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Start a Business, Then What?

It’s been a while since I’ve written a commentary about things that have been going on in the Caribbean. It’s really a combination of not having enough time to sit down and think about what I want to write about, and there being so many issues that I’m not sure which one to pick apart.

I participated in the University of the West Indies’ 17th annual Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies conference that was held in Barbados from the 29th March to the 1st April 2016 at the stunning Hilton Barbados Resort. It was my first conference as a presenter and  it was epic. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I will definitely be participating in more conferences like this in the future.

Two of the presentations on the day that I attended the conference looked at entrepreneurship and small businesses in the Caribbean and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately I missed most of the first presentation, but I was able to hear the questions and answers. Thinking about creating businesses and employing people is like the oxygen that gives me life. I get a euphoric feeling when I think about someone taking the bold step to start a business and create employment in the face of an adversity or just the urge to simply do better.

In Barbados, it’s extremely easy to start a business. It only costs USD $52 to register a business name. In fact, the authorities (both public and private sector) have been pushing people to start businesses like it’s a new fad that everyone just has to be involved in. I’m all for the encouragement of the betterment of our people. I will hold your hand when you talk about taking ideas and dreams from someone’s head to an entity that functions and does the work that it’s intended to do.

Yes, we should encourage the young people in our country to create their own jobs by starting their own businesses. Yes, we should provide them with the tools and knowledge that they will need to start a business. Yes, we should teach them these tools from young. However, I can not agree with some of the rationale behind the small business and entrepreneurial push. My problem lies with the theory that you should start a business just because.

My position is this. If you are encouraging people to start businesses, encourage them to start meaningful businesses which can solve a social need. We have so many issues in the Caribbean that are in need of solid ideas that can solve some of the problems that we have. And seeing that we have an excellent education system, there is no reason why we can’t have our problems solved by our people.

For example, I would not encourage someone to start a clothing store business in Bridgetown. But, I will tell them that unless they are bringing something new, they may not be as successful as they hope to be. There are lots of stores, malls, kiosks and wayside vendors selling clothing in Bridgetown. For someone to be extremely successful in this business, they have to offer unique clothing that can be easily sourced, priced attractively and located in a high traffic area. For us in Barbados, that usually means that vendors have to shop outside of Miami and New York, purchase large quantities of clothing and pay more rent for a “good” location. I’m not saying this is impossible, but it will be more difficult.

Instead, let’s encourage people to come up with ideas that make our world better. We currently have a water crisis in Barbados. I’m still trying to figure out what contingency plans were put in place and what the options were in case the risks that are happening now, occurred. Now is the time to work with young people (particularly those studying the STEM subjects) to get their minds working on businesses within this sector. What about the creation of new water storage tanks or low capacity warning systems for water reservoirs? Is it possible to design an at home rainwater system that purifies rainwater for consumption?

We’re also facing a problem with rising food prices. Why aren’t we pushing our agriculture students to develop new methods of growing food, and crops that can be grown year round? Why are we still paying US $5 for two imported sweet peppers when sweet peppers are grown right here in Barbados? What devices can be invented to stop local green monkeys from raiding crops? How can we fight praedial larceny on a large scale to keep farmers in business and deter crop thieves? These are our issues. We need to create our solutions.

An excellent example of innovation is in the Information and Communications Technology and Healthcare sectors in Barbados. MediRevu is a patient communications tool with an accompanying app. It allows users (in this case, medical entities) to create appointment reminders, payment reminders and pre-visit check ups. Patients can manage their illnesses and share their information with caregivers and doctors. These are the types of ideas that we need.

The other part of my problem is that people seem to believe that when you start a business, all is well in the world. You have arrived, seen and conquered. You have reached the mountain top and it’s all over now. That is a bold faced lie. Many small business owners will tell you that running a business is harder than working a 8-4.30 job. And to be honest, it is.

When you own a business, especially if you are now getting started, you work hard. If you are the only employee of the business, you work harder. You will be the chief, cook and bottle washer doing everything from serving customers, to pushing the marketing strategy and working on the accounts. Depending on the business that you start, you will go to bed late and wake up early and your life will change as you try to reach your goals.

But no one seems to care what happens after people start businesses. We need to keep in contact with them to see how they are progressing. I know that some of them give up, but we don’t hear about them. We don’t hear about the struggles that they face when things are not going to to plan. Who can they contact when things are a bit rough financially and they need a little something to keep them afloat? Not the cheerleaders who were pushing them into the “start a business” ring.

This is only the tip of the iceberg surrounding my concerns about the “start a business” club. I haven’t spoken about financing, which is a year long conversation on its own. But I promise you that will it be discussed in another blog post in the near future.

I’m focused on saving. Read about my decision to close my bank account when bank fees threatened to derail my plans.

We need to have a conversation. Sound off in the comments below. Share this on Facebook. I dare you. If you’re even more adventurous, subscribe to Odd Cents.