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The Caribbean needs incubators!

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by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert, 

Cdr. Bud Slabbaert
Chairman/Coordinator Caribbean Aviation Meetup

Wow, why, what? Is there an upcoming baby-boom? Is it related to this year’s carnival? Why don’t they distribute contraceptives? Those are questions that I don’t have answers for. But I had something else in mind anyway. I believe that the Caribbean needs Business Incubators.

Unemployment rates in the region are too high; especially among young persons. There is no such a thing as opening up a can of jobs. The problem does not get enough attention. Well, attention maybe, if one considers ‘talk-talk’ to be attention. In some cases, measures are taken, like providing extended education for young people. However, how does having another education certificate help, if one is still not able to find employment, because jobs are just not available. There is a distinct difference between providing a job and keeping persons entertained for another one or two years. Yet, it is meant well, so one should not criticize too much. The basic thinking behind it is not wrong but it is not creating jobs. Jobs are created by businesses.

Then let’s create businesses. Start-ups. Some young talented persons or spirited members of an earlier generation may be able to get an operation going. So, let’s make special loans available at attractive soft conditions. That’s positive thinking. It may work well if the operation is retail related because a turnover of products could bring revenues fairly quick. What about the entrepreneurs-to-be who are into offering services that need more lead time to bring in revenue. Some professionals in their own right are just not typically salespersons to market their services. Their activities may be valuable but are too specialized for a quick start.

Just imagine how their startup-up funding may be used. First renting an office space; usually one or two month rent deposit is required. Buying office furniture and equipment. Acquiring telephone and internet connections. Secretarial services may be needed. Every startup may have different needs. Listing all those may look like dramatizing things. Thus, I stop here. One thing should be mentioned though is that the young entrepreneurs may lack some experience in running an operation, like marketing, accounting or other skills.

What if a Business Incubator was available? A facility that would have space to accommodate several startups. The individual units would be fully furnished. Telephone connections through a central system. WIFI signal throughout the building. Central secretarial services. In principle one facility administration takes care of all, including things as hiring services ranging from cleaning to accounting. Management training could be included in the incubator concept. It would be a truly professional and motivating environment to operate from. Since there are several start-ups with different services in the same building, it is very well possible that the incubatees could cooperate and initiate joined activities. The model of the Incubator can be shaped to the needs of a particular territory, or for the typical professional needs of a certain group of startups.

Taking part in the Business Incubator should in principle be free. Of, course there will be conditions and agreements before being accepted. The funding for the facility could be provided by a government agency (e.g. Development Authority), Chamber of Commerce, or an International Development Bank. An incubator could be part of, or associated with a college or university.

In 2009, a Caribbean Business Incubator Association was launched by representatives from 10 independent Caribbean countries. Some had business incubation programs, other were preparing implementation of such programs. It was in the line of thinking being a part of a CARICOM Single Market and Economy. The organization announced that it was member of a global organization of more than 300 incubators in 86 countries. But the organization is not operational anymore. The Association is dormant due to lack of funding.

On a local level, the idea of a Business Incubation deserves a closer look. The idea of a Business Incubator is not new. It is a catalyst tool for economic development. It can be part of the solution to develop new native businesses that encourage self-employment first, and when the new operation is successful and grows, it can provide employment for others. A bit of a multipluying effect.

Business Incubators can be shaped for any need or seize They could be as big a technology parks. Let’s not go too far though with our imagination and keep both feet on the ground considering where we are. But then again, when reaching out for the stars, one will not end up with a hand full of mud. Mind that my columns should only be considered as ‘food-for-thought’. I’m old and wise enough to know how I myself would handle a circumstance if needed to. But who am I? Yet, an old fox knows more tricks to get a rabbit out of a hole than a puppy with a degree. I just do my writing to help others with ideas.

Caribbean territories should focus more on the potential of entrepreneurs as drivers of economic growth and play an important role in job creation. A study has shown that there is no specific geographic trend in terms of where innovative entrepreneurs can be found. There is no evidence either that developed countries have a higher rate of novel product-market combination. So…, let’s get going here.

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