Branson Centre 2017 Annual Report – CEO Message

As a new leader of an organization I started by asking myself: what do I believe in?

A long time ago, when I was a student of economics, I read a book called “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth.” The big lesson I learnt is that to have a stable, thriving society, people need to believe that the future will be better than the past.

They need to believe that their lives will get better over time, not worse. Growth is not just about an increase in material things, it leads to better societal health.

The Caribbean has not experienced significant growth in the past decade. We all owe it to ourselves to try our very best to change that.

So to answer the question of what I believe in – I believe that the actions we take as individuals should lead to growth – whether personal, professional, or national. I believe that we have to intentionally create that better future we all want, and that it has to come from us, not just from the government.

The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – Caribbean is in a unique position to push the growth agenda further and faster than we have in the past.  In our first six years, we did a lot of work to showcase entrepreneurship as a viable path for our talented Caribbean people. Now the space has evolved with many more players helping businesses to reach their potential. It is time for us to evolve as well.

Our economies won’t grow if companies start small and stay small. To create dynamic Caribbean economies, we will now target entrepreneurs who have built moderate revenues in their businesses, and put them through our accelerator programme with the goal of securing external investment as a target outcome.

This shift in strategy started with our move from Montego Bay to Kingston – the business hub of Jamaica. We wanted to be closer to our entrepreneurs, our partners, and our donors. Our founder, Richard Branson, was in Kingston to help us celebrate the move, and his presence helped put a spotlight on our successes over the past six years and increase interest in our future plans. New partners came to the table, expressing the need for a strong pipeline of investment-ready entrepreneurs to help build the economy. These partners were led by Proven Investments Ltd and NCB Group, and included PanJam Investments, Norbrook Equity Partners, and the GraceKennedy Group. We are ready to answer their call.

Our amazing Montego-Bay-based team was not able to make the move with us, and we hired a talented new team who believes in our renewed vision and have hit the ground running to help make it a reality. A business is only as good as its people, and I believe that our team is comprised of some of the most talented, passionate people in the region.

In order to execute this vision, we had to change our entrepreneurship programme to focus on governance, accountability, leadership and investment readiness. In December 2017, we selected the first batch of businesses to go through this new accelerator programme, which begins in January 2018. Every quarter, at least two entrepreneurs will pitch for equity to our new investor-patrons. Equity investment, combined with strong mentorship from experienced investors, will propel these businesses to the next level.

The Centre plans to grow as well. There are quality scale-ups to be found throughout the Caribbean and we are committed to exploring an expansion to Barbados in 2018, and have already taken steps towards setting up a hub there. Trinidad & Tobago is also on our growth roadmap.

But no matter what kind of growth we achieve or what kind of infrastructure is built, it could all be destroyed in the space of a few hours by a category five storm. In September, our hub in the British Virgin Islands, our 18 entrepreneurs there, along with many of our Caribbean neighbours, were all devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. We all had to start over – to pick up the pieces, restrategize, and rebuild.

We also had to examine what entrepreneurship meant in the face of a natural disaster. What we found is that entrepreneurship is by definition a belief that we can build a future that is better than our present. We are doubling down on that belief. I hope you join us.


Lisandra Rickards