Base entrepreneurship on opportunity, not needs

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Associate editor — Features

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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While Government has, over the past few years, been advancing arguments for the adoption of entrepreneurship — both as a discipline and a business model — members of academia are warning that it not be done solely on the basis of economic need, especially regarding the emerging fields of sustainable energy and other green technologies.

Instead, they argue that it be driven by innovation, which is defined not merely as new ideas, devices or methods, but as the application of improved solutions.

Speaking at yesterday's Green Entrepreneurship and Innovation Seminar convened by the Caribbean Sustainable Energy and Innovation Institute (CSEII) at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) in tandem with Caricom the German development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft fr Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), a panel of presenters argued that businesses created out of the need to survive are invariably unsustainable and will not grow or contribute to economic growth.

“What we need is opportunity-based entrepreneurship, not necessity-based entrepreneurship, because have no other choice to make a living. These will never grow. It's important to have innovative business models so that businesses can grow,” said Professor Utz Dornberger, director of the international small enterprise promotion & training programme at Leipzig University, Germany.

One route for investors in the Caribbean to achieve that, he said, is to go directly to international markets, especially since individual markets in the Caribbean are small.

As an example, he said that of all the startups in Denmark, which is a small relative to the size of Germany, 40 per cent are born global, which means they went directly to international markets. In Germany the figure is 20 per cent.

“In your countries, there are more entrepreneurs than in Germany. Only 10 per cent of people of working age in Germany are running a business,” he said, making the point that there is no shortage of ideas in the region.

Associate Vice-president of the School of Graduate Studies, Research and Entrepreneurship at UTech Dr Paul Ivey agreed.

“There is no lack of skill or talent or ideas in this Country. What we need are systematic approaches to purge from the system the informalities so that our efforts are sustained and become inter-generational and we don't become known as a country of samples or bamboo fires,” he said.

To put things into context, associate vice-president of the sustainable energy and head of the CSEII Dr Ruth Potopsingh noted that the opportunities for creating green businesses remain largely untapped in the region, particularly in light of the effects of climate change.

Several countries are pursuing the development of solar, wind, geothermal, and other technologies. In Jamaica, for example, the goal is to have 30 per cent of energy needs met by renewable sources by 2030, and St Vincent and the Grenadines as well as St Lucia are developing geothermal plants. But, the academicians argued, those goals in and of themselves and the route to achieving them are not static.

Energy programme manager at Caricom Dr Devon Gardner summed it up thus: “Caribbean people have to innovate because that's the hand we've been dealt based on our geographical location.”

“We need to create and build a new culture of creating more effective processes, products and ideas to survive,” added Potopsingh. “For business, this could mean implementing new ideas, creating dynamic products or improving your existing services [because] being innovative does not necessarily mean inventing.”

“Consumers have become increasingly comfortable to look for and want what's new, best, fastest, more convenient, or more fashionable. This mindset applies to virtually every category. For firms to sit still and not successfully innovate is often to wither away since competitors and start-ups have leapfrogged industry incumbents,” she continued.

The seminar brought together faculty and staff from six universities in the region specifically The Bahamas, Guyana, Haiti, Trinidad & Tobago, in addition to UTech and Caribbean Maritime University, both based in Jamaica.

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