Interview: Dominic Hadeed
To what extent has the environment for entrepreneurs improved over time?
DOMINIC HADEED: It is far more vibrant than it was 20 years ago. Schools and universities are supporting and pushing entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurship is starting to enter popular consciousness through the press, and mediums such as Planting Seeds, a local television show promoting budding innovators in business. We are now beginning to see wide recognition that the new growth engines for the economy will no longer come primarily from traditional sources — multinationals, government and established conglomerates — but from innovators and start-ups. Conglomerates are increasingly looking to purchase emerging entrepreneur-led companies, rather than innovate themselves.
How difficult is it to source financing?
HADEED: Funding is less of an issue than it used to be because a great idea will always find a partner — but it does have its challenges, depending on the industry. For tech entrepreneurs, whose asset might be proprietary information, software or intellectual property, there are issues relating to regulations governing collateral. However, there is a growing dialogue about this, which will lead to positive change. We are also beginning to see peerto-peer financing. While it is still at an emergent stage, it is certainly heading in the right direction, and tertiary institutions are providing more support via programmes such as Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business’ Biz Booster Programme.
What is more difficult than financing is finding the right support structure and mentoring. We do not have a culture of mentorship yet, which is partly due to the small size of the Trinbagonian market and the fierce competition here. Currently, it is possible to get advice from successful entrepreneurs, but this is difficult to find in a formal and structured manner.
How closely should investors be looking at the country’s agriculture sector?
HADEED: The sector is beginning to build momentum as people’s mindsets towards it have changed. Agriculture has suffered from a bad reputation due to its association with slavery and indentured labour. Consequently, our population wanted to distance itself from the industry as much as possible, setting its sights on white-collar professions. The discovery of oil and gas led to easy money, further fuelling the exodus of workers from agriculture-based industries. Now what we are seeing, however, is growing interest in large-scale farming operations from the business community as a method of import substitution and foreign exchange earnings.
While the sector may still be small, in five years I am positive that it will have one of the strongest growth rates across any industry in the Trinbagonian economy. The government is also supporting the sector’s growth, with the prime minister believing that it takes large-scale farming to be successful.
Which specific regional markets hold promise for Trinbagonian exporters?
HADEED: In 2016 our country reached an agreement with Venezuela to export manufactured goods worth $50m through a revolving credit facility, highlighting a short, specific list of items. For Trinidad and Tobago-based manufacturers that can supply specific goods on the list, Venezuela represents an excellent opportunity, but for other manufacturers the market is simply too volatile.
Cuba, which has a population two times the size of CARICOM, is beginning to open up now, with 4-5m tourists visiting every year on top of a population of 11m. We would like to the see the government set up a similar revolving-fund facility for Cuba — if we could lower the cost of funding to the Cuban government it will allow us to do more business.
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