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How to power up start-up support in Belize?

Young businesses often struggle to grow in the small national markets of the Caribbean region. How can empowering business incubators lead to economic development?

Monday 21 March 2016, Private: Alix Landais

Young businesses often struggle to grow in the small national markets of the Caribbean region.

While entrepreneurship could bolster inclusive growth and job creation in Caribbean economies, the lack of support to entrepreneurs deters talented young professionals from considering entrepreneurship as a viable career option and limits successful start-up creation.

Participants at the recent Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development Workshop.
Participants at the recent Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development Workshop. Photo/Shari Williams

Against this background, the Accelerate Caribbean programme, funded by the Canadian government and the World Bank group, has been promoting development of emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems in Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) countries for the past 18 months.

Such an approach rests on the premise that entrepreneurs thrive when multiple sectors and actors work together to develop a supportive environment for entrepreneurship.

The programme is being implemented by IMC Worldwide in collaboration with Koltai & Co, UWI Consulting, and BCSI.

It provides technical assistance to business incubators from eight Caribbean states and engages them, together with government officials, entrepreneurs, and the academia in public-private dialogue around actions needed to build successful entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Such an approach rests on the premise that entrepreneurs thrive when multiple sectors and actors work together to develop a supportive environment for entrepreneurship.

Conscious that each Caribbean state has its own political agenda, culture, resources, and skills, the Accelerate Caribbean team engages national stakeholders in each country to understand each entrepreneurial landscape and offer adapted solutions.

Discussions of a stronger, interconnected entrepreneurial community

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Participants at the recent Business Incubation Management Training session in Belize. Photo/Shari Williams

In line with this approach, Accelerate Caribbean’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development Workshop organised in Belize in February 2016, brought together incubator managers, entrepreneurs, academics, government officials, donors and investors from across the region and beyond to discuss challenges and opportunities in Belize and explore how stakeholders can bolster the country’s business ecosystem.

The event was followed by a three-day Business Incubation Management Training session for business enablers from Belize and the broader Caribbean region.

The event included an introduction to Accelerate Caribbean and the principles of start-up support through incubation, lessons learned from building healthy entrepreneurial ecosystems across developing economies, and some success stories from various emerging markets such as Rwanda and Chile.

Stephen Koltai of Koltai and Co introduced the Six + Six model, a framework he designed to analyse emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems and identify gaps and solutions to catalyse their development.

Giving voice to Belizean entrepreneurs and opening the floor to the audience, the panel discussion and the afternoon session provided participants with the opportunity to reflect on their ecosystem and to jointly identify policy measures that could stimulate investment and support for early-stage companies in Belize.

 

5 primary takeaways from the event

1. Start-up support can help turning risk into opportunities and failures into future successes.

  • ‘Being small means that everybody knows who you are and will know if you fail’. While in the US, failure is seen as a formative experience that provides lessons for future success, this is not the case in Belize or the broader Caribbean region. Training is needed to influence change in investors and stakeholders’ mindsets and drive them towards perceiving entrepreneurs’ past failures as an indicator of maturity rather than a disqualifying experience. We also need to build entrepreneurs’ capacity to pitch and present their past failures, demonstrating how those informed their understanding of risks and the improvement of their entrepreneurial project.
  • Participants pointed out the lack of recognition and support for entrepreneurs, reflected in the absence of business incubators in Belize. The organisation of business plan competitions around national priority industries could help identify and connect growth-oriented entrepreneurs at country level. This would be a starting point to better understand their needs and assess the demand for start-up support programmes. Planning and implementation of these competitions could be driven by the government or by the private sector.
  • Academia, in association with the Ministry of Education, can play a crucial role in fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in Belize. This would include improving existing curricula to foster students’ curiosity and innovative thinking, developing internship programmes, and organising innovation challenges to improve students’ practical understanding of competitive environments, trustworthy partnerships, and failure as a path towards future successes

2. Belize needs eased access to finance

  • Panellists commented on the lack of infrastructure enabling venture captial investment in Belize, such as a matching platform linking promising entrepreneurs with angel investors. Vehicle venture funds need to be implemented. New sources of venture capital should be explored through diaspora investors’ networks and tax incentives to attract external invertors.
  • While alternative source of funding are being identified, the government of Belize could play a role in providing policy incentives to encourage existing financial service providers – banks and credit unions – to lend money to start-up projects and small enterprises hubs.

3. Small-medium-sized-enterprise support is not the same as start-up support

  • At policy level is the absence of a specific strategy for entrepreneurship and start-up development, as opposed to SMEs. Clear differentiation needs to be made between initiatives targeting start-ups and those targeting SMEs, as each category has specific needs.

4. Better macro-economic conditions and opened markets are needed

  • While Belize is integrated within Central America at the political level, such is not yet the case at the economic level. A free economy needs to be created to explore direct border opportunities in the service industry and agro-productive sector. While the economic opportunity for Belize to serve as a strategic interface between Central America and the Caribbean is emerging, market opening is a delicate process that will require preparation and macro-policy adjustments to put the local economy in a situation where it is ready to receive cross-border trade flows from Mexico and Ecuador.

5. Small is beautiful

  • The small size of Belize and of Caribbean countries provides opportunities for business-enabling organisations from the public and private sector to centralise resources and share infrastructure to achieve economies of scale while increasing influence and impact through collective action, as exemplified in Beltraide / SBDC’s approach to fruitful partnerships. Government efforts are needed to foster effective public-private dialogue around coordinating efforts towards support to entrepreneurship.

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