Small business operators are being encouraged to form clusters as they seek to emerge from the doldrums caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This advice came Thursday from officials of the Barbados Trust Loan Fund Ltd. (BTLF) who hosted 52 entrepreneurs in a networking session to wrap up a week of training at the Parkinson Resource Centre in the Pine, St Michael.
General Manager of the BTLF Jerry Amos told reporters the participants were chosen from the backlog of just over 1,300 applicants to the collateral-free fund since last year.
He said officials were careful in their selection of the new clients, focusing on businesses that were considered more resilient during the pandemic.
“We have concentrated primarily on agriculture, manufacturing and some that may have needed emergency funds based on our assessment,” he said.
“It is not that we have excluded the others, we have looked at everyone. We just looked at the priority areas and those we believe can survive in this time. We know that it might be a challenge to new businesses coming into the market at this time, so we had to assess everything and be very careful in our assessment,” Amos explained.
Towards the end of last year, the $10 million fund, which was established on November 5, 2018, had dramatically slowed its disbursement of loans to small business operators.
By then, close to 3 000 applicants had received funding.
Upon successful repayment of their first loan of up to $5 000, qualifying firms will be able to borrow a second round, this time up to $10 000.
Amos noted that during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, firms were given a three-month ease from repaying their loans and, in some cases, especially those involved in the tourism sector, were given a grace period of six months.
He said the BTLF board would consider further extension for businesses, but on a case-by-case basis.
“With the advent of COVID-19, a lot of our businesses were affected. I must say, it is painful even speaking with some of the entrepreneurs to see what they have gone through over the last four or five months,” said Amos.
“But what we have attempted to do, however, is look at these clients, those who we believe we can help to survive we bring back in and we give them a little top up on their loans. We realize we cannot do it for everyone at this time, but we will gradually do it and try and strengthen those businesses, however we can. All might not be financial,” he added.
The new businesses that took part in the networking session on Thursday underwent a one-week training in the areas of business management, financial management, customer service and marketing.
Pointing out that several entrepreneurs from the community also attended the training sessions, Amos said the idea was to encourage more business clusters.
He encouraged potential entrepreneurs not to abandon their dreams because of the pandemic.
“We hope they can form some clusters coming out of this training for this week,” he said.
“The strong will survive. It is a difficult period but what we have to do is use this opportunity to work together in clusters. That is what we are encouraging today at our networking session. We have to see that there is a challenge ahead and be more cooperative with each other.”