'Look at new areas'
SBAJ director encourages MSMEs to diversify beyond soaps and oils
Opal Levy, SBAJ director

WITH a large cross section of small businesses concentrated in retail trade, an association head has recommended the need for more operators to diversify focus and to tap into higher-value areas.

Speaking at a recent Jamaica Observer Business Forum, Opal Levy, director of membership for the Small Business Association of Jamaica (SBAJ), spoke to some "new and innovative areas" from which micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) could reap significant benefits if tapped for new opportunities.

"We can look at garbage [waste] disposal and the cost of energy in the country. This is an exciting area which, in other countries globally such as Germany, businesses are being developed to focus on converting waste to energy. We could also look at solar energy and how we can create devices to trap energy, to reduce some of the current cost in this area.

"There are quite a number of opportunities that reside here in Jamaica… it's just that we need to have the minds and the resilience, as these are not easy projects on which we can just step in and begin to engage," she told journalists during the forum held last week.

Levy, who participated in the forum virtually on behalf of the association's president, Michael Leckie, said that while these projects were also not necessarily cheap, access to capital from organisations such as the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) could provide the funds needed to venture into these other types of businesses for which the returns on investment are believed to be much greater.

"The truth is this…we can't continue to think small. As small businesses we have to identify key areas in our environment, industries and country that need attention, and begin to determine how we can put minds together to [conceptualise and execute] a plan to enact change. It can't just be about soaps and oils and other cosmetic products; we must look at new areas. Entrepreneurship is about challenging the status quo. It's not about doing things the same way — it is about taking risks," Levy opined.

She admitted that while the local ecosystem that supports small businesses is in no way perfect, there are opportunities available on which entrepreneurs are called to capitalise.

"We need to innovate and to begin to do things differently," she trumpeted.

The SBAJ director said that with almost 50 per cent of companies within its membership having had to close down operations following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic, some of which have not reopened, there has become a need for greater diversity to ensure the viability of business models so as to withstand shocks in times of adversity.

She emphasised that with the majority of MSMEs gravitating towards doing the same products, a concerted effort must be made to redirect focus and inspire creativity.

"Through our education programmes we have been working with the DBJ through their IGNITE programme in trying to see how best we can redirect some of these businesses to engage in more innovative thinking and to help them in becoming a differentiator in the market," she stated, noting that with only 2.7 million people making up the local population and thus available to buy from these businesses, as a country there is also the need to strengthen our global reach, encouraging businesses to turn their attention towards competing on price and quality in the larger international markets.

Kellaray Miles

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