The Challenge of Entrepreneurship

November 25th, 2014

Last week was Global Entrepreneurship Week in Jamaica. The program was packed with events. The week was full.

It was also a welcome collaboration among public entities and private sector organizations and non-governmental groups, too numerous to mention. There was much bustling activity. But what did it achieve? We hope there will be tangible results down the road – a resurgence of “doing.” Because by nature, this is not a “talking” matter. It’s doing that counts. And we need to, at this point, roll up our sleeves.

And what does this somewhat cumbersome, half-French word “entrepreneurship” mean to the average Jamaican citizen? It’s certainly much more than having a bright idea and making money out of it. Inspiration helps you start off down the road; a strong and clear vision helps to keep you on that road. Sure. But what also matters – a great deal – is a gritty determination to make something work, to grow something out of almost nothing, and to give it your very best shot. For many seeking to start a business in Jamaica, huge obstacles remain. No one (especially not entrepreneurs themselves) denies this cold fact. In today’s economy – where the only certainty is that Jamaica is the International Monetary Fund’s star pupil – the hazards are many. Best to build nerves of steel and a skin of thick leather, useful qualities.

Jamaica Business Development Company (JBDC) CEO, Valerie Veira (left), Winner of the JBDC Entrepreneur of the Year award and Managing Director of Bartley’s All in Wood, Lacey-Ann Bartley (centre) and Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister, the Hon. G. Anthony Hylton (right) are all smiles as Bartley is presented with the JBDC Entrepreneur of the Year Gold Plate in July 2014. Lacey-Ann is a Branson Centre Entrepreneur. (Photo: JIS)

Jamaica Business Development Company (JBDC) CEO, Valerie Veira (left), Winner of the JBDC Entrepreneur of the Year award and Managing Director of Bartley’s All in Wood, Lacey-Ann Bartley (centre) and Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton are all smiles as Bartley is presented with the JBDC Entrepreneur of the Year Gold Plate in July 2014. Lacey-Ann is a Branson Centre Entrepreneur. (Photo: JIS)

We seem to have a lot going for us in this field in Jamaica, these days. The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, a non-profit that opened in Montego Bay in 2011, has already produced Caribbean men and women with a plan for success; they don’t plan to fail. The Centre is interviewing applicants for its sixth intake of aspiring entrepreneurs this week. I have met some of its Jamaican graduates and seen their work; they are forging ahead with great determination and energy.

The inspirational and vibrant entrepreneurial spirit Thalia Lyn, CEO of Island Grill, spoke at last week's celebration of Jamaica's first Women's Entrepreneurship Day. Ms. Lyn is WED Jamaica's 2014 patron. (Photo courtesy of Cecile Watson)

The inspirational and vibrant entrepreneurial spirit Thalia Lyn, CEO of Island Grill, spoke at last week’s celebration of Jamaica’s first Women’s Entrepreneurship Day. Ms. Lyn is WED Jamaica’s 2014 patron. (Photo courtesy of Cecile Watson)

Last week, too, there was a new birth to celebrate. A new baby, at least for Jamaica, and we love new babies, don’t we? Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED) – November 19 – seeks to join the world in celebrating the heroism of women entrepreneurs by creating a network of women owned companies, women philanthropists and universities supporting women entreprenuers, and organizations to inspire and celebrate women on WED Day.” Jamaica’s WED Ambassador Cecile Watson emphasized this is not just one of those “special days,” important as they always are for raising awareness. It is a global movement, an energizing force intended to last throughout the year.

Oh yes. Women on Wednesday (WOW – a nice acronym!) is a major social media campaign to be launched on December 3 which is intended to boost support for women-owned businesses and causes. So note to social media activists: There will be some new hashtags to play with, #WomenWOWJa and #WomenWOW. By the way, it is good to see solid public/private sector sponsorship for this initiative from the Jamaica Observer and the Heart Trust NTA.

And our young people? Well, last week I spent some time at the Junior Achievement Company of Entrepreneurs (JACE) Annual General Meeting, which was actually much more than a meeting. It was an invigorating experience. Junior Achievement Jamaica (http://www.jajamaica.org) is also part of a worldwide movement, sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) along with the U.S. Peace Corps and UNICEF in Jamaica and a number of local companies.

Junior Achievement Jamaica has an impressively wide-ranging slate of programs, and I discovered that many of the fledgling small businesses in high schools island wide had been quietly developing for years. JACE is a practical program that teaches the nuts and bolts of starting and building a business. It’s competitive too; the 2014 JACE Company of the Year (Knotz Enterprise) was Wolmer’s Girls’ School.

I shared a lunch table with three great young people from York Castle High School – young artisans and business people, creating attractive jewelry. Vice President of Marketing at Royal Enterprise Company (“We bring out the royalty in you”) Shadai Lawrence told me the business was “so much fun,” but also hard work. The team meets after school to work on product development and business strategy, supported by their advisors, two teachers.

(left to right) shareholder Heron Ricketts, Vice President of Marketing Shadai Lawrence and Vice President of the Junior Achievement Club Jevaughn Smith from York Castle High School's Royal Enterprise Company. (My photo)

(left to right) shareholder Heron Ricketts, Vice President of Marketing Shadai Lawrence and Vice President of the Junior Achievement Club Jevaughn Smith from York Castle High School’s Royal Enterprise Company. (My photo)

I later saw the York Castle team in action, presenting to a panel of judges about their company. Shadai maintained her smile, while second Vice President Jevaughn Smith kept his cool under pressure. Each team had five minutes to present, followed by ten minutes of questions from the judges, giving them time to elaborate. A confident Wolmers’ Girls’ School team followed, singing a jingle as they came in; their company’s product is jewelry too, made from copper wire. Yallahs High School showed us prototypes of their products; the judges, always helpful and encouraging, advised them to concentrate on photograph frames made from tiles. They look clean, fresh and modern, good Christmas presents. The Ardenne High School team focused on a material made from recycled styrofoam and coconut husk, to make cell phone holders and key rings.

A student discusses his presentation with his teacher/advisor before going before the panel of judges at the Junior Achievement Jamaica meeting on November 18. (My photo)

A student discusses his presentation with his teacher/advisor before going before the panel of judges at the Junior Achievement Jamaica meeting on November 18. (My photo)

Those are just a few examples of the creativity of the young budding entrepreneurs; over 30 schools participated that day. They still have a lot to learn about costing, marketing, record-keeping, accounting and the other more humdrum aspects of the business. But there is so much potential, and the enthusiasm and willingness to learn was palpable.

Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. We are not all cut out for it, and it’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s a known fact that many entrepreneurs do fail. But, more often than not, they pick themselves up, take a deep breath and start again.

As Cecile Watson said on Women’s Entrepreneurship Day: “Let’s be employers, not just employed. Let’s create jobs, not just look for jobs…And to borrow a challenge from Emma Watson in her September 2014 address to the United Nations on the He For She campaign, ‘If not us, who? If not now, when?'”

Young men and women venturing out into the world – accept that challenge! I’m all for seizing the day. Aren’t you?

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One Response to “The Challenge of Entrepreneurship”

  1. […] week’s Global Entrepreneurship Week activities in my weekly Gleaner Online article here: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2358  Kudos to all who participated – especially the students, teachers and others involved in […]