The School of Business and Entrepreneurship of the University of the Southern Caribbean, in what has become a traditional annual activity of the School, held its 9th Annual Business Development Seminar entitled “The Role of Entrepreneurship and Trade in Economic Development with Reference to Entrepreneurial Financing” on 9th April, 2019.
This seminal function which is one of the School’s flagship calendar events, witnessed the gathering of a galaxy of government Ministers, seasoned academicians and, a showcase of alumni of the school who have gone to become successful entrepreneurs in various areas; representatives from the university administration, faculty, staff and a large contingent of students for whom the event was designed to benefit.
In keeping with its traditional design, this year’s seminar was also divided into three segments. After a soul warming musical rendition by Johnatan Blackman, the first segment witnessed special greetings from the president of the University of the Southern Caribbean Dr. Hilary Bowman, Dr. Leon Wilson (Provost) and, guests of honor Senator the honorable Allyson West who represented the Minister of Finance Mr. Colm Imbert, Senator the honorable Paula Gopee-Scoon – Minister of Trade and Industry who was represented by Ms Frances Signoret – Permanent Secretary (Ag); Ms Susan Shurland, Deputy Permanent Secretary- Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts who represented Dr. the Honourable Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts (MCDCA) and Mr. Albert Chow, CEO – National Entrepreneurship Development Company Ltd. NEDCO.
In his goodwill message, Dr. Bowman admonished students to get started, innovate and create opportunities for themselves and to strive to be self-employed.
In the same vein, Dr. Leon Wilson reminded the audience that “it is the strategic role of USC to foster relationship with community agencies and government, to let them know that our role is not only to “pontificate knowledge”, but to be involved in the pragmatic needs of the society”
In his welcome address, Dr. Raghavalu Ramella, the Dean of School of Business emphasized the critical importance of entrepreneurial finance for SMEs. He said that for SMEs to survive and grow, adequate access to finance and enhancement of their productivity was a critical factor. “In addition to finance, supporting industry and promoting the internationalization of SMEs is key to stimulating inclusive economic growth, he averred”.
The reality according to Dr. Ramella is that in the Caribbean region, SMEs continue to have poor access to finance. This situation is further aggravated amid the continuing global financial uncertainty, as stable access to appropriate funding sources has become even more difficult for SMEs. The financial crisis impacted SMEs and entrepreneurs disproportionately, worsening their traditional financing. In addition to limited finance, the financial conditions of many SMEs were further weakened by the drop in demand for goods and services, amid tightening credit.
Senator the honorable Allyson West in her remark highlighted the important initiatives introduced by her ministry to promote entrepreneurship in the country. Before reeling off the various incentives provided by her Ministry either directly or through the Ministry of trade, the minister reminded the audience of the current state of the economy. She said inter alia, that the collapse of commodity prices in 2014 affected all the economic sectors of the country. “Given recent economic events, it is unclear whether we will get back to peaks of revenue that were generated between 2011 and 2014. Those were special times. Our budget went up to $63 billion in 2014 which is the highest ever. At the moment, we are operating within the region of $15 billion which is a significant decline”.
The Minister maintained that “it cannot be understated that even in this challenging economic times, the government has placed the economy on a growth trajectory. According to 2018 Review of the economy, this country’s GDP grew by 1.9% at a time when it was predicted that it could not happen. We have a fairly stable unemployment rate which is currently 4.8% which if you look at the region and globally, that is a very solid performance. In February 2019, the headline inflation remained low at 1.2% year-on-year”.
She gave commendations to the University of the Southern Caribbean for its commitment to fostering the edification and growth of entrepreneurs and for hosting for the 9th year, its Annual Business Development Seminar “because it is an area which Trinidad and Tobago needs to get more focused because the future of the nation depends not on oil and gas but on the growth of SMEs”. She also informed the audience that the government is willing to support the SME sector on seven distinct platforms which among others include: Institutional strengthening, enhanced legislation, more in-depth small business training, expanded and customized funding facilities, the establishment of new business clusters and, actualizing fair share programme. She reiterated that the government has introduced a large number of incentives to provide support to SMEs and, would be entrepreneurs should make an effort to find out what support is available through the government.
Senator the honorable Paula Gopee-Scoon who was ably represented by Ms Frances Signoret regretted her inability to be physically present in the seminar to which she has become a regular eminent presenter, due to Parliamentary duties in the senate. In her goodwill message, the Minister who indicated that she was very enthused by the title of this year’s seminar, commended USC “for its active role in the field of education and the institution’s detailed emphasis on purposeful and targeted transformation of its students into future leaders and entrepreneur”. She reemphasized the nexus between trade and entrepreneurship and its impact on economic growth and development as reflected in the National Development Strategy (NDS) for Trinidad and Tobago (2016-2030) – Vision 2030. Vision 2030 identifies the need to “create a culture and climate for entrepreneurship and innovation” through education and training including support for a culture of research and development.
