By Sherwyn Millette

Like many other countries around the world, Trinidad and Tobago is trying to find its niche in a rapidly growing global community. This reality is further impacted by the fact that it is a developing twin island nation with a population of 1.3 million people. As far as markets go this is small, especially considering the size of global markets.

However, unlike many of its Caribbean neighbors, Trinidad and Tobago has a vibrant and mature oil and gas industry from which the country derives much of its revenue and relative wealth. It can be argued that this access to relatively easy money has stymied the development of other industries locally, with the oil and gas sectors accounting for roughly 50 percent of the country’s GDP. This dependence on “depleting hydrocarbon resources” (Imbert et al., 2010 Pg. 17) has placed Trinidad and Tobago in a position of needing to urgently diversify its economy and develop other sectors and revenue streams. The time frame needed to undertake this mammoth task is a matter of debate with one consultant commenting that the country might have only 15 years to make the switch.

Successive governments since the 1970s have implemented plans to assist the development of entrepreneurship with varying success. In the last decade, there have been a number of initiatives in the development of a needed ecosystem for the support and nurturing of budding entrepreneurs. The development of this ecosystem is critical at this juncture, with startups needing access to capital, education, and technology. The National Entrepreneurship Development Company Limited (NEDCO) was created in 2002 as the implementing agency for government policy on small and micro business development. The agency has played a major role in the lives of citizens, assisting many to achieve their dreams of business ownership. Their goal of creating a one-stop shop for entrepreneurial support has further evolved with the creation of the National Integrated Business Incubation System (IBIS). IBIS aims to provide a national incubation system offering a unique mix of business development support, infrastructure, and operational and financial support to assist the growth and success of new and existing micro and small enterprises (MSEs). These initiatives form the basic start for the development of a robust ecosystem that will allow the country to seriously address entrepreneurship in a systematic way, bringing many of the resources together in one place.

The government has committed itself to the principles of self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and competitiveness as strategic approaches to economic participation, diversification, and development, furthermore promoting a cultural shift where entrepreneurship is encouraged at all levels of the educational systems from primary to tertiary levels facilitating youth entrepreneurship in schools and communities (The People’s Partnership, 2010). The government calls for a “a more diversified, knowledge intensive economy” that builds on “the native genius of our people” (The People’s Partnership, 2010), communicates the desire to develop innovative and competitive assets of the people and link it to the long-term economic benefits derived if harnessed efficiently. This substantial commitment on behalf of the government signals the national strategic importance of entrepreneurship development on the long-term prosperity and well-being of this small twin island republic.

In response to this developmental goal many of the educational providers in the tertiary and post-secondary sectors have developed programs designed to provide the populace with entrepreneurial skills; with the goal of promoting a cultural shift toward entrepreneurial exploration and development. Many of the major providers, such as the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT), The University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), and the University of the West Indies (UWI) St. Augustine, are leading the way in entrepreneurial education, entrepreneurial research, and innovation.

As the country moves toward its entrepreneurial goals, COSTAATT has taken an approach that firmly places entrepreneurship in its core curriculum for all its students. Furthermore, the College believes that in order to develop a student population that is at ease with entrepreneurial activity the faculty must be at ease with it. With a grant from the 9th European Development Fund, the College has initiated a faculty development series through Babson Executive Education's MEE workshops. These workshops have been made available to a large cross section of national stakeholders in entrepreneurship development.

It is hoped that in the future the various institutions will develop waves of entrepreneurs seeking the assistance of the national ecosystem in the development of their new businesses for years to come. And, in this way, they can develop a national culture of entrepreneurship leading ultimately to a diversified economy and individual prosperity for a large cross section of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.

IMBERT, C., ALLEYNE, R., ALI, N., BAPTISTE-PHILLIP, N., JOSEPH, E., MANGROO, S., MARAJ, R., PAUL, G. & SINGH, S. 2010. Policy on Tertiary Education, Technical Vocational Education and Training, and Lifelong Learning in Trinidad and Tobago. In: MSTTE (ed.). Port of Spain: Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

THE PEOPLE’S PARTNERSHIP 2010. Properity for all Manifesto of the People’s Partnership for a United People to Achieve Sustainable Development for Trinidad and Tobago.