by Tassia Stewart on January 6, 2016
With an economy that has traditionally been fueled by oil and natural gas exports, Trinidad and Tobago is making significant strides toward diversification of its economy. One of the ways they have sought to do this is through greater support of the micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) sector. According to the Ministry of Labour and Small and Micro Enterprise Development (2013), the MSME sector in Trinidad and Tobago accounts for over 90% of businesses and contributes about 28% of GDP. Despite this MSMEs are still faced with a number of challenges, particularly limited access to financing and business support services.
Business incubation is a growing phenomenon where private and/or public partners seek to facilitate the development of sustainable enterprises by providing necessary support along with financial and technical services. The IBIS programme aims to provide a unique mix of business development support, infrastructure and operational and financial support to assist the growth and success of new and small enterprises. Established in September 2011, IBIS also encourages the establishment of business incubators throughout Trinidad via collaboration between public and private sector partners including Financiers, Trainers, Business Support Services Providers, Business Mentors, Educational and Research Institutions and Government agencies. Today over 31,000 sq ft of business incubation space is managed by IBIS.
The Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development, Senator the Honourable Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, speaking at a Credit Union product launch event just last month, reiterated the government’s commitment to support for small and micro enterprises through provision of financial, technical, marketing and business development assistance.
“As minister with responsibility for the oversight of the sector, I assure you that the government is committed to building entrepreneurship and small enterprise development, through increased opportunities for in-depth training, enhanced institutional strengthening support, and expanded and customised funding facilities,” she noted.
Programme Manager at IBIS, Mr. David Roberts, says that the hub currently provides support to over 100 small business entrepreneurs in several key areas, particularly hands-on mentorship and training, leveraging the experience of seasoned entrepreneurs along with office space and financing.
“We recognised that there were some gaps to be filled particularly at the community level in terms of business support services and that is where IBIS comes in,” Mr. Roberts stated. He added that the design of the programme seeks to contribute directly to the fulfillment of three main national objectives: diversification of the economy, job creation and community empowerment.
Through its two types of business incubators, community-based and commercial, Mr. Roberts notes that the programme has enjoyed much success with beneficiaries progressing in their businesses, and in some instances, preparing to export their products and services.
Two of several successful participants in the IBIS programme are sauce and condiment manufacturer, Candy’s Delectable Delights, owned and operated by Candace Hart, and D Market Movers, an online platform that delivers fresh produce to its clients, run by Rachel Rennie.
Candace operates out of the IBIS Sangre Grande Business Incubator. Through her partnership with IBIS, she has benefitted from training to improve her management capacity, a specially outfitted space within the incubator to conduct her manufacturing operations, business mentorship to guide her strategic direction and financing for required equipment to improve her efficiency. Through the combined support of her Incubator Manager and mentor, Candace has successfully expanded her product line and secured nationwide distribution with a leading supermarket chain. This accomplishment will significantly raise the profile of the product and its recognition among consumers. Further enhancements to her products along with training are currently underway as Candace prepares to undertake regional export.
Rachel Rennie is attached to IBIS San Juan/ Barataria/ Laventille Business Incubator. With support from IBIS, D Market Movers was able to increase its capacity to store fresh produce to meet an increase in market demand. This enhancement was realized through the purchasing of additional refrigeration equipment which forms a critical part of her operations. Rachel was also exposed to IBIS’s pre-incubation training programme and paired with a mentor with significant experience in the food and beverage sector internationally. Most recently, IBIS has supported Rachel with the packaging of local produce as her company prepares to satisfy confirmed orders in the United States.
The stories of these entrepreneurs reflect the experiences of other micro and small businesses within IBIS. Now in its fifth year of implementation, the programme continues to deliver high-quality support to early-stage entrepreneurs across a number of industries, through one-on-one mentorship, training, financing and office space. The Creative Industries, Food and Beverage Manufacturing, Information Communications Technology and Agribusiness are but a few of the sectors represented by the over 100 beneficiaries being nurtured across IBIS’s network of four incubators in Trinidad.
The ultimate vision for IBIS is to become a one-stop shop for the provision of all support services required by micro and small businesses. With a streamlining of the programme and enhanced capacity to increase the number of entrepreneurs it serves, IBIS is poised for continued success in its mission towards contributing to the economic diversification of Trinidad and Tobago.