By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Some 600-650 persons have signed up for the proposed Small Business Development Centre's (SBDC) services in the past fortnight, with sessions already extending into February 2019.
Davinia Blair, pictured, the SBDC's executive director, told Tribune Business yesterday that 75 percent of those showing interest in its offerings are women, with 45 percent falling in the 18-25 age bracket.
The SBDC, a joint venture between the Government, University of The Bahamas (UOB) and Chamber of Commerce, is expected to launch its services on September 20. It is designed to build the institutional framework and support for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in their initial development stages.
"We've had between 600 and 650 persons sign up as of Tuesday this week. More than half of those persons have already made their appointments," Ms Blair told Tribune Business. "There are some people right now who are getting February appointments as start-ups, and some persons who are getting November and December appointments as existing businesses.
"I'm really trying to encourage persons who are thinking about it, and not too sure, to go ahead and sign up. When you get your head around it and sign up you may be into June of next year."
She added: "I met with the University of the Bahamas on Tuesday with the view of opening up more of the cohorts for the training for the start-ups. Once we settle on that it should allow them to accelerate those classes and open up some more spots for those persons who have appointments in February, and push them up to later this year.
"With the existing businesses, that one is still a bit tricky, but it's based on how much we can expand our part-time advisors. So we are looking, again, with the financial secretary at the Budget to see how we can address this overwhelming demand for the services. I think that since we now have an idea of how many people are interested I will have to change some of my staffing plans before we launch on September 20."
Ms Blair added that based on the current data, 75 per cent of persons interested in the SBDC's offering are women. "The data is telling me that 75 per cent of the people showing an interest are female, and about 45 per cent of them are between the ages of 18 and 25," she said.
"Another 20 per cent are between the ages of 25 and 45. We're pretty much seeing young people who are taking the initiative with this opportunity. We don't have the info by island yet, but once we start to move forward with some of the classes we will be able to get more detailed information in that regard."
Ms Blair explained that persons who are looking to start a business will have to go through a two-week training course. "This is really like an intro into what it means to have a start-up; some of the basic terminologies and basic concepts of being an entrepreneur, as well as an overview of the business planning process," she said.
"We acknowledge that there are some people who may have already gone through the process of developing a plan, but would still need to go through that course. They would obviously have an accelerated time with an advisor afterwards.
"Once you finish your two-week course you would get an advisor assigned to you, and basically that individual would sit for as long as it takes to cultivate a business plan which can be recommended for funding. The centre itself, operationally, will not be giving out the funds, but there is an investment committee and private institutions waiting to receive the business plan to be able to fund them."
Ms Blair noted that while the SBDC will not provide funding directly, it will facilitate the necessary steps to allow entrepreneurs to access financing opportunities.
"When we write the business plan or revise an existing plan it would be with the knowledge of what some of the criteria is for funding, based on various companies' credit policies or investment policies," she said. "It would also ensure there is a high degree of success for those individuals to be funded.
"If you are already in business and you come because you want to expand or need additional help, you would go straight into meeting with an advisor and, as the advisor goes though your financials or if you do not have financials, that would be one of the initial things we would assist with getting properly established."
Ms Blair continued: "You would need to meet certain requirements, ensure your company is registered, VAT compliant, that you have the financial management structure in place, all of which the centre will do with you. All of that will be written into your funding strategy. In order for us to do our reporting we need to ensure that persons do theirs so we can track of the success of their business in the long run."
She urged aspiring and existing entrepreneurs to take advantage of the SBDC's services. "One of the challenges I'm finding is that entrepreneurs are approaching this in a shy way, perhaps because they have not heard the fine details. There is a bit apprehension about reaching out," Ms Blair said.
"This ties in with some of the research about the fears that some entrepreneurs go through before they take the leap. A lot of people have that fear of failure, and we have to help each other overcome that. As I speak with hundreds of entrepreneurs I'm finding that this fear of failure is like paralysis. That's why the centre is in existence, because we need to help individuals equip themselves with the tools to mitigate against that failure."