Business

JN to launch Jamaica's 'first' crowd-funding website

www.isupportjamaica.com to allow global community to donate or lend funds to micro entrepreneurs

Sunday, June 23, 2013    

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JAMAICA National's microfinance arm will next month launch a crowd-funding website that will allow entrepreneurs to access financing from people all over the world.

The global portal, isupportjamaica.com, was unvieled by JN Small Business Loans Limited (JNSBL) to hundreds of overseas-based Jamaicans at the 2013 Jamaica Diaspora Conference in Montego Bay, St James.

According to JNSBL, the website will be launched to the public in July. The company said it is the Island's first crowd-funding website and will assist Jamaicans wanting to start a micro business to raise funds to do so.

With investors and venture capitalists scarce, enterprising business people are adopting the concept of crowd funding, which allows individuals and groups with good ideas to raise sizeable sums of money in small amounts from people around the world.

JNSBL general manager Philip Bernard said the project is being implemented and managed through a strategic partnership between the company and the JN Group's philanthropic arm, the JN Foundation. He said the website emphasises the company's mandate to promote the development of the micro and small business sector, through access to financial services, and by extension, the Jamaican economy.

"Our Jamaican landscape is lush with bright ideas that only require the necessary seed funding so that they can be explored and realised," Bernard said, pointing out that many micro entrepreneurs continue to find it difficult to access start-up funds from traditional institutions because of their perceived high risk.

"Therefore, as a social organisation, JNSBL has developed this approach to broaden access for all our micro entrepreneurs, because this is a critical sector of the economy that will indeed play a major role in shaping the future of Jamaica," he added.

The site, which will also provide a platform for charities and philanthropists to raise funds for community projects, will allow civic-minded people anywhere in the world to donate funds or to lend money to entrepreneurs, the company said.

Crowd funding reportedly got started in the late-1990s when the fans of Marillion, a British rock band, raised money for a US tour. A wide range of industries, including alternative energy and even journalism, has adopted it.

Foreigners have also used crowd funding to raise money for projects in Jamaica.

Film producers Daoud Abeid and Dahkil Hausif teamed up to raise funds for a coming-of-age film about Jabari, a 12-year-old boy in the US who was on the road to failure. His father decides that the best option is to send him to live in Jamaica.

Using Kickstarter.com, they successfully raised US$22,500 in November.

As with most projects and businesses, crowd-funding applicants must first pitch an idea before any external support is received. After all, the capital will be raised from a crowd of strangers.

There is no clear formula for success, as crowd funding on the web is just a few years old.

But many of the more successful projects put time and effort into their pitches, often producing videos to explain the purposes and objectives of their projects.

"This is not a novel approach," JNSBL's Bernard said with regard to the company's crowd-funding website.

"But it is taking an idea that has been working for many countries around world, and transforming it into something totally Jamaican, to support our aspirations and development targets and provide a means for our Jamaicans abroad and well-wishers everywhere to partner with Jamaica and make a difference by just assisting one entrepreneur," he said.

Explaining how the site will work, Bernard said descriptive profiles, which will also include videos of micro entrepreneurs and charitable projects, will be uploaded to the site. Persons who sign up to I Support Jamaica, will have the opportunity to use a credit card or using their JN online banking portal Live by JN, lend or make a donation to the project or entrepreneur of their choice.

All funds loaned will be monitored and managed by JNSBL, which has been in the business of lending to the micro and small business sector for more than a decade. Over this period the company has disbursed some 286,000 loans, valued at more than $14 billion over the past 14 years.

"There are many entrepreneurs with great ideas who simply need people and organisations that believe in them and are willing to provide support, hence we have established this facility to assist in honing those ideas into successful businesses," Bernard added.

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