2015: A fantastic year for the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – Caribbean.

*Originally published on Virgin.com.

It’s Been A Productive 12 Months For The Branson Centre Of Entrepreneurship Caribbean. Read About The Centre’s Highlight Moments, Their Inspiring New Entrepreneurs And What We Can Look Forward To Seeing From The Team In 2016.

We pivoted our entrepreneur training model by launching a free, online training – allowing us to increase our training reach from 60 entrepreneurs a year to 600. We created funding programmes around lending, grants, equity, and crowdfunding and we launched four new paths to funding for our Official Entrepreneurs.

Back in January, we kicked off 2015 with our Access to Finance initiative – creating a referral system for our Official Entrepreneurs to pitch to angel investors for equity funding. To support this, we founded and launched the second angel investing network in Jamaica, Alpha Angels Network.

Larren Peart, CEO of Blue Dot Data Intelligence, pitched to the angels in July and has since said: “It felt like a validation of the vision that we have for the potential of data mining in the Caribbean. The due diligence process forced us to streamline our accounts and processes in order to ensure that the company met their standards. When we weren’t able to close the investment, I realised that my pitch was too high level and there wasn’t enough evidence that I could do what I said. We are now using our market research capabilities to verify the demand for our new data mining products, thanks to the advice of one of the angels.”

So far, 50 per cent of the teams pitching to Alpha Angels have been our Official Entrepreneurs.

In July, we invited all our Official Entrepreneurs to apply for low-interest, collateral-free loans through our debut annual “Made of More Entrepreneurs Challenge” through our partnership with the Arthur Guinness Project. After multiple competition rounds, we announced five winners in September who will receive loans totalling US$130,000. The first-place winner, Hellen French of Mount Pleasant Chocolatiers, has already used the funds to purchase roasting, grinding and moulding equipment to turn her cocoa crop into delicious, organic chocolate bars. The equipment will increase her production from 300 chocolate bars each week to 3,000.

In October, the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) selected the centre as one of three intermediaries to help award grants to thirty innovative Jamaican entrepreneurs of up to US$35,000 each. We saw 14 Official Entrepreneurs apply to the programme in November and the final decision will be made by the DBJ in March 2016.

Five entrepreneurs began developing crowdfunding campaigns in November, as part of the first wave of campaigns launched through our partnership with Jamaica National Building Society for the isupportjamaica.com crowdfunding platform. The first five campaigns will launch in February 2016.

Ayanna Dixon, CEO of fashion brand ASD, is planning to launch a campaign and said: “I am both a designer and an illustrator, and I want to use my crowdfunding campaign to explore the illustrator side a bit more. The campaign will help me bring to life a new product line that includes illustrated placemats, mugs, plates, and bowls – extending my brand from ready-to-wear fashion into other realms. I’m going through crowdfunding because I need to get my feet wet with smaller amounts of funding before thinking about a loan or equity.”

The centre was able to devote time and resources to building out our Access to Finance stream thanks to the launch of our online training platform in February this year. To date, more than 600 entrepreneurs have used our training content.

We welcomed Ricardo Berris, CEO of MI Group, a technology, media and logistics company that operates in Jamaica, The Bahamas, Colombia and Florida, as part of cohort 9 in October. Ricardo said: “The platform was really innovative and going through the content was sometimes really fun, sometimes challenging. I have studied business development before, but being exposed to this kind of structuring was really enlightening for me. I deal with three or four different cultures everyday in my business, but applying some of the methods helped me to express myself better to my team and my clients.”

It’s energizing to look back and see how much we were able to innovate in 2015. We have even bigger plans for 2016, and can’t wait for you to be a part of them.