At the workshop, representatives of the World Bank Group and the governments of Jamaica and Canada discussed how to build a stronger ecosystem to help regional entrepreneurs launch and grow profitable businesses.
"In the last few years, we've seen the emergence of key elements of a business ecosystem that supports entrepreneurship throughout its various levels of maturity,” Sotirova said. These elements include financing, training, and opportunities to break out of the startup phase through equity markets, international private equity, and venture capital funds.
“The World Bank is very happy to be part of the solution," she said. "One of our flagship initiatives is the Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean, launched in 2011 to contribute to the advancement of a more prosperous and integrated Caribbean community."
A number of success stories have risen from the program, Sotirova added, such as the invention of a sorrel harvesting machine by Oral Turner and its commercialization with support from First Angels Jamaica. “That kind of productivity enhancement demonstrates that it is possible to render Jamaican products more competitive internationally. It also demonstrates the value of supporting an innovative idea, and the value of partnerships across social sectors and geographical boundaries."
What Does an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Mean for Jamaica and the Region?
Walter Bernyck, Head of Development Cooperation at the Canadian High Commission, discussed the growth of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which account for up to 90% of employment and 70% of gross domestic product in middle income Caribbean and Latin American countries. He added that about 35 to 50% of micro and small business entrepreneurs in the Caribbean community are estimated to be owned and operated by women.
“It is a fact that across the world, the backbone of all economies is small business," Bernyck said. "Interestingly, we see an emergence in the number of youth interested in entrepreneurship and innovation.”
He emphasized that an entrepreneurial ecosystem must create conditions that will bring people together and foster economic prosperity and wealth creation.
“Jamaica is establishing a well-developed entrepreneurial ecosystem that will strengthen partnerships with other entrepreneurs, business enablers, policymakers, universities, and financiers," he said. "It will also open the door to greater creativity and innovation, especially among our youth. By building an environment more conducive for micro, small, and medium enterprises to thrive, Jamaica’s ability to strategically plan to achieve long-term sustainable economic growth will be strengthened.”
The Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean, funded by the government of Canada, is building a foundation to promote creativity and innovation in the region, Bernyck said. With a focus on mobile innovation, climate technology, and women-led entrepreneurship, EPIC is developing a regional network of business incubators that support the growth of small and medium businesses.
The private sector plays an especially important role in creating investment opportunities and access to finance facilities, which are critical for micro, small, and medium enterprises to achieve sustainable economic growth, Bernyck added. “Globally, there is an increased interest in the level of entrepreneurship and small business development. Governments look to entrepreneurs in seeking solutions to address limited or slow economic growth and rising unemployment. “
The Government’s Role in Promoting Entrepreneurship
Karl Samuda, Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries in Jamaica, spoke about the significant role of entrepreneurs in the economy. He noted that 95% of the workforce is engaged in entrepreneurship, yet the majority of small businesses fail, often because they lack training and understanding of how to launch and grow their businesses.
The government seeks to support the development of an entrepreneurial culture and promote an environment that allows businesses to easily launch, grow, and prosper, Samuda said. He noted that transaction costs must be reduced, and entrepreneurs must have equal access to information, financing, education, and skills training. The government should also reduce bureaucratic hurdles for business owners and introduce regulations for resolving commercial disputes.
“It is a special person who becomes a successful entrepreneur," Samuda said. "Our entrepreneurs must be able to spread their wings overseas and succeed as well as our athletes and artists.”
“We need to take a chance on innovators and support the people with dreams and ideas," he added. "We are all here to support the entrepreneurial spirit of Jamaica. Each one of you has a different approach, an innovative idea that eventually will result in jobs and sustainable economic growth — so the approaches may be different, but the goal is the same.”
Accelerate Caribbean is part of infoDev’s Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC). It aims to provide business incubators with the knowledge, skills, and networks they need to deliver improved services to growth-oriented entrepreneurs. The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development Workshop brought together government, private sector, academia, media, and other key stakeholders to discuss issues related to entrepreneurship and to chart a more sustainable economic future for Jamaica and the region.