Bahamas Chamber of Commerce seek to strengthen small businesses and help grow the economy
Declaring “small business is the lifeblood of the economy,” Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation Chairman I. Chester Cooper today launched the Chamber’s long-anticipated mentorship program designed to give small to medium size businesses the boost and help they need to overcome staggering odds and succeed.
“For over 200 years, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce has played a leading role within the private sector as a promoter and protector of commerce,” said Cooper. “Our development of the small business mentorship and training program has been guided by this centuries’ long devotion to strengthening the lifeblood of The Bahamas — small business.”
Despite its significance, small business suffers with as many as 70% of all small business ventures in The Bahamas ending in failure, he said.
“That is precisely the reason why we’ve made this small business mentorship and training program the Chamber’s signature initiative for 2013-2014,” said Cooper. “Our aim is to improve the chance of success for new entrepreneurs in this currently struggling sector of the economy, not only through the provision of capital but also through the provision of technical support. The end result is an increase in economic activity and the creation of much-needed jobs to counter the current unemployment levels.”
According to Chamber CEO Edison Sumner, the timing of the initiative is critical as The Bahamas searches for ways to advance Bahamian entrepreneurial opportunities.
“In business as in life, timing is everything,” said Sumer. “Perhaps the fact that we stand here today, announcing the launch of a program that will help small to medium size businesses survive and succeed is the result, not only of the vision of what a mentorship program can provide, but the need for it against the backdrop of a struggling global economy in which we saw businesses challenged as never before. Through this Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation mentorship initiative in partnership with the Bahamas Venture Fund, we hope that we will be able to provide the kind of useful information and assistance that will allow a start-up business to get up on its feet, taking baby steps before walking on its own, graduating so to speak, with the experience they need to continue, to grow, to accomplish, to contribute to the community in which they operate.”
The mentorship program will start as a pilot program pairing young entrepreneurs, start-up, small or medium-size business with a successful mentor who will lend hands-on experience and oversight. Participating businesses are coming from the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund (BEVFL).
“Once the six-month pilot program that starts with those 20 businesses has been completed, we will review and make adjustments where we feel they may be beneficial,” said Sumner, who also serves as deputy chairman of the Venture Fund. “The goal is to pair 100 small to midsize businesses with mentors and ideally have 100 success stories.”
According to Cooper, of the 20,000 registered businesses 80% of them bring in less than $50,000 in sales annually. Seventy percent of the BCCEC’s members are classified as small businesses.
“These are everyday Bahamians driven by the spirit of entrepreneurship seeking to lay claim to their own piece of the Bahamian economy. Coincidentally, 70% of all small business ventures in The Bahamas end in failure. The Bahamas Development Bank is running very high delinquencies and some 50 percent of businesses funded by our venture capital fund are facing challenges,” said the chairman. “This is not an issue that we can afford to ignore and certainly not a level of failure we can afford to sustain.”
Minister of State for Finance Michael Halkitis and Minister of State for Investments Khaalis Rolle, a former Chamber of Commerce president, were both present for the launch held at Chamber headquarters, Shirley Street.
The mentorship program was designed by the members of the SME Division of the BCCEC. It was spearheaded by its chairman Christiaan Sawyer of Sunryse Shredding Services, a small business success story in its own right and the winner of the 2008 Chamber Entrepreneur of the Year award. Members included Ethan Quant, owner, Progressive Consumer Group, & Sean Brennen, manager of the BEVFL. The mentorship committee of the Chamber will administer the program.