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Baptiste-Primus: NEDCO’s Business Accelerator encourages new type of entrepreneur

“Competitiveness will depend, to a large extent, on the ability of firms and our people to innovate. We need to encourage a new kind of entrepreneur in Trinidad and Tobago—resourceful individuals who can draw from their creative genius and give birth to new products and services and rather than merely seeking to add value to other persons’ inventions…”

The following is the feature Address by Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development, Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, at the launch of NEDCO’s Business Accelerator Programme on 11 December 2019:

Photo: Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development Jennifer Baptiste-Primus and NEDCO chairman Clarry Benn (centre) at the launch of NEDCO’s Business Accelerator Programme on 11 December 2019.
(Courtesy NEDCO)

This is undeniably an auspicious occasion as we come together to celebrate the launch of a programme formed to enhance our entrepreneur’s competitiveness and viability. I wish to commend the Board, Management and Staff at the National Entrepreneurship Development Company Limited on this the launch of the eagerly awaited Business Accelerator Programme.

This Business Accelerator Programme is a special composition of entrepreneurial training, advisory, mentorship, financing, networking and integrated business development services.

This initiative is indeed very timely and relevant for Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs), especially in light of economic circumstances that are affecting Trinidad and Tobago and the wider region. The theme of my address this evening is ‘The Role NEDCO’s Business Accelerator Programme will play in Supporting the Growth and Development of Businesses in the Local Economy’. 

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago remains committed to the ongoing development of the business sector, including micro and small enterprises (MSEs). We fully recognise the need to ensure that the appropriate enabling environment is in place to foster the growth and development of these enterprises.

Given current economic global realities, the emergence of new industries,  the descent of  ‘sunset’ industries, changes in institutional structures and functions, changes in technology and changes in lifestyle, the Micro and Small Enterprise (MSE) sector requires more focused and targeted measures to ensure that sustainable enterprises are nurtured.

Photo: The Banana Joe’s mobile food diner.

Within the last decade we have noted the growing worldwide tendency among natural resource-based economies to reduce their vulnerability and dependency on their core resource. Like Trinidad and Tobago, these economies have placed focus on diversification as they develop new industries in existing and emerging markets. Against this global perspective, the local economy has started to show some promise for a brighter tomorrow.

The local economy experienced growth in excess of 8% between 2000 and 2007, prior to the global economic downturn over the following two years when the economy contracted by 2.7% in 2009. Thereafter we experienced negative growth but thankfully we are emerging from that scenario.

The World Bank has projected our economic growth for 2019 at +0.9 percent. Most of the growth had been admittedly fuelled by investment in the LNG sector. We are however moving away from our dependence on oil and natural gas production as we seek to further diversify the economy.

The role of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) sector is of course critical to this diversification process.

Several studies indicate that between seventy percent (70%) to eighty five percent (85%) of all business activity in the Caribbean, including Trinidad and Tobago, is conducted by enterprises employing less than 25 persons. While their individual activity levels may be comparatively small we note their collective impact on the economy and the society as a whole.

Photo: A maxi driver ushers a passenger into his vehicle.
(Courtesy Ultra-NP)

MSMEs enable individuals to gain access to better working conditions and income-generating opportunities. MSMEs create wealth by providing sources of income for their owners, their workers and their families. Increase in incomes should lead to better standards of living and quality of life for all concerned—better nutrition, improvements in health care, opportunities for further education, career and professional advancement.

The Honourable Minister of Finance in his 2020 Budget statement noted that ‘small-and-medium-sized businesses remain a central pillar in our development strategy for achieving sustained economic growth’.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is however, cause for concern with respect to Trinidad and Tobago’s competitiveness. The results of the Global Competitiveness Report 2018 show that Trinidad and Tobago only achieved 58.30 points out of a possible 100 and was ranked 105 out of 140 countries in terms of ease of doing business. We therefore need to answer the urgent call to correct this anomaly and build the institutional capacity and improve the climate for a thriving and competitive business sector.

Competitiveness will depend, to a large extent, on the ability of firms and our people to innovate. We need to encourage a new kind of entrepreneur in Trinidad and Tobago—resourceful individuals who can draw from their creative genius and give birth to new products and services and rather than merely seeking to add value to other persons’ inventions.

Photo: (From left to right) Labour Ministry acting PS Natalie Willis, Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, NEDCO chairman Clarry Benn and acting deputy PS Kevar Cummings-Williams examine reading material at the launch of the NEDCO Business Accelerator Programme on 11 December 2019.
(Courtesy NEDCO)

Innovation requires tapping into our culture, traditions and values and carving an identity for our companies and organisations. Innovation necessitates a transformation in our mindset—thinking out of the box. Our Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) will be better placed to compete in the global marketplace when we as a nation achieve this transformation.

Our twin island nation has recognised that the time has come for integration of the economy and realignment of small business with the expansion of our entrepreneurial capability. This realignment process has already rationalised and improved the capacity of state enterprises mandated to finance small business development—National Entrepreneurship Development Company Limited (NEDCO) included. The company has been adequately equipped to fulfil the development needs of its target market.

The recent restructuring at NEDCO has, among other things, served to improve the capacity of the company to finance and support small business development. NEDCO will further implement this well-designed business accelerator programme to enhance the link between entrepreneurship and small business development.

