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ON JULY 22, the TT Chamber of Commerce turned its attention via its Nova committee, to the development of local Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
It proved to be a full two-day grapple with what an MSME should be doing in 2021, and it wasn't short on ambition, with presentations ranging from finding investors to the importance of self-care.
The tone was set by the very specific and insightful Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley who opened the event with Bajan flavoured evangelism.
"I have an idea of governments and MSMEs collaborating to create a virtuous cycle," Mottley said, "one that enables us to convert our vulnerabilities into expertise, then to use this expertise to create high-value global exports."
The PM Mottley wants to put MSMEs at the centre of a resilience and sustainability-led economy to drive future Caribbean prosperity.
"Because it is companies and individuals that grow business and not governments."
From her perspective, the emphasis in Caribbean governance has been too conservative, focusing on obvious revenue generation opportunities and governance essentials.
For most Caribbean nations, that income focus has either been on hydrocarbons or tourism while spending remains firmly focused on education, health, defence and public order.
She also finds government collaboration with the private sector to be limited to these primary revenue streams.
"Civil servants are conditioned to be risk averse and are unable to operate easily as innovators, pioneers or market creators," she said.
According to the Accelerated Strategies Group, digital transformation services are on the rise, with 60.1 per cent of business leaders prioritising contactless services, 52.25 per cent emphasising cloud migration, and 51.75 per cent putting an emphasis on development operations.
So what's to be done?.
Christian Stone of My Term Finance, an investment firm, notes that there are far more MSMEs than there are large businesses. By count, though not by revenue, big business in the Caribbean accounts for just five per cent of established businesses while MSMEs account for up to 74 per cent of overall employment.
Yet, Stone found that just 1.4 per cent of those small and medium businesses are being served by traditional banks.
Stone believes lenders often don't have a ground-level understanding of how small businesses work and plug their financials into analysis models that routinely reject them.
Stone's advice? Have a business model that works, watch your credit rating, use funding for growth, not for day-to-day revenue and cultivate relationships with lenders.
The financing challenges that WiPay faced on startup were met by a determination to design a product that emerged from the specific circumstances of the island archipelago.
"When we started WiPay," Wayne said, "it was all about what the Caribbean needed."
"To conduct business online, you need to get paid online and that was the first hurdle to cross."
"Culture is all important. You have to build your products around the culture rather than try to have the culture adapt to use it."
Every WiPay country manager is empowered to tailor the company's products to the country's specific needs.
"When you go out to find financing, you have to be ready to answer two questions," Wayne said.
"What is the problem that your business will be solving and why should your firm fix this problem?"
"The first thing I had to prove was that I had a product that worked, we had 20 or 30 customers on board."
It was enough to show that the system worked.
"If you go to a financier with just an idea, that's very difficult."
Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there.