Career & Education


UWI students compete with cultural/creative business start-up

Associate editor — features

Sunday, January 12, 2020

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IMAGINE needing to start a business but all you have in hand is $1,000. (Yes, you read right: one thousand Jamaican dollars). What venture would you pursue? Would you even bother, considering that the sum — which amounts to lunch money for a day or two — attracts 25 per cent interest?

That's the very challenge that four university students face for the next four weeks.

Starting tomorrow, January 13, Oneika Young, Bobby Smith, Demion McTair and Cleveland Grey will have to set up and start a business that responds to a specific need in the creative and cultural industries. They have three weeks to start up and one week to sell their product or service, with the business that makes the most profit winning $20,000.

“A thousand dollars is not a lot,” challenge conceptualiser Olayinka Jacobs-Bonnick concedes. “[But] a lot of persons around this table started with zero dollars; they started their businesses with no money,” she said, making reference to the corporate executives who will provide weekly guidance and mentorship to the students.

“And I can tell you that I know someone who participated in this challenge about 20 years ago in the UK [where] it's called Five-Pound Challenge. She used her five pounds on an Internet business, and she's a multimillionaire today. So there's quite a lot that you can do with your thousand dollars. If you think carefully you plan and you strategise,” Jacobs-Bonnick continued.

She was addressing the students last Wednesday when they received their seed money and were paired with mentors.

The initiative is called Creative Enterprise Challenge and is being implemented by Jacobs-Bonnick's local non-profit, South South Collective, with support from The University of the West Indies' Institute of Caribbean Studies and Honey Bun Foundation.

The broad objective is to build capacity and entrepreneurship for the creative and cultural industries which Jacobs-Bonnick and The UWI agree, is the country's second-largest income earner.

“It's our largest portfolio after agriculture. We produce creative and cultural products at a very rapid rate; we have a propensity for rapid innovation when it comes to creating and cultural products, but we are somehow unable to get those products to market. And the very few people that do manage to get the products to market — it's almost by chance.

“We may not necessarily acknowledge that, or even write it down. We don't have any data to prove it. It's all anecdotal evidence, but when you've been in the sector for as long as we have and you know what's happening and you see the world coming to Jamaica and the Caribbean to take what we have, or to learn from us, then you understand,” she explained.

Jacobs-Bonnick, an enterprise and cultural development leader with some 20 years' experience designing and implementing social and cultural action programmes, including at British Council in Jamaica where she was country director for three years, said two of the key lessons the challenge is expected to transmit are that there is a distinction between the small business owner and the entrepreneur; and one need not be a creative to be a creative entrepreneur. It is for the latter reason, she expalined, that the four challengers were paired with mentors from the corporate world.

The four mentors for the four-week creative challenge are Xesus Johnston, CEO of Prime Sports Limited; Ethnie Miller-Simpson, chief growth offier of Zenergy Internationl; Michelle Chung, CEO of Honey Bun and founder of Honey Bun Foundation; and Kevin Jackson, president of Jamaica Animation Nation.

They are scheduled to meet with the mentees at least once each week during the period.

“You don't have to be a creative to be a creative entrepreneur,”Jacobs-Bonnick stressed in an interview with the Jamaica Observer. “You could not have a creative bone in your body, if that's what you think, and still engage in the creative and cultural industry sector. So we have so many examples of that. I always like to speak about Dewight Peters.

He's not a model, but he runs a modelling agency which is a creative and cultural business. And you have many examples of that around the world and locally, of people who are not involved in any way in the creative application of the activity that they are selling, but they are able to do the business.

“And there's also a distinction to be made between small businesses and entrepreneurs. So the small business is a more of a lifestyle business...The small business person is not necessarily thinking globally, they're thinking about being their own boss. You know, being able to meet their needs, making some profit and just being comfortable and working for themselves. The creative entrepreneur is interested in taking a creative product or service, selling it and scaling the business, which is very different to small businesses. So you may have an artist who runs their own business, it could be a framing shop. If you happen to be a visual artist, it could be a dance studio, if you happen to be a performing artist, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they won't have dance studios in every single country around the world, or that they want it to become this enormous brand. An entrepreneur may come along and say you know what you're doing with your dance studio is so unique. I want to scale it, I want to help you take this to a wider market. And then suddenly you have that brand of dance studio all across the world. But it's the entrepreneur that did it, not the owner/manager or the small business person.

Coordinator of the cultural and creative industries bachelor of arts programme at The UWI, Dr Deborah Hickling-Gordon spoke to the university's role in the challenge.

“What's really important from the perspective of cultural and creative industries is being able to navigate what is that dichotomy between culture and creativity. Not all cultural industry practitioners will be entrepreneurs, or wish to be entrepreneurs, or need to be entrepreneurs. However, there is a need for clear understanding of the principles of entrepreneurship, and how entrepreneurship works and having relationships with people who are entrepreneurs, and business savvy, so that we can find that balance to ensure that we optimise the creativity and optimise the monetisation and the growth so that we're optimising the sustainable development side as well as the economic growth side, and that they're growing in tandem with each other,” she said Wednesday.

Globally, the cultural and creative industries are said to be valued in the trillions of dollars. But, as the challenge partners pointed out, because the bulk of the industry is informal here, there is no way to properly account for its contribution to the economy.

“The UK [for example] can tell you on a daily basis, on an hourly basis what they're earning, and they have the indices to be able to do that. We want to be able to get to that point, and to get to a point where value is not just about the amount of money that's being made, but also the development [into which it translates],” Hickling-Gordon continued.

Added Jacobs-Bonnick: “I'm sure if we were to just be able to count the amount of cultural and creative production that's happening, our GDP would look very, very different.”

The partners argue that while the global south produces 45 per cent of the world's great cultural and creative products and services, the majority of the countries (minuus South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, India, and Russia) account for a mere 0.11 per cent, a position they say needs to change especially considering that the global north has an increasing demand for such products.

The South South Collective Creative Enterprise Challenge is expected to end on February 7.

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