Location: Hamilton, Bermuda
Number of employees: 14
People trained in the Ice House Model: 300
In its early days, the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) helped small businesses with financial support and loan guarantees. It focused on customers who couldn’t access or didn’t qualify for bank financing. Now, 40 years later, BEDC has changed the types of products it offers in response to the needs of the island’s small and medium-sized businesses. “It’s no longer just about helping them get financing,” said Jamillah Lodge, BEDC’s Director of Communication and Development. “It’s about helping them do business better once they have that money.”
As BEDC’s mission expanded, its staff sought to add learning programs for entrepreneurs at any stage of their business life cycle. “We’re always looking for new ways to provide our local entrepreneurs with access to education, opportunities, and experiences,” Lodge said.
Bermuda already had a well-established culture of people working second and third jobs in addition to their main source of income. BEDC wanted to grow that entrepreneurial ecosystem. “They’re hustlers who never considered themselves entrepreneurs,” said Raymond Lambert, Director of Micro, Small, and Medium-Sized Enterprise (MSME). “We’re redefining the hustle in terms of working for yourself.”
When Lodge heard about the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative’s Ice House model during the Global Entrepreneurial Congress held after Global Entrepreneurship Week six years ago, she recognized that it would be a perfect fit for businesses just starting. She talked with ELI Founder Gary Schoeniger about bringing the model to Bermuda, then introduced the idea to the MSME team. They approved. So did BEDC Executive Director Erica Smith. Five BEDC staff members are now certified Entrepreneurial Mindset Facilitators.
The Ice House curriculum is the basis for BEDC’s entry-level course, Think Like an Entrepreneur. The eight-week course is offered twice a year for a nominal tuition fee intended to instigate commitment and establishes its value rather than turn a profit for BEDC, said Donte Hunt, Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise Officer.
Think Like an Entrepreneur is required for participants in the yearlong Enterprise Bermuda Incubator Program. They progress to Entrepreneurship 101. Then, two business accounting QuickBooks courses—and, in the process, bring their ideas to fruition and become business clients of BEDC.
BEDC also offers a weeklong crash course based on the high school version of the Ice House curriculum. This four-year-old Summer Student Entrepreneurship Program incorporates the definition of entrepreneurship as the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. It promotes enterprise as a viable career option.
The number of students BEDC has introduced to an entrepreneurial mindset via the Ice House model is approaching 300. And, it’s climbing quickly. After the Think Like an Entrepreneur courses switched from an in-person to an online format in response to the COVID pandemic, the number of participants rose from 15 or 20 per session to 35 or 40. That’s partly because of the economic downturn brought on by COVID-19 and partly because people could take it from the comfort of their own homes, explained Ondreyah Rochester, who facilitates the courses with Dennis Carter, her fellow Junior Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise Officer.
The collaboration during the courses always strikes Rochester and Carter—and how often classmates continue to work together afterward. “It’s hard to quantify the networking,” Carter said. “One of the highlights with the breakout rooms in the online platform is seeing participants speaking to different people they might not have interacted with otherwise.”
Their colleague Donte Hunt, BEDC’s Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise Officer, said the interactive structure fosters strong bonds. “They’re not getting lectured to—they’re learning together,” he said. “By the end of the course, participants are close friends. They have created these small ecosystems—which is great because that’s what entrepreneurship is all about.”
Alumni are starting to come back and speak to the students about their successes and struggles. One who stands out for Hunt is Cain Kunze. He and his business partner launched the Bermuda Paper Company, the island’s only tissue paper converting plant, 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.
Rochester credits the life lessons with giving participants relatable, thought-provoking content that elicits meaningful exchanges about both work and life. At the end of each week, Rochester asks the students to give one word from the lesson as a takeaway. “It’s amazing to see what they were paying attention to,” she said.
“I hear the term ‘opportunistic adaptation’ a million times,” Rochester continued. “The fact that they can remember these big words and really relate them to real life afterward makes them think and talk like an entrepreneur.”