The Link-Caribbean programme being executed by the Caribbean-Export Development Agency, is an initiative of the World Bank Group’s Entrepreneurship Programme for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC). The seven-year, CAD 20 million programme funded by the government of Canada seeks to build a supportive ecosystem for high-growth and sustainable enterprises throughout the Caribbean.
The investment facilitation programme aims to enable early-stage Caribbean entrepreneurs to raise capital from private investors, particularly business angel investors.
In Episode 140 of Caribbean Tech Roundup, I reported that the Link-Caribbean project was half-way through it’s two year programme cycle. I interviewed Ms. Pamela Coke-Hamilton Executive Director at Caribbean-Export, to find out how the good work would continue and how the challenges of the future might be overcome.
So Where Will the Money Come From?
Due to the high-risk nature of starting a business, and the traditional risk averse position taken by banks and Caribbean banks in particular, many businesses don’t get the funding needed to truly succeed.
Angel Investors are “high net worth individuals”. Or in plain language wealthy or rich people, who are willing to risk some of their money to fund businesses that are in the early stages of their development.
“One of our objectives is to develop networks of Angel Investors, and to tap into the Global Angel Investor Network. And to broaden and the mindset of Caribbean citizens to think beyond the traditional bank offerings for both investment and business lending opportunities.” Ms. Coke-Hamilton explained.
Given that Caribbean-Export was leading the project, I asked whether there was a requirement for prospective businesses to be export focused or have products or services which are exported. Ms. Coke-Hamilton dispelled that notion, indicating that there were a number of service led businesses that had received investment funding.
For Once Money is Not the Problem!
While any organisation could use more money, the most significant challenge cited by Ms. Coke-Hamilton surprisingly was not a lack of funding.
So, if financial resources are not a challenge for Link-Caribbean what is? Coke-Hamilton explained that there was a shortage of “Bankable, solid companies to invest in.” and this was largely due to “a lack of size and capacity.”
Because our populations are small, the talent pool from which to draw is therefore small. Cash strapped start-ups would typically be unable to attract talented and skilled employees, or lure them away from larger “more prestigious” employers.
So What’s the Solution?
Ms. Coke-Hamilton said “One of the things I think we’re going to have to look at is people linking and forming partnerships and joint ventures.” While, there is sound reasoning to her thinking. There is even biblical example, see Duet. 32:30 “if one can put a thousand to flee, then two can set ten thousand to flight.” Many Caribbean entrepreneurs however, are more familiar with the phrase, that “a partnership is a leaky ship.”
Moving Beyond the Whole Grape Mindset
Sadly, too many of our entrepreneurs would rather have a whole grape than a generous slice of melon. They would rather have 100% control of a $100,000 business, than a 40% share of $1M business. I asked how this hurdle can be overcome?
Coke-Hamilton responded, “By changing the culture, and I believe it is changing. The young people are more global in their thinking, than our generation. I think that they see the world in a different way because of technology. Because of the Internet, because of all the social media. They don’t see the world in small terms any more. So I think that there’s more of an openness and willingness on the part of the younger generation to look at those kind of ventures. To look at joining forces as opposed to the singular approach that we tended to take before.”
The Internet and Tech is Shaping the Perspective of Young People
She continued, “I believe that when I look at the young people now. And I look at how they’re engaging the world and engaging through social media and the new platforms. Their willingness to move beyond the island is exponential. They are going out there, they’re doing their thing and they’re engaging and they’re willing to look at partnerships. So I think there’s an opportunity for us to facilitate that.”
I encourage this kind of thinking and encourage every prospective entrepreneur, to embrace the opportunities offered by the Internet and the connected talent available.