Branson Centre grounding businesses

By Nekiesha Reid Business reporter

Friday, August 10, 2012    

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Sir Richard's Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship for the Caribbean is on its third set of recruits but is still providing much needed support for its "case studies".

A year after being selected as part of the Centre's first batch of entrepreneurs, Signature Cakes's owner Alecia James said, "It's like becoming part of a family".

James started her business three years before climbing on board, and although her business was popular before the Branson Centre, she said it became more "grounded" under the Centre's guidance.

"Everyday you learn more and face more challenges," she said. "But the process is much easier through the Centre."

Launched through airline mogul Sir Richard Branson's non-profit foundation, Virgin Unite, the centre provides entrepreneurial expertise to recruited business owners.

Operating out of Montego Bay, the Centre opened its doors last September with 11 applicants as a way to help them "make a difference as business leaders and employers of the future [who] will also contribute significantly to economic growth in the Caribbean".

For Simone Bell, 60 per cent of the knowledge required to run her business, Ideatrade, was gained through the Branson Centre.

"It's possible to get this kind of information outside," she said. "But [we had] one-on-one sessions with people like Sir Richard Branson and Zachary Harding and you can't get that by just picking up the phone."

Along with local business leaders, she said the Centre provides its applicants with overseas mentors, such as board members of US news website Huffington Post.

This ongoing mix of local and international expertise in addition to the level of publicity she's received by being part of the programme are the most significant contributions the Centre has made to Ideatrade, Bell said.

Jewelry maker Bianca Bartley said that the publicity that comes with being a part of the Branson Centre has contributed directly to sales.

"The training puts us in a better position to go forward and the programme is a good one," she said. "But it has to be tweaked and it has to be specific to our environment."

Bringing entrepreneurs to the point where they can immediately execute what was learnt is one way she said the programme could be improved.

The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship also serves South Africa and is Virgin Unite's way of "tackling tough social and environmental issues".



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