This article was originally published in the Caribbean Journal on July 31, 2012
On July 19th, panellists got together at tmg* talks to discuss entrepreneurism and the creative class in The Bahamas. On the panel were Edward Rolle, a board member of the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund Limited (BEVFL), Chester Cooper, the President of Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation, Jaime Lewis, President of Islandz Market, a local company and Dr. Basil Springer, a board Member of the Barbados Entrepreneurs’ Venture Capital Fund.
In a Bahamian utopia, we would have had a discussion about nuanced ways to enhance the entrepreneurial culture and heard about the wealth of ideas and entrepreneurs simply waiting to be matched with funding and mentors. It seems that there are available avenues for funding start-up businesses but a dearth of viable business ideas. In contrast, Barbados, which has taken a holistic approach to entrepreneurial development, has organisations such as the Barbados Entrepreneurial Foundation, which nurtures and mentors entrepreneurs, and the Caribbean Business Enterprise model which takes supports entrepreneurs through the funding and mentorship. The challenge in Barbados is that there are many great, viable ideas but insufficient funding.
The ‘Singapore of The Caribbean’
Why is this significant? At a glance, The Bahamas and Barbados have similar economic histories. Both countries have evolved through agricultural and service-based economies. However, the government and the private sector in Barbados have made a conscious decision to move to more complex knowledge and creative economies. According to Dr. Springer, the vision for Barbados was to make it “the Singapore of The Caribbean” and thus began the long term planning to make Barbados the “best place for entrepreneurs in the world by 2020”, resulting in what seems to be greater number of potential entrepreneurs with innovative ideas.
While there are successful entrepreneurs in The Bahamas, these people have succeeded despite our general culture towards entrepreneurism, not as a result of it. Undoubtedly, there are myriad reasons to explain why our culture of entrepreneurism is not where we want it to be. Some key ideas emerged organically at tmg* talks:
Entrepreneurial Vision – The Bahamas has the funds available to help businesses but needs a holistic plan to sustainably develop entrepreneurism. Education, mentorship, research and development and better market conditions are all necessary to create the right culture. The entrepreneurial vision should be a national one.
Cultural Aversion to Risk and Failure – Bahamians tend to want to take the safe route and see failure as a something to be avoided. Perhaps this is because the safe route has always existed without much effort. There’s always a job at a hotel or in finance that pays relatively well. We haven’t really had the need (or desire?) to be terribly innovative and thus our tacit avoidance of risk and the potential for failure.
Traditional Economy Mindset – All of the examples given of businesses that were helped by the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund were based on older economic models. This implies that few business plans are for companies creating intellectual capital. On the other hand, in Barbados, the entrepreneurial industry trends include Information Communication and Technology (ICT) which is one of the largest wealth creators in the United Kingdom, culinary arts, fine arts, music, film and fashion.
Innovation, Creativity and Change
As the president of the Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation pointed out, entrepreneurism is not only for start-ups. Indeed, as a country we also suffer from a lack of creative thinking and innovation in established businesses and government. But innovation follows open thinking, diversity of opinions and collaborative efforts and this is all too rare in The Bahamas. Following this logic, one can conclude that in order to change the way we think about entrepreneurship means that we need to change the existing paradigm about innovation, creativity and change. In the end, organisations in the business of nurturing entrepreneurship should themselves start to think like entrepreneurs.
Royann Dean is the principal of tmg*, a marketing strategy, branding and design agency in Nassau, Bahamas.
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