In the same vein, another regular eminent personality in the school’s seminars, Ms Susan Shurland, Deputy Permanent Secretary- Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts in the goodwill message she delivered on behalf of Dr. the Honorable Nyan Gadsby-Dolly Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts (MCDCA); the Minister thanked Dr. Ramella and USC for the invitation to bring special greetings, pointing out that “ the University of the Southern Caribbean (USC) is very dear to Minister and she sincerely regretted her inability to be physically present at the function.
Relating Entrepreneurship to community development, the Minister said that “business enterprises must become more involved and integrated into development on a micro or community level for it fosters development on a macro or national level. It calls for businesses to have meaningful engagement in the communities in which they operate. As we know, our economy has changed, we live in stricter financial times and as the “ole” people would say, “eat little and live long”. The reality is, the economy has changed, and with these changes our communities must adapt. A paradigm shift in the economic development strategy of many communities over the past decade or so has been the increase in entrepreneurship. Now, as community developers we must recognize that entrepreneurship is critical to the vitality of the local economy and job creation as entrepreneurial projects make a positive contribution to community development in terms of both impact and sustainability”.
Mr. Albert Chow, the CEO of National Entrepreneurship Development Company Limited on his part explained to the august audience the various support incentives that his organization provides to entrepreneurs. He enthused that this year’s theme is especially important to NEDCO as it is very close to NEDCO’s cornerstone of entrepreneurial finance.
Young persons, according to Mr. Chow, “hold a special place in NEDCO’s heart as we have had long standing partnership with several youth centered institutions such as USC, among others.
He mentioned that NEDCO provides pyramid mentorship, business advisory and assists in incubator services. NEDCO, he said, was fully committed to working with the nurturing environment of the University of the Southern Caribbean in developing its entrepreneurial protégés, by accelerating their growth in the coming months of 2019 and, we are confident that through our partnership, we will develop several of your entrepreneurial minded risk takers into independent business successes. While answering questions from the curious audience, he pointed out that NEDCO provides loans from as low as five thousand dollars to as high as two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
He advised that young borrowers should work with co-borrowers or guarantors to have a better reliability that they would succeed because they would be better mentored as young entrepreneurs and will have the backing and support of a network that would allow for a general success of their business.
The second segment of the seminar featured Academic Paper presentations by Dr. Lucile Sabas, Associate Professor of economics and Finance, Andrews University, Michigan, USA, and Mr. Gabriel Faria, CEO Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
Dr. Lucile Sabas in her presentation enumerated the various types and sources of financing for entrepreneurship. She reminded the audience that the internationally successful businesses today started with a dream; they started small.
Mr. Gabriel Faria while focusing on the aspect of trade in his presentation said that “trade is difficult in Trinidad and Tobago because there is no access to foreign exchange and “we consume too much”. As a country, we are abusive consumers – we overconsume.
While analyzing the business environment in the context of contemporary changed paradigm, he averred that 20 years ago, TSTT earned 85% of their income when people spoke to someone on the phone. They charged you on every call. Today, 90% of that 85% of their revenue has disappeared. When was the last time you spoke to somebody on a “traditional” line, he asked. If you want to talk to somebody, you dial them on whatsapp. Our environment and ease of doing business is difficult but these are realities.
He spoke about the trade agreements that Trinidad and Tobago has with foreign countries regionally and globally but rued the fact that the country has not been able to optimize their benefits because of legislation they have in place. He elucidated on the benefits of CSME but regretted that the reality is quite different from theory. He pointed out that politicians are managing the system based on the aims of their constituents. In Trinidad, for example, the trade union says “you cannot bring more people. Why not? Because you will create problems for workers in Trinidad”.
In conclusion, he encouraged students not to be held back by the system, rather, to go forth and innovate.
The third and final segment which was ably anchored by Ms. Del Phillips brought together alumni of School of Business who have become successful entrepreneurs in a Panel Discussion format in which they shared their experiences on how they started their businesses small, weathered the storm in many instances and became successful entrepreneurs in Trinidad and Tobago, a lesson that was invaluable to our students and numerous other participants who attended the seminar.
The Panelist included Mr. Johann Small – founder and proprietor of Jay’s BBQ and Grill, Mrs. Jewel Ramdhan, founder and principal – Jewel Ramdhan Prestigious schools of Learning and Mr. Solomon Rodney, Managing Director-Matvern Business solution Ltd.
Here is the link- 9th Annual National Business Development Seminar 2019 photos