The trinidad Guardian / Seven months after the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) presented a diversification roadmap aimed at mitigating the negative impact from the fall in oil and gas prices, government has responded with a number of initiatives to help boost entrepreneurship.

The plan was designed against the backdrop that the decline in the energy sector had made it necessary for T&T to diversify its sources of income.

Leading the diversification thrust is Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon who agreed it is key to T&T’s growth and development.

In an interview last Friday, Gopee-Scoon said there are several sectors within the diversification agenda that we intend to grow.

“What we want to do is grow more manufacturers and ensure the sector is widened to include small and medium-sized manufacturer,” she said.

Aware that financing remained the biggest challenge for many wanting to establish a business, Gopee-Scoon said, “You want people to be innovative and convert their ideas into reality.

“We are ready to step up and work with entrepreneurs as there are a lot of people out there with great ideas but the problem is always access to finance-one of the major issues.”

She assured, “Many of the products and incentives we launched in the last budget will answer the call regarding the difficulty in accessing finance.”

During the launch of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) three weeks ago, Gopee-Scoon indicated her intention to lobby the banking sector to have financial institutions provide feasible funding options suited to new and emerging entrepreneurs.

“I can’t say the traditional commercial bankers would really just listen to someone coming in with an idea and finance it, and that is the idea behind it.”

Gopee-Scoon reinforced her earlier promise that, “In support of entrepreneurship, my idea is to meet with the Bankers Association of T&T and my undertaking is to carve out something for young entrepreneurs and for individuals who are ready to grow their businesses.”

Admitting most of the manufacturing in T&T occurred in the area of food and beverage, Gopee-Scoon said the government’s aim was to encourage growth in other areas such as wood-working, furniture production, chemicals, plastics, packaging and personal care products among others.

Regarding government’s effort to make it easier for budding entrepreneurs and existing small and medium enterprises to expand, Gopee-Scoon said, “We want to ensure that market entry turns into a strong market presence.

“I want to ensure the risk appetite by banks is widened and opened, so they understand and appreciate the need for the growth of entrepreneurs in T&T.

“Not everybody has land and capital to secure loan facilities, so we have been looking at other options through the World Bank where you can actually use moveable property as security for loans and transactions,” she said.

The minister said this was high on the agenda as, “we want to ensure banks are able to assist those entrepreneurs who are ready and who we feel can really contribute to growing the economy.”

With aggressive strides being made in the area of agro-processing, Gopee-Scoon said they were hoping to encourage a greater level of processing in T&T as this would generate increased economic activity.

In order to assist in this area, she said the government had jump started work on the Agro-Processing Park at Moruga as they were anticipating accelerated growth in a number of areas connected with this sector. Gopee-Scoon said this facility is expected to be fully operational by January 2019.

“This economy is not just for the large businesses, but growing small and large enterprises and promoting entrepreneurs who can contribute to the economic landscape of T&T.”

She added that all of the mechanisms had been put in place to assist individuals as the government wanted, “creative people with good ideas.

“Often enough, they have no place to go but they only need a computer as a lot of the work is being done through technology, so we have to look at the idea of creating spaces at a reasonable price.”

Gopee-Scoon revealed, “I have given them that assurance that I am going to look at eTeck, UTT and at spaces within Port-of-Spain which can be easily accessed or where they can pay a nominal rent they can manage as they grow their businesses.

“Apart from industrial parks, we have to look at creating small niche spaces that are necessary for the small and growing entrepreneurs.”

Sharon Dirpaul* has come to dread the words, “sorry but you do not qualify for a loan with us.”

Imprinted on her psyche following three consecutive rejections relating to loan applications, the 38-year-old mother of two joked that her inability to secure financing to set up her own business was now an albatross around her neck.

Dirpaul, who resides in east Trinidad at her parents home said, “That is the only thing keeping me back from striking out on my own.”

Working as a chef for the past three years at a popular food establishment in Central, Dirpaul explained, “I have everything I need because I provide catering services on a weekend when I am free. I have everything including: pots, pans, serving trays, cutlery, utensils and crockery.

“I just don’t have the money to rent a place of my own and to outfit it,” she said.

As the “backbone” at her place of employment, Dirpaul said she was well poised to ensure the success of her own business.

Vowing not to let go of her dream, the secondary school graduate said, “I am the main cook where I work. I do everything from prepping to cooking and washing dishes, so I know I have it in me to make my business a success.”

Refusing to be discouraged by the rejections she has received from three of the four major banks she has applied at, Dirpaul vowed, “I was not bothered at first or even the second time, but the third time left me in tears because I badly want to give my children a better future.”

Grateful to her family who have continued to stand by her, Dirpaul said they have been instrumental in her being able to accept private catering jobs.

“Some of those orders pay more than I earn in a single day, so when I get a job to cook, I jump at the chance to earn a little extra cash.”

Dirpaul said she has tried saving as much as she can from these jobs in order to re-approach the banks for a loan.

She smiled as she said, “I am saving hard and trying not to let these things get me down but I am human.”

Heartened as she learned of government’s efforts to assist entrepreneurs, Dirpaul is hopeful this will be her “lucky chance” to secure financing.

While Dirpaul is eager to jumpstart her future, Tameika Fletcher-Birmingham recalled the challenges she experienced in setting up her own business..

As the owner of Bead Cafe, the 39-year-old mother of one said her journey began as a hobby and grew into a successful wholesale and retail bead and craft outfit.

Operating Bead Cafe for the past nine years, Fletcher-Birmingham has a degree in business management and previously worked in the area of corporate communications.

Of the move, she said, “I felt like I had done everything I could have done and I was feeling unfulfilled, so I decided it was time to move on.”

Although she shied away from going to the banks for start-up capital and decided to “wing it” by only investing her savings, Fletcher-Birmingham-who started the outfit with one box of beads-said she is well aware of the challenges relating to expansion and development.

“It has been a continuous cycle of learning and improving but business is all about learning and education for yourself and your customers.”

Fletcher-Birmingham’s business will be among those featured at next week’s Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW).

* Name has been changed


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