Sat | Oct 31, 2020

JBDC needs more funds to expand

Published:Friday | October 11, 2019 | 12:26 AMHuntley Medley - Senior Business Writer
Kenyon Hemans/Photographer 
Valerie Veira, CEO of Jamaica Business Development Corporation.
Kenyon Hemans/Photographer Valerie Veira, CEO of Jamaica Business Development Corporation.

J amaica’s state-backed facilitator Jamaica Business Development Corporation, JBDC has, in the 18 years since its it was set up, been stretching its relatively small annual budget to support and build a more sophisticated micro, small and medium enterprise, or MSME, ecosystem.

The limited liability company is required to earn at least five per cent of its just over $400-million budget, but to achieve the business creation and expansion mission, JBDC CEO Valerie Veira sees the need for the continuous retention and reinvestment of earnings, which reached more than $72 million last year.

JBDC owns the Things Jamaican brand, under which it markets a range of products made by clusters of Jamaican businesses, particularly companies and artisans in the micro sector.

Things Jamaican shops, which are located at international airports in Kingston and Montego Bay and at Devon House in Kingston, grosssed $25.8 million in revenues in 2018, up from $22 million the year before.

JBDC also earns income through project management, range of services to clients with business ideas or ventures at various stages of operation. Service income grew to $46.3 million last year, compared to $37.9 million in 2017.

Part of Veira’s mission has been to change the way lawmakers and decision-makers engage with MSMEs.

“Since we started in 2001, we insisted that the policymakers need not speak for the MSMEs, they need to speak with the MSMEs. They (MSMEs) are not empty and devoid of ideas. They know their needs, just like a large company. They need a policy framework – which now, thank the Lord, we have a policy – that supports their operations. They need a focus on the gaps that exist, for instance, financial literacy. They need help in understanding financial products and what is appropriate for their business,” Veira said.

In an interview with the Financial Gleaner this week, the business-focused career civil servant says she is particularly pleased that increasingly more micro operators see themselves as business people and entrepreneurs in the true sense of the word.

“They now have a voice directly and are important stakeholders at the table,” she said.

Fresh from postgraduate business training at Harvard University’s Kennedy School in the late 1980s, Veira started the journey to jump-start small venture creation and support as a vice-president at Jampro. The agency was created in 1988 from the merger of Jamaica National Investment Promotions, Jamaica National Export Corporation and Jamaica Industrial Development Corporation.

Creation of JBDC’s

Dissatisfied with the unstructured and ineffective nature of technical and other assistance to industry at the time, in 2001 she began to shape what would become JBDC to help the government get a better grip on its business development challenge. Then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and Industry and Commerce Minister Phillip Paulwell bought into the plan, leading to the agency’s creation.

Over the life of the JBDC, it has served approximately 70,000 business start-up clients in business advisory, training, product development, manufacturing, product labelling, entrepreneur hand-holding, accessing grant funding, and preparation for equity pitching, among other services.

The corporation is now expanding its physical presence and additional incubation centres for start-ups have been opened at the Northern Caribbean University, University of Technology, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, College of Agriculture Science and Education, and the Rural Agriculture Development Authority. For the next financial year, at least one additional centre is targeted for the county of Cornwall.

The JBDC is also fine-tuning, with international help, the measurement of the impact its work is having on national development through the Neoserra computer software, a tracking system being implemented with assistance from the Organization of American States.

“Apart from the traditional, we are now developing the tools, with some international help, to effectively measure our impact. We have a system now collecting data on all the clients that come through us, and it monitors what happens with them, to know if we are really having an impact ...,” said Veira, who leads a staff of 120.

All JBDC clients are oriented towards global standards and equipped not to compete with cheap, mass-produced goods, but, rather, to operate in niche high value markets, she adds.

“The support from our public- and private-sector partners is critical to what we do,” Veira said.