September 28, 2021

Contagious Enthusiasm for Entrepreneurial Thinking in Bermuda

By: ELIstaff

Bermuda Economic Development Corporation logoHaving a second job—or even a third or fourth—is typical for the staff who work with small and medium-sized businesses at the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC). These entrepreneurial thinkers are passionate about the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. 

Donte Hunt, Ondreyah Rochester, and Dennis Carter all work within the Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise (MSME) unit. 

  • Hunt does graphic design and creates websites. Additionally, he is in the last phase of getting a contract for medical waste management. 
  • Rochester co-owns a travel company and a luxury dining experience. She also designs and manufactures her own line of shoes. 
  • Carter is launching a website focused on same-day delivery of gardening products after past enterprises selling everything from juice to high-end sneakers.

All three are trained facilitators who bring the Ice House model to aspiring entrepreneurs on the Caribbean Island through an 8-week course titled Think Like an Entrepreneur. The BEDC team designed it to be the first of three courses in the Enterprise Bermuda Incubator Program. The incubator program provides hands-on business skills and knowledge. 

The facilitators integrate inspirational videos that complement the eight life lessons contained in the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program and invite guest speakers to help customize the course for the business ecosystem in Bermuda. 

An Approach That Resonates

Jamillah Lodge, BEDC’s Director of Communication and Development, introduced the Ice House model to the organization six years ago. Since then, around 300 people have learned the model, either through Think Like an Entrepreneur or the Summer Student Entrepreneurship Program.

One reason for its popularity with participants is the interactive approach. “They’re not getting lectured to. They’re learning together,” Hunt said. “We do a lot of breakout sessions to talk about life experiences and share what the lessons mean to them.”

The entrepreneurial mindset itself is also relatable, said Raymond Lambert, Director of Micro, Small, and Medium-Sized Enterprise. “Some of the ideas behind thinking like an entrepreneur really resonate,” he said. “It gets them thinking about the theory in ways they hadn’t thought about before.”

And, Rochester added, it gives them the vocabulary to express their new insights effectively. “The students walk away with terms they learned. I hear the term “opportunistic adaptation” a million times. The fact they can remember these big words and really relate them to real-life afterward makes them think and talk like entrepreneurs.”

Last but not least, a final selling point for participants is the way the lessons transcend business. They spill over into everyday decisions and challenges. “People understand they have this locus of control in life. They start to focus on things they can control as opposed to things that are outside of their ability to change.”

A One-Stop Shop for Doing Business Better

Not surprisingly, entrepreneurship education is only one facet of the day-to-day work for the MSME team. Right now, they’re also operating as triage for the fallout from the pandemic. “We’ve been inundated with that,” Hunt said. One of their adaptations was a new product, the $24 million COVID-19 Business Continuity and Sustainability Funding Program, which provides microloans and grants to assist viable local businesses.

Even before the pandemic, BEDC offered micro-loans, which Lodge light-heartedly described as “some of the cheapest money on the island.” But the reason BEDC entered the direct lending market is whole-heartedly serious: Banks prefer to invest in businesses that have a proven track record, which many start-ups do not. BEDC was founded in 1980 to provide financial support and loan guarantees to those who couldn’t get bank financing.

Lodge describes today’s BEDC as a wholesale entrepreneurship support organization. “Now, 40 years later, we have changed the types of products we offer in response to demand from small and medium-sized businesses,” she said. “It’s no longer just about helping them get financing, it’s about helping them do business better once they have the money.” To that end, its staff of 14 also provides technical assistance, operates and manages markets, develops and implements economic empowerment zones, and maintains business registers.

Looking Ahead with an Entrepreneurial Mindset

After the Think Like an Entrepreneur course switched to an online format due to the COVID pandemic, the number of participants rose from 15-20 per session to 35 or 40. That’s partly because of the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19, but also because people could take it from the comfort of their own homes, Rochester explained.

Going forward, Carter said, it’s likely that demand will continue for online and hybrid courses. 

“It’s hard to tell where COVID is going to go,” Hunt added. “If it’s here to stay, what type of entrepreneurship will we see?”

One possibility: More stories like Cain Kunze, an alumni of BEDC’s entrepreneurship courses. He and his business partner launched the Bermuda Paper Company, the island’s only tissue paper converting plant. And, just days before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted toilet paper supplies in 2020. It’s hard to imagine a more unpredictable product launch—or a situation where an entrepreneurial mindset is more crucial.

One certainty: Collaboration continues among those who have gone through Think Like an Entrepreneur and other BEDC programs. Rochester said what stands out to her the most is how participants open up and learn from each other. Then, continue to work together outside the course. 

Hunt agreed. “By the end of the course, participants are close friends,” he said. “They create these small ecosystems, which is great because that’s what entrepreneurship is all about.”