in Trinidad.
Introducing more departments on TriniTrolley that would showcase services throughout Trinidad and not just the traditional physical goods. The company is also moving up the islands offering products and services.
They have enjoyed considerable success from PayPal being introduced to T&T from breakthroughs in ICT along with over 5,000 seller accounts from sellers across Trinidad and the world from Kiss Cakes and RIK Bookstores to the average man all reaching a wider market.
TriniTrolley holds strong relationships with local and international conglomerates like MasterCard.
Ali has been nominated for the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce's Champions of Business Awards–Emerging Entrepreneur, to be held in October at Hyatt Regency Trinidad hotel, Port-of-Spain.