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T&T Chamber launches platform to support entrepreneurs

Published: 
Thursday, July 13, 2017

With the price of oil hovering at US$40 per barrel and T&T continuing to be in a recession, the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce (TTCIC) wants to provide support for small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs as well as the wider business community and has launched its online platform called Business Insights.

The Business Insights platform is being launched at a time when the external environment within which the business community operates is riddled with challenges such as a depreciating TT-dollar, decreased consumer spending and several other factors.

Despite the challenging environment, the TTCIC wants to form a deeper nexus between the business community and tertiary education institutions which provide training so that industry relevant training can occur.

The Business Guardian met with chief executive officer of the TTCIC, Gabriel Faria, at its Westmoorings headquarters to discuss the initiative and its importance to increasing rev­enue for T&T.

Sponsored by Standard Distributors Ltd, the JMMB Group, the Guardian Group and others, the initiative is made up of two parts: a training portal and a presentation portal that provides information and support on pertinent business topics such as pension reform for example.

For 2017, consultants who are the chamber’s members and non-members would have free access to the online portal Faria said.

“So if you are searching as a consultant, only chamber mem­bers would have access this year.

“In 2018, it would be opened to the entire business commu­nity for a small fee. It might be $100, for instance,” Faria said.

Explaining the search facility on the portal, Faria said the search can be narrowed to the expertise needed, the sector or industry needed, or by topic.

Another feature of the site is that the entrepreneur does not necessarily have to physically visit the chamber to participate in the event. They can be part of the online audience.

If they prefer to listen to the training session at a later time, they can request a training session “on demand.”

Gaining access to the online portal can be done using a com­puter or via a smartphone.

Asked what the TTCIC has done differently when it comes to this portal, Faria said: “Every tertiary education institution in T&T: UTT, UWI, Costatt, Roytec, University of the Southern Caribbean get access to all our sessions free of charge. The reason we did that is really to create a nexus between busi­ness and education. Too many times we hear universities talk, students talk or businesses talk about the fact that what we are getting out of the university isn’t what they are looking for (in the job market). What we are trying to do is create a nexus between both organisations (education and business).”

What is clear, he said, is that the portal will not remain static.

It will change based on the feedback from the business community.

Business incubators such as UTT’s business incubator, YBTT would be partnered.

“All the business incubators would be given access to the training and the portal. We had discussion with the World Bank, with Inter-American Development Bank and the Eco­nomic Development Advisory Board and they are helping us to identify what we can help them build,” Faria said.

He said one of the most important questions which he has been asked is whether the chamber’s online payment portal is safe.

Faria reassured that the business portal is a certified secured socket one which means that the chamber is certified to handle e-commerce transactions.

Support for entrepreneurs is not the only initiative on this portal as talks with other members of the business community continue in order to find investors for some of the businesses, Faria said.

“Right now we are actually in discussions with other organ­isations to create a framework for angel investing which would allow some of our members to provide investment funds to some of these business incubators.”

Asked how inclined other businesses would be to invest in the incubators, Faria said the chamber has had a number of meetings with a couple of the angel investor groups and “they were very happy to know the chamber was going to create a framework to provide that structure.

“What’s happening right now is that there isn’t a formal structure in place (for this kind of support). So the chamber has decided to take up the initiative. We are going to become a conduit to help the small start-ups to understand investors’ requirements,” Faria added.

“When it comes to lending, the general complaint from entrepreneurs has been that the banks tend to be hesitant to lend, but when a financial institution sees that angel investors have put their money behind a start-up they (the financial institution) are more receptive to participate in that business because they realise it is more than just an idea at stake.

“It shows there are credible businesspeople who have decided to participate in this entrepreneurial activity and therefore they feel more confident that the business has a stronger potential to succeed.”

Faria added that the role of the TTCIC is not to replace the incubator but to provide support until the business comes out of the incubator.

Speaking specifically about the relevance of social media as a means of connecting with people, he added, “there are different ways to connect with people and social media is one, digital marketing is another and traditional media as well. There are so many ways to connect. By offering the training to stu­dents in university, the chamber becomes more relevant to the next generation of leaders because up until now a student at university student might not have engaged with the chamber until he is working in a business, perhaps in a management role. Students in the not-for-profit institutions such as UTT are going to log onto the chamber site and get access to the training,” he said.