words Alexa Wang
With the huge growth of its enterprises and an ever increasing level of foreign investment, the world is starting to take notice of the Caribbean’s buoyant business scene.
According to a 2016 report, the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector is now a significant contributor to economic and social development in the region, accounting for over 50% of the Caribbean’s Gross Domestic Product.
Additionally, foreign investment in Caribbean ventures is becoming increasingly commonplace, with citizenship by investment schemes now a huge driver of the region’s growth. Here are some of the reasons behind the improving fortunes of the Caribbean business landscape.
More business opportunities than ever before
The Caribbean’s bustling business scene has seen a diversification of business opportunities in recent years. Whilst the region was previously heavily reliant on agricultural exports, there are now a range of other sectors ripe for investment, such as the tourism industry. Tourists have long flocked to the Caribbean to enjoy its sandy beaches, stunning landscapes, marine activities and more; however, the industry has seen record growth over the last few years. In the first half of 2016, the Caribbean had 16.6 million visitors, 800,000 more than the first half of the previous year, at a growth rate of 5.22%.
This builds on the industry’s stunning success in 2015, where the Caribbean welcomed an unprecedented 29 million visitors, over one million more visitors than the year before. This popularity increases business opportunities in the sector, singling out tourism as one of the best bets for investors. As well as the tourism industry, there is significant scope for investment in real estate and renewable energy.
This diversification of business opportunities has made the region popular with both domestic and foreign entrepreneurs and investors. A popular way to invest in the Caribbean is through citizenship by investment schemes. These operate in many countries in the region, such as Dominica, whose CBI scheme was ranked as the world’s best citizenship by investment programme in 2017. Dominica’s scheme provides a simple, hassle-free way for investors to fund businesses in flourishing industries like tourism and real estate, while gaining the many benefits of Dominican citizenship, such as mobility to over 120 countries, and the safety and security a second citizenship affords.
Greater help for entrepreneurs
More assistance is being offered to entrepreneurs in the Carribean than ever before, with a number of programmes including a small business entrepreneurship program aimed at enabling up-and-coming businesses to thrive. Galina Sotirova, a country manager at the World Bank Group, stated in 2016: “In the last few years, we’ve seen the emergence of key elements of a business ecosystem that supports entrepreneurship throughout its various levels of maturity.”
One example of this is the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship–Caribbean (BCoEC), launched in 2011 by the business mogul Richard Branson. BCoEC is the Caribbean’s leading business accelerator, and has helped numerous entrepreneurs prosper since its formation. It combines a robust training programme with access to an extensive global network in order to maximise the potential of its cohort. The company strives to help entrepreneurs structure their businesses for growth and prepare them to capitalise on investment opportunities through methods like 1-on-1 coaching and networking events.
There are a number of similar schemes also proving useful to entrepreneurs, such as the Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean, funded by the government of Canada. Also launched in 2011, this programme runs a number of initiatives aimed at helping young businesses. These include the Accelerate Caribbean initiative, which builds the capacity of regional business enablers through mentorship, training programs, and international study tours, and Access to Finance, whose name is self-explanatory. There are also schemes specifically aimed at helping climate technology, mobile app businesses and women entrepreneurs.
An ever improving infrastructure
Whilst infrastructure in the Caribbean still lags behind advanced economies, it has improved markedly in the last ten years, especially in areas like power generation capacity, road networks, and telephone lines.
One area of infrastructural improvement in the Caribbean that has proven particularly profitable for entrepreneurs is the dramatic increase in internet access. According to the Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) State of Broadband 2016 report, 43.4% of all regional households had access to the internet in 2015, nearly double the figure from five years earlier.
Most Caribbean countries saw internet use rise steadily during the period studied, with the Bahamas seeing the largest rise, where the percentage of internet users jumped from 43% in 2010 to 78% in 2015. This increased connectivity across the region has made business innovation easier than ever. BCoEC have cited this as a huge factor behind this transformation of business prospects in the Caribbean, stating on their site: “[T]hings are changing. The internet is now more accessible, even in rural areas, and a new generation of entrepreneurs is emerging with a new understanding of what is possible.”
These are just a few of the reasons behind the Caribbean’s increasingly prosperous business scene. With even more investment to be ploughed into the region’s infrastructure and youth entrepreneurship, don’t expect the Caribbean to be resting on its laurels any time soon.