Entrepreneurship is hard. Whether it is moving from a nebulous idea to a tangible deliverable, pivoting to meet new customer demand or securing funds to develop economies of scale, the road of entrepreneurship is thorny and rough, not for the faint of heart or will.
Then we got hit with a 100 year-event pandemic event and economies collapsed. People worldwide are now turning their side-hustles and ideas into full-on businesses to keep up their finances. If you are turning to running your own business during these (or any) trying times, the most obvious hurdle is funding. Where do you find the money to turn dream into reality?
While not an exhaustive document, I posted a quick guide to funding in Barbados on LinkedIn. Along with this article and the recap of my presentation at LinkedIn Local Barbados on August 26, 2021 (coming soon), I hope to reduce one of the barriers to business ownership you may face.
Idea to Plan
Most of the time, we start by crawling, walking, then running. Similarly, we need to turn the idea into a business plan, with more concrete ides of the product or service to be offered, the expected cost of doing business and the profit possible.
Once you have a business idea, you need to get some validation of some or all aspects of the idea - the 5 W's (and 1 H) of:
what can you offer?
who will be your customers?
why do they need what you are offering?
where will you do business?
when should you start/operate?
how can you best serve customers?
There are many ways for people to go through this process - online courses, books and especially incubators and accelerators, which are like greenhouses for business ideas and new entrepreneurs. There are quite a number of these incubators existing on a local and regional level, so that will be a separate topic.
You should to have a detailed plan in hand for further funding consideration - most funding options will require financial and business projections as a basis for decision-making.
Types of Financing
I broke down the types of financing/access to financing into three fairly general categories:
Angel/Venture Capital (VC) Financing, and
Loans are well understand, well regulated and quite common for persons seeking funding. Whether from commercial banks, credit unions, lending institutions, or special funds run by NGOs and government, these loans offer liquidity with a repayment schedule and, typically interest.
Additionally, the loans may require significant levels of collateral - a claim of ownership on some asset such as a house, car or insurance policy in the event of failed repayment. Finally, for those who have never been part of the banking system, it can be hard to meet the institutions' detailed requirements of proof of existence and financial record. Very novel business ideas may be met with increased scrutiny - commercial banks and credit unions in particular prefer safer, familiar business ideas.
Your best option as a business owner, regardless of age or idea, is to seek loans from agencies such as FundAccess, and Enterprise Growth Fund. Not only do they provide funding, they also provide significant auxiliary services to entrepreneurs and business persons, such as training and accounting assistance.
Special mention must be made of two financing schemes for businesses - the Enhanced Credit Guarantee Fund and Industrial Credit - facilitated by the Central Bank of Barbados and offered through Authorised Financial Intermediaries. These schemes have existed for many years to help small business to secure loans.
Angel financing got its name from the idea of the "guardian angel" - a sole, higher entity blessing a potential boom of a business with money, guidance and opportunities. Venture capitals are funds operated to catch onto to new ask specifically for such loan products if they are not mentioned or existing business as they begin to thrive on the newest trends or socioeconomic changes. Think of the popular TV show "Shark Tank" as an example of angel investing and the famous Andreessen Horowitz fund as an example of venture capital.
Angel and VC financing has a major advantage in that the funds typically don't need to be repaid, or have far more flexible terms than typical loans. Angels and VCs may focus on specific industries, regions or countries so that they can better help a person or team with a great idea. With their existing knowledge of business and extensive network of allies, angels and VCs can take a pitch on a PowerPoint presentation, provide the deep governance, risk management and compliance backbone that most new businesses lack and guide the emergent company to profitability.
All the entrepreneur has to be willing to do is relinquish some control.
Angels and VCs typically require the entrepreneur to give up some measure of shares in the company or decision-making control on major changes. This can lead to a clash of egos and even conflict of interest, especially for VCs who, unlike many angel investors, intend to make money from the exist of their investment in the fledgling company. This exit may be in the form of sale of shares in an Initial Public Offering when the new company debuts on a robust stock exchange, sale of the company to a larger competitor or a straight payout from the entrepreneur to the VC to go completely private.
Once upon a time - specifically, 13 or so years ago - I was told nothing of the sort existed in an organised manner in Barbados. I am very happy to say that this has changed.
Trident Angels - a Barbados-focused network of angel investors;
Williams Caribbean Capital - backed by one of the strongest, most stable conglomerates in Barbados, and
AIC Caribbean Fund - and initiative of the European Investment Bank.
Grants, Networks and Associations
Grants are often considered a perfect source of funding for entrepreneurs as the money comes with few strings attached - no repayment and no loss of control. These features have made some negligent in their approach to grants - these financing vehicles depend even more transparency than loans, especially since many of these grants are funded by international development institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank.
Not only must your plan be solid, you should expect that you will need to report results for quite some time after receiving the grant to prove compliance with the plan as best as possible, as well as avoidance of fraud. Not such a far-removed concern in the entrepreneurship funding space.
Furthermore, grants may be for a much smaller sum than that necessary to build/pivot new enterprise. This may lead to chasing of grant funds as another entire job on top of setting up and running the business. While scientists and researchers are well aware of this potential treadmill, most entrepreneurs would be quite out of their depth.
Caribbean Export Development Agency - offers 3 types of grants to assist new and existing businesses, and
GET.invest - grants for renewable energy businesses and projects.
While associations and networks may not have immediate funds for disbursement to the next Oprah Winfrey, they are often excellent ways to learn of new or more obscure funding sources. Make sure to join industry associations, Chambers of Commerce, charity organisations and related groups to gain exposure and relay the need for more funding. You may convince a fellow member to become an investor with a short conversation.
PFAN - Private Financing Advisory Network connects investors with high potential climate and energy projects worldwide;
BCCI - Barbados Chamber of Commerce;
BCSI - Barbados Coalition of Service Industries;
SBA - Small Business Association of Barbados;
F6S - an online aggregation site for grants, challenges and deals great for founders. and
Caveats: Crowdfunding and Self-funding
I purposely built this guide excluding two common, unofficial forms of start-up funding: crowdfunding and start-up funding.
Both have been historical ways of entering into business, e.g. receiving monetary support for a venture from friends and family or pre-selling a potential harvest to a major distributor. Both have become more organised and regulated in this modern age, with websites such as Kickstarter allowing strangers and friends alike to back the projects they find most appealing or contract farming. However, both methods can be fraught with even more disappoint for backers and entrepreneurs alike.
Crowdfunding backers have faced numerous scams and poorly run projects that seemingly never reach their goals, such as the long and torturous saga of the video game, "Star Citizen." Along with a proliferation of scams during the pandemic and increasing demands from backers for tangible rewards for support such as t-shirts, mugs and exclusive products, crowdfunding is a complex battlefield.
Likewise self-funding. While building a business off of its own profits would be ideal, the truth is that it can be tortuously slow. Additionally, the need for funding from other sources - such as a separate job - leads to a division of financial capital, mental and physical effort that can leave you and your enterprise tired, stagnant and derelict.
After going through this list, I hope that funding will become the easiest part of starting your own business - because it is! Instead, take a bit more time to out more flesh on your idea, solidify your business structure and define your financial projections as realistically as possible. Your eventual backer will reward you for that effort.