The multi-million dollar Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship Caribbean has opened on schedule in Jamaica’s Montego Bay.
The new facility, committed to inspiring and growing entrepreneurship in the Caribbean region, has welcomed its first intake of 14 aspiring young entrepreneurs - selected from hundreds of applicants - to participate in a series of practical coaching and mentoring tutorials.
The Centre in Jamaica, which will be operated byVirgin Group’s non-profit foundation, Virgin Unite holiday company Virgin Holidays, follows the opening of the Branson Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2005.
It will provide aspiring entrepreneurs with a launch pad for their businesses and a platform for job creation across the Caribbean, helping destinations like Jamaica - where unemployment rose to an eight-year high of 12.9 per cent in earlier this year - to prosper.
Speaking at the opening, Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, expressed how moved he had been by the entrepreneurs he had met.
He said: “I’ve been so moved by the energy and drive from the entrepreneurs I have seen today. While the Centre will be a resource, the true spirit will come from the
Caribbean people who are taking bold steps to improve their communities and regenerate the economy.
He went on to add that he was looking for more partners so as to help grow the business and create job opportunities whilst inspiring the next generation.
The Branson Centre is also supported by a number of independent supporters, like Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records: “Jamaicans are enormously creative. What we’ve needed here is a forum like the new Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, where young, ambitious people can receive guidance and support to channel their ideas and creativity into a viable business enterprise.”
Jamaica’s entrepreneurs face obstacles such as a lack of technical help, complex tax bureaucracy, and a need for more capital. The first intake of Branson Centre
SMEs cited accounting services, networking opportunities and marketing advice as the areas they needed the greatest support for.
Through an ‘incubator’ programme, the 14 businesses (and hundreds more over the lifetime of the Centre) will access mentorship and gain exposure to connections that could provide financing opportunities to help drive growth, alongside practical coaching to give them a platform for success.
Virgin Holidays’ Managing Director Amanda Wills said: “Our $3.5 million, 10 year commitment to this Centre reflects how seriously we take our responsibility to protect the people and places our customers enjoy in this region. I’ve always been struck by the energy of the Caribbean, and this fantastic Centre will harness that energy and make a tangible contribution to its future as a sustainable tourism destination.”
Over the next few years the plans to expand the centre across the Caribbean.
This year’s World Travel Awards 2011 Caribbean & The Americas Ceremony will take place in Jamaica on October 19, visit: www.worldtravelawards.com/americas2011 for more information.