By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
EARLY-stage Bahamian entrepreneurs could soon have the benefit of an “incubation centre” to support their development via a World Bank programme that has already facilitated a network of approximately 400 business incubators in more than 100 countries.
Oltac Unsal, the access to finance and markets manager at the World Bank’s infoDev programme, said the Bank’s next initiative in the Caribbean was a seven-year, $20 million programme called Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC).
This is designed to expand the Caribbean network of business incubators, which provide support to early-stage entrepreneurs and firms, while also offering mentoring, work space, and often, seed funding.
Speaking with Tribune Business during his recent visit to New Providence, where he met with several private sector leaders, Mr Unsal said the single purpose of the programme was to increase opportunities for entrepreneurs, which would create more jobs in the private sector and generate more revenue.
“We create incubator innovation centres, and we try to focus on solving problems for innovative entrepreneurs. As a result, this program has got four pillars,” said Mr Unsal.
“One pillar is to figure out how to help the entrepreneurs that do mobile applications and services. The other pillar is to help women entrepreneurs. The third pillar is to help entrepreneurs who are fighting to solve climate-related problems. The region is really susceptible to climate change and we are looking to help entrepreneurs who essentially do agribusiness and renewable energy.
“The fourth pillar, which is what I’m helping to do, is to figure out how to solve the access to finance problem. You could be the best entrepreneur but you are going to have an acute finance problem. Banks aren’t going to give money to you because you just started. We are trying to solve that problem by coming up with a couple of different ideas and see if any other could be implemented in the region,” added Mr Unsal.
“Meeting with leaders here, one thing they told me is that the Bahamas needs an incubation centre. This centre would essentially nurture start-ups and entrepreneurs, give them mentorship, hook them up with other businesses in the field and literally incubate them.
“This is our expertise because my group has created over 400 incubators in over 100 countries. Imagine having an incubation centre that also has a fund, so it could actually give grants or equity-based investments into the company. That’s some of the things that we have been discussing. We could use something like that to solve the access to finance problems.”
Mr Unsal said he was hopeful that, a year from now, the Bahamas could also have an incubation centre. “It’s my wishful, optimistic thinking, but imagine a year from now opening up an incubation centre that caters to innovation, has virtual training seminars, a fund attached to it that can give quick loans or quick equity investments to deserving entrepreneurs,” he said.
“It’s almost like catapulting them, taking them from where they are and really putting them on the global map.”