Christmas villages and other pop-up markets have been avenues for entrepreneurs to promote their brands. Here, a member of the Mitsu Naturals’ team arranges candles at a Night Market, One Woodbrook Place, Woodbrook in December 2020.

Around 1997 I was seated in the hall at Queen’s Royal College liming with my best friends Adrian Gobin and Richard Denoon when Gobin told us he had an idea for a business.

Like many others, all three of us loved doubles and Gobin said he felt he had a way to make them even better.

What Gobin proposed was doubles with pieces of meat, like chicken and goat, also included in them.

To me, the idea was preposterous. There was no way that would be viable. Nobody would buy that.

And I told Gobin that, but with the tact of a teenager.

Now, with gourmet doubles being an accepted street food in this country, I have concrete proof of exactly how wrong I was.

Gobin has since gone on to carve his own successful career path. But over the past 20 years, I have replayed that conversation in my mind numerous times wondering what the outcome would have been if I responded differently.

What if, instead of killing the dream, I helped nourish it.

Hindsight is truly 20/20 vision.

There are countless stories of people who have missed golden opportunities for various reasons.

Ronald Wayne, for example, the lesser known third co-founder of Apple Inc, who famously sold his ten per cent stake in the company in 1976 for a meagre US$800.

If Wayne had kept his shares it would be worth around $201 billion today.

The reality is entrepreneurship and decisions around entrepreneurship are difficult. Even in the best of times entrepreneurship is a risky business.

And these have definitely not been the best of times.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted plans, refocused priorities and generally been a reality check to all of us of how unpredictable the future can be.

Economies have been reeling. Businesses of all sizes have been hit hard by it. But small and micro enterprises (SMEs) have been the most vulnerable to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am reminded of this every time I drive to T&T Guardian Building and see the empty shell of where Schoops, the place that had the best cow-heel soup in town, was located.

SMEs have an important impact on our economy.

According to statistics, as much as 85 per cent of all business activity in T&T is conducted by enterprises employing less than 25 persons.

“While conglomerates are key to driving exports and promoting T&T’s brand overseas, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) do have a substantially positive impact on the domestic economy in that they contribute 28 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product, they account for 91 per cent of all registered businesses and employ approximately 200,000 persons,” Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon said recently.

Bloomberg magazine has described entrepreneurship as the vaccine for economies at this time.

But now is understandably a scary time to think about opening a business.

Fortunately for entrepreneurs there are now tools available to help them either start or restart their business.

One such avenue has been the National Secondary School Entrepreneurship Competition (NSSEC) which was created in 2017.

The programme has so far delivered over 20,000 hours of interactive, strategy-based entrepreneurial training to over 2,000 school students from all corners of T&T.

So a schoolboy in Gobin’s position now does not only have to rely on the opinion of an uninformed friend to help him make a decision that can impact his life forever.

The 3 Stone team responsible for NSSEC recently did an impact assessment study done on the programme.

“An astounding 88.37 per cent of respondents indicated that the NSSEC experience had encourage them to start their own business,” the report stated.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, at a national level in T&T nascent entrepreneurial activity stood at 8.5 per cent.

“Of those who were encouraged to start or consider staring their own business, a total of 38 of respondents had already started their own business, with 52 indicating that they were in the process of starting and 213 indicating they were considering starting their own business,” it stated.

Among the entrepreneurs that NSSEC has been able to produce so far—20-year-old Adam Bowen from Freeport who has started Xcalibur Kois. Bowen realised there was a gap in the market for the professional sale of Koi fish.

Bowen and two friends invested in an Intex pool and started selling the fish, before starting to also sell accessories and equipment, and then further expanding into offering pond cleaning and maintenance.

Other entrepreneurs started interesting businesses including the sale of origami, desserts, and clothing.

“If we are, however, to prioritise business creation and growth, there must exist a vibrant entrepreneurial environment. While we cannot predict how markets may develop in this unprecedented climate, the way in which entrepreneurs must now operate and commercialise ideas, remain essential pillars to our economic recovery and, more importantly, a more a stable and vibrant economy in the long-run,” Gopee-Scoon said.

Gopee-Scoon made the remarks at the launch of the Unit Trust Corporation’s Scale Up programme.

“Scale Up T&T could not come at a more opportune time. This initiative serves to scale up businesses by encouraging entrepreneurs to be more ambitious with their growth targets, and to guide them through the steps necessary to turn that desire for growth into reality by focusing on the three Cs—customers, capacity and cash,” she said.

Several initiatives and institutions have come to the fore to assist entrepreneurs during this time including the National Entrepreneurship Development Company Ltd.

This magazine’s contributors Nigel Romano, Ian Narine, and Sajjad Hamid have also used their spaces to provide guidance and wisdom to those hoping to make a start.

While this time may be a difficult one, the reality is entrepreneurs are a special breed who see challenges as opportunities.

As you consider your next step going forward please seek advice from those who will be able to give you proper guidance.

According to Daniel Isenberg in the book, Worthless, Impossible and Stupid: How Contrarian Entrepreneurs Create and Capture Extraordinary Value, “We aspire to what we think we can achieve, and what we think we can achieve is influenced by what we see others achieving.”