The company moves to develop a more innovative and enterprising cadre of entrepreneurs with particular focus on young persons. NEDCO will be working in concert with institutions of higher education to improve active links to foster innovative small business development.

The need for business accelerator services locally has become more relevant and in demand. Having identified the existence of gaps between theoretical presentations and the commercialisation of a successful business, the entrepreneurial minded citizens highlighted a need for comprehensive support and practical pathways for business sustainability.

Photo: A vendor offers a doubles to a customer.

Against this background, NEDCO will satisfy these particular needs by providing them with this specialised resource, i.e. access to entrepreneurial development through tailored business accelerator services.

NEDCO will focus on its core competencies and mandate to develop and deliver a tailored suite of services to the accelerator applicants of each partnered institution. This will comprise of and where applicable:

  • Financing through the loans department.
  • Mentorship through competent NEDCO staff and external subject matter experts.
  • Entrepreneurial Skills Training.
  • Networking sessions: where they can share experiences, learnings and progress reports.
  • Access to other ancillary support services.

The Partner Institutions will provide the intake at each phase of the programme. In January 2020, the first selection of business accelerator participants will come from partners in the tertiary level institutions and is projected at 15-50 current or past students of the schools.

These impresarios will have access to entrepreneurial development services for the period of twelve (12) to eighteen (18) months. They will exit the programme having a progressive level of development, applied knowledge of the rudiments of commercialisation and the confidence gained to successfully operate their businesses. This programme will be eventually expanded to include technical/vocational institutions and other training centres.

Photo: A voc-tech student.

Ladies and gentlemen, upon assumption of the Board of Directors in 2015 the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development presented the new mandate of the organisation as outlined below:

  1. Financing: The provision of financing to small businesses, including but not limited to, term loans, equity and quasi-equity financing and working capital financing;
  2. Training and Advisory: Provision of training via short courses and business advisory services to small business clients;
  3. Policy and Strategy Development: The development of policies and strategies that aid in the development of small enterprises;
  4. Nationwide Coordination of Entrepreneurship Development: The coordination of all entrepreneurship development programmes receiving Government support, in order to ensure greater collaboration amongst the entrepreneurship development programmes and thus more effective performance;
  5. Partnership development with Public and Private Sector: The establishment of partnerships with public sector, private sector and other non-governmental organisations in the development and implementation of small enterprise development programmes;
  6. Development of Market Networks: The development and implementation of market networks to support small enterprise development, including access to public procurement opportunities;
  7. Establishment of Advocacy System: The establishment of an advocacy system to ensure that there is action to proactively and reactively address the legitimate concerns of the small enterprise sector.

NEDCO’s strategic operations, inclusive of the Business Accelerator Programme, are closely aligned with the Ministry’s Strategic Plan, the over-arching Vision 2030—National Development Strategy of Trinidad and Tobago 2016 -2030 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

Photo: Two spectators take a selfie during Trinidad and Tobago’s 2016 Independence Day Parade celebrations.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

MOLSED will work in close collaboration with NEDCO to administer the programme through the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) and ensure transparency and accountability in its operations.

My Government views entrepreneurship as fundamental to economic development, job creation and poverty reduction. It is one of the major drivers of innovation and competitiveness. The transformation and diversification of our economy depends on the utilisation of the creative genius of our risk-takers who seek to compete not only locally but regionally and internationally.

Ladies and gentlemen, my Government remains ultimately responsible for not only establishing but also effectively maintaining an environment conducive to SME competitiveness. I have already spoken on the various measures and incentives to sustain business development. State institutions will need to further build capacity to supervise the implementation of international quality standards, while facilitating access to markets.

We will continue the process to maximise transparency and ease private sector compliance. This will allow the various ministries and other statutory authorities to more easily share information, eliminate unnecessary duplication of paperwork and reduce bureaucracy. Co-ordination of these processes should hopefully bring us closer to realising the dream of a single window or ‘one stop shop’.

We must arrest the decline in Trinidad and Tobago’s ranking in the global competitive index on the ‘ease of doing business’. We recognise that an internationally competitive environment requires simplification and harmonisation of processes, regulations and standards with domestic, CARICOM, regional and international practices.

Photo: (From left to right) Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development acting deputy PS Kevar Cummings-Williams, NEDCO chairman Clarry Benn, Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, acting PS Natalie Willis and NEDCO CEO NEDCO CEO Albert Chow at the launch of NEDCO’s Business Accelerator Programme on 11 December 2019.
(Courtesy NEDCO)

We will provide the sound legal and regulatory framework, a harmonised system for accreditation, certification and inspection to maintain proper standards and business practices. This process will require consistent capacity building efforts from the relevant ministries, government agencies, private sector organisations and MSEs.

Government will continue to partner with stakeholders in the private sector, small business associations and representative bodies to assist MSEs and lend further support to NEDCO with the Business Accelerator Programme. This collaboration will facilitate access to up to date market information to allow MSEs to more easily access information on industry best practices and comply with international regulations.

My ministry stands committed to collaborate with NEDCO to face the challenges to execute its mandate and contribute to the growth and development of our country.

I share the confidence of the Board, Management and Staff at NEDCO for successful implementation and operation of this eagerly awaited Business Accelerator Programme, and wish the company success in its future endeavours.

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