SMEs awarded $10.6m 'innovation grants' from CARIRI

Groupshot of all the recipients of this year's grants distributed by the Ministry of Planning and Development at Hilton Conference Centre, Port of Spain on April 11. - Photo by Venessa Mohammed
Groupshot of all the recipients of this year's grants distributed by the Ministry of Planning and Development at Hilton Conference Centre, Port of Spain on April 11. - Photo by Venessa Mohammed

Eighteen small and micro-enterprise businesses received almost $10.6 million in "innovation" grants from the Inter-American Development Bank and the European Union on April 11 to help grow their business and implement their ideas.

The grants were part of US$10 million allocated to the joint Innovation Challenge Facility project overseen by the Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI) with the backing of the Ministry of Planning and Development.

The successful companies included food manufacturers, tech companies, medical companies, financial-solution providers and a music company owned by soca superstar Machel Montano.

Speaking at the ceremony at the Hilton Trinidad Conference Centre on April 11, Planning Minister Pennelope Beckles-Robinson said the grants are important to fostering innovation in businesses across Trinidad and Tobago.

Minister of Planning and Development Penelope Beckles-Robinson speaks at the grant ceremony and cocktail reception held at Hilton Conference Centre on April 11. - Photo by Venessa Mohammed

She suggested they were in line with the government’s sustainable development goals and the national development strategy. as it “speaks to investing in people.”

“In some instances, people need assistance, they need funding, they need financing, they need a grant and they need to be able to develop the expertise.

“They need to dream about a project and they need to know that there is a system, a process and a committee that you can apply to. That your project can be considered. and the possibility exists that you can get a grant and you can see this project materialise.”

Project lead and executive manager of Entrepreneurship, Development and Innovation at CARIRI Denise Ferguson also addressed the importance of the grants to the business landscape.

“There are people who are hungry and willing and capable to move forward, but they do need some resources, especially SMEs, with money being one of those resources.”

Ferguson said there are future plans to expand the assistance to include technical capacity, networking and mentoring.

She said in the meantime, she is pleased with what she is seeing and the number of industries set to benefit.

“Seeing the range of businesses, I think is important it's not siloed in one industry. We have creative, agricultural, ICT and engineering. So I think innovation as a whole, over the entire landscape. is really poised for success.”

Ferguson said the grant is based on a call for proposals advertised last July. She said applicants were thoroughly evaluated by an independent panel in several stages to ensure they met all the criteria and had solid implementation plans.

“They have to come and do a live pitch, where we are able to ask questions based on the application and get some answers, clear up some things we may have in our mind. The independent evaluators then scored them, and those individuals in this specific case who made the threshold were given a grant.”

The grant awards ranged from US$50,000-$250,000.

Dana Shayegan, speaking on behalf of Montano’s Monk Music Ltd, said the grant fills a gap in infrastructure, education and funding for the music industry.

“This grant will allow us to help build educational programmes, help fund new content, new musical content, and help further develop infrastructure and marketing programmes for artists in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Machel Montano is among this year's recipients at the Ministry of Planning and Development's Grants and Cocktail Reception at Hilton Conference Centre, Port of Spain on April 11. - Photo by Venessa Mohammed

Darren Hosang-Rudder, co-founder of Restayge, a company that connects influencers and content creators with brands and businesses, said receiving the grant felt as though it was proof that its business model was solid.

“Going through the process and having an independent screening committee look at our business, our project and say, ‘Guys, this making sense. We will invest in you to drive your success and to drive your growth and to help you realise what you're trying to achieve’ – it was validation for us.”

He said the process, while not a simple one, was empowering.

“We had to go through specific steps, a lot of it very introspective, looking at ourselves and asking ourselves real questions…So certainly there was validation for us that people with far more experience in business and entrepreneurship and innovation thought that we had something.”

Beckles-Robinson urged entrepreneurs who were not successful in applying for the grant not to give up.

“Don't let failure destroy your dreams. Use it as a stepping stone to success. Embrace change, be transformative and at the end of the day, everything is possible.”


"SMEs awarded $10.6m ‘innovation grants’ from CARIRI"

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