Barrington Flemming, Gleaner Writer
Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson, is urging the government to provide business loans to young entrepreneurs in Jamaica to spur economic growth and job creation.
He was speaking on Sunday following celebratory activities to mark the second anniversary of the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship - Caribbean in Montego Bay, St James.
"One thing we would love the Jamaican government join us to do is to make entrepreneurship loans to young people," Branson said.
"The way that new jobs get created is not from big companies, it's through the small companies and money go back into the economy. I would say that is the best investment the Jamaican government could make and that is something that I would like to encourage."
He cited the examples of his group persuading the British government to offer loans to entrepreneurs, which resulted in the establishment of a loan scheme, and also did the same in the British Virgin Islands.
"In the British Virgin Islands where I live, we have persuaded the government to put up US$6 million to give loans out to young people with good ideas," the Virgin Group CEO explained.
Branson also indicated that there were plans to increase the number of persons who would be accepted to the centre for training.
He said the demand for training was overwhelming as the centre was unable to accommodate all the young entrepreneurs who had applied for acceptance and training.
He said the plans for expansion would include offering similar services to three other islands in the Caribbean, including the British Virgin Islands.
Lisa Lake, head of the centre in Jamaica, explained further that over the next six months they would be introducing a virtual Internet portal that would see the number of participants accessing the programme moving from 20 to 100 in Jamaica, with an additional 300 for the other three islands making it 400.
The plan is to have that done by the end of 2014.
In the meantime, three participants at the Branson Centre - Joshua Chamberlain, Alpha Wear Jamaica; Michelle Jones, Vibes Cuisine; and Victoria Silvera, Touch by VLS - are each to be given US$12,500 as a loan to assist with the development of their business.
Branson made the announcement after the three emerged the top contenders among a group of 21 entries for the Pitch to Rich competition, which was held as part of the second anniversary celebration for the centre.
Chamberlain, who emerged the winner, in addition will have a blog spot created for his company. The company will be fully endorsed by Virgin Unite (the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group).