Successful in Jamaica, Branson to expand online entrepreneurial platform across region

The new initiative, dubbed Branson Centre Caribbean Online, offers an open and on-demand training platform delivering ‘world-class business concepts’ for regional entrepreneurs. The centre utilises a combination of technology-driven tools and interactive virtual communication with entrepreneurs and mentorsaround the globe to carry out 12 weeks of training with the participants.

Since the launch of the programme in February, the non-profit institution has supported roughly 500 local entrepreneurs in growing and scaling their businesses for positive economic impact. Lead partner for the programme is Virgin Holidays.

Currently, the centre trains 329 Jamaicans in various areas of entrepreneurship under the online programme and is now looking to expand its foothold into Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, St Lucia and British Virgin Islands.

“Up until July 24, we’ll accept registration for the online training programme after which they will be eligible to apply for Cohort 9 of the Official Entrepreneurship Programme in September,” Partnership and Communications Manager Melissa von Frankenberg told the Jamaica Observer in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

“The online programme is free, and following the training the participants’ entrepreneurial skills will be tested through the submission of the business pitch decks and pitch videos. That’s where a fee of US$60 is charged for the review and individuals who receive scores higher than 70 per cent will be admitted into Cohort 9 of the Official Entrepreneurship Programme,” she added.

Prior to the establishment of the online platform, start-up entrepreneurs seeking help with their business model would be required to attend training sessions at the institution’s Montego Bay headquarters once per week for 12 weeks. Von Frankenberg noted that while 80 per cent of the participants would make it to the training sessions, it somewhat limited the institution from capturing a larger group of local and international entrepreneurs.

“The expansion process looks really good, some islands better than others but I’m not able to say as yet which ones. However, it looks as if we will be in the first island by the end of the year,” von Frankenberg told the Caribbean Business Report.

However, she noted that start-up entrepreneurs often experience difficulties with access to finance although they have completed winning Business Pitch Deck from the training institution. Despite the setback, von Frankenberg added that Jamaica is regarded as more willing and confident in taking entrepreneurial risks than many other Caribbean countries.

“When we started a lot of the entrepreneurs were adamant that they needed financing and in 2013 we had three of our entrepreneurs pitch to Richard Branson in the Pitch to Rich Competition and they were each awarded a loan of US$10,000 to develop their businesses,” von Frankenberg stated.

She added that while the institution is not tailored for lending, the repayments from the loan has assisted many other start-ups in building their businesses.

“We have partnered with the Jamaica National Small Business Loan and they have agreed to waive all of their fees and provide an amazing interest rate with no collateral required. And the entrepreneurs are paying back those loans,” the partnership and communications manager stated. “So that’s one thing I think other banks can get on board with because these entrepreneurs are bankable and they are ready.”


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