The journey of an entrepreneur can sometimes be a lonely one. Well-meaning friends and family may see the investment in capital and time needed to launch a business as a risky undertaking that could end up in failure. They might encourage the frustrated entrepreneur to find a good job, go back to school or start a family instead. If you have the spirit and passion of an entrepreneur though, the calling to determine your own destiny and to seize opportunities to create something unique in the market will not die easily. Where the risk is highest, so is the payoff, and charting an independent course does not always mean having to go it alone. That is where the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – Caribbean (BCoEC) can make a difference. By providing an array of support services that include practical business skills training, mentorship and coaching, media exposure, as well as access to professional services, markets and networks, BCoEC has created a support programme that can assist entrepreneurs in a variety of ways at crucial points throughout their entrepreneurial journey. Richard Branson launched the Centre in Montego Bay, Jamaica in 2011 as a Virgin Unite initiative in partnership with Virgin Holidays. Since its inception, BCoEC has accepted 85 specially selected entrepreneurs into ‘Launch Pad,’ the Centre’s 12-week training programme. Of those 85 entrepreneurs, 68 have been invited to ‘Take Off,’ which is the next stage of the programme where they access mentorship and a number of other support offerings. Already BCoEC has seen where its unique approach to entrepreneurship development has made an impact, not only in nurturing a culture of change-makers who use ‘business as a force for good’ – the Virgin way, but also through the creation of jobs and revenue. As of November 2013, the Centre, through its 68 entrepreneurs in Take Off, has supported approximately 102 jobs and helped to create 95 jobs. These businesses have also shown an estimated average revenue growth of 182%. BCoEC now looks forward to widening its impact not only in Jamaica, but also into Barbados and other Caribbean islands.
This coming year BCoEC, along with its parent foundation, Virgin Unite, will launch a hybrid model of the programme, which will include a virtual platform coupled with a local community eco-system in each of the islands it launches. The virtual platform will allow the Centre to enhance accessibility of the programme to a wide array of entrepreneurs who will gain access to an interactive training centre and tool kits, a sophisticated mentorship matching hub, an entrepreneur marketplace and social networking services. Through its new model, BCoEC estimates that its current capacity of 60 entrepreneurs per year will now increase to 400 entrepreneurs per year after the first year. One of the most important features of the Centre’s programme is the peer-to-peer networking and collaboration that it fosters through its family-like partnership approach. Through the local eco-system component, BCoEC aims to preserve this important element of the programme by forming partnerships with local community organizations, hosting local events and workshops, and providing other networking and collaboration opportunities. Local entrepreneurs can now look forward to having the opportunity to bring BCoEC and its network along for the ride. Organizations and individuals interested in getting involved or learning more about the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – Caribbean should email email@example.com