The Department of Commerce and Investment is again hosting Cayman Entrepreneurship Day, this year on April 10. The Journal met up with organizer Charmaine Moss as well as local entrepreneurs to hear about how the event benefits both local business people and young people seeking to start a business.
Before this year’s Cayman Entrepreneurship Day was even advertised, participants from last year’s event had contacted Charmaine Moss, business development adviser with the Department of Commerce and Investment, asking to reserve a spot again this year.
“Not only that, but we have had a lot of new interest this year as well,” she says.
Cayman Entrepreneurship Day, established to help facilitate communication among businesses and between business owners and their customers, includes booths showcasing local businesses, as well as workshops offering vital information to help new entrepreneurs get off the ground.
Similar to last year, there will be a “Dragon’s Den”/”Shark Tank”-type event in whcih young entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to a panel of experts. A reception in the evening will feature some of Cayman’s most successful entrepreneurs on a panel to discuss how they found success within their own businesses and how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls when starting up.
Cross-section of businesses
Moss says there will be about 30 spots for local businesses to set up booths, their base of operations from which they can sell their goods and services and network with browsers and other business owners.
“We will ensure that we have a good mix of industries represented,” she says, “so only two or three booths will be allowed per industry. Last year we had an excellent mix, including businesses from the world of hospitality, construction, IT, retail, tutoring, cleaning services, and even from the Economics and Statistics Office, which uses the opportunity to glean vital data on small businesses. The Chamber of Commerce also reserved a booth.”
Moss also works to ensure that the businesses showcased at the event are complementary to each other, to maximize benefits for each individual business.
“For example, we may have a marketing business situated near to a business in need of marketing services. We want each business to get as much exposure as possible at Cayman Entrepreneurship Day and hopefully increase sales at the same time,” she says.
The cost of renting a booth is low at $175, thanks to sponsorship of the event.
“We want our event to be accessible to small businesses, so we have to ensure that booth costs are kept to a minimum,” Moss says. “For the cost they get a designated booth area with a table, chairs, a backdrop and electricity. Booth holders are free to decorate their booth as they wish, with banners, posters and other marketing materials to entice people to come and visit. Entrance to the event is free.”
Opportunities to learn
A number of workshops will take place throughout the day and are free for all to attend. Last year the workshops focused on subjects the DCI thought were the most important for would-be entrepreneurs, such as preparing for financing (dealing with cash flow, bookkeeping, etc.), health insurance, pensions, licensing, leasing (covering issues such as upkeep of the property, additional fees such as garbage collection, etc.) and basic accounting.
Perhaps the most popular session is the one where young entrepreneurs get to pitch their business idea in a matter of minutes to a panel of established businesspeople who could well be investors in their business, should the right opportunity present itself. The critique, as with the popular TV shows “Dragon’s Den” in the U.K. and “Shark Tank” in the U.S., will be harsh but fair, Moss says. She adds, however, that would-be entrepreneurs will also have the option to pitch their ideas in a confidential setting, rather than to an audience, if they prefer. Word is out, and the event has already begun to stir interest.
“We have already had excellent feedback from education providers such as St Ignatius School, UCCI and Clifton Hunter School,” Moss says. “I think this aspect of the event will be really exciting and positive for young people. Young people will be very much a focus for us at this year’s event.”
Words of advice
At the end of the day, panelists will be interviewed about how they made it so successfully in their own field of work. Last year, Paramount Group owner Kent Rankin was among the panelists and Moss says he was candid in his answers, offering that it was the values his mother taught him that stayed with him throughout his professional career and helped him to succeed. DMS founder and president Don Seymour was also a panelist last year. He has some pithy words of advice for youngsters starting out on the entrepreneurship route:
“My advice is to be skeptical of advice. Be smart. Get knowledge and form your own opinions based on what you learn. Also, passion and hard work are overrated and poor substitutes for poor ideas, poor people and poor execution,” he says.
Darla Dilbert, artistic director and owner of Eclipze hair design and day spa took part in last year’s workshop sessions and she says first and foremost, a prospective business owner must be as familiar with the technical side of the business as with the business side of operations.
“I would advise anyone starting up in business to do their homework,” she says. “If you are starting a business in a technical field such as mine, you must ensure that you are properly trained in that business. Relying on others to tell you how to run things is never a good idea.”
On the business side of the equation, Dilbert says successful business owners need to come to grips with three separate but important issues: staffing, marketing/PR and accounting, all crucial for a business’s success.
This year, Cayman Enterprise City’s board chairman and chief development officer Cindy O’Hara will be among the panelists.
O’Hara offers some sage words of advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs in Cayman.
“While everyone thinks that having a great idea is the key to starting a company or business venture, the bold new idea that will make money isn’t the key ingredient of a successful plan,” she says. “The real task is to be able to make the plan that can sustain your company through the initial start-up years of the business. Most companies fail in their first years because there was not enough substance to fuel it. You may already understand the fundamentals of a new start-up venture, but it’s always good to start with a reality check.”
Ingredients for success
O’Hara lists four main “ingredients” for a successful start-up. Number one on her list is to have a bold vision and a gap to fill.
“Many people have a bold vision and dream of having their own business, but few are brave enough to take the step to give up their ‘comfort zone,’ such as a secure salary paying job, to fulfil their dream,” she says. “You must be prepared to take risks, get rid of your fear of failure and get started!”
But O’Hara cautions that young entrepreneurs need to do their homework and undertake real in-depth market research regarding their business idea, draw up a sound business plan and be prepared to adapt to meet the demands that lie ahead.
“Your idea must include where the clients or customers will come from and how you will get them to buy your product and service above everyone else’s,” she says. “It’s hard to find a truly new idea, so be cautious of the competition. Ideally you need a pipeline of clients or customers waiting, like a big contract or anchor client whose fees can help cover your initial overheads.”
Ingredient number two is cash flow, what O’Hara terms “the life blood of every small business,” which can often be the difference between a business succeeding or failing, she advises.
“One cannot underestimate the importance of good cash-flow. Plan properly, bill early and collect, and understand that you will be the last one on the list for payment or salary,” she says.
O’Hara believes that the new business owner must have enough money to sustain their plan and if they also work full time for the company, they need to have contingency plans in place for cash because Murphy’s law always applies, she says.
Hard work, expertise and quality are third on the ingredients list for a successful business.
“The bottom line … nothing beats good old-fashioned hard work,” she says.
“Be prepared to sacrifice family time, vacations or spending time doing other things that you love. If you are committed to your business, you must be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get in the ring and fight. You also have to know your business inside out, or partner with someone who does. Your company’s learning curve will be given no credit in the real world. Customers expect what you have promised, and if you don’t deliver, the word will spread.”
The final ingredient is patience. O’Hara warns that new business owners should not expect to be building Rome in a day.
“Set your expectations correctly,” she says. “Start small if you can and limit your risks at the beginning. There is no shame in starting in your garage, after all that’s where Amazon, Apple, Google, Disney and Harley Davidson started and today they are household names.”
O’Hara confirms, however, that in the end it’s all about the individual.
“If you are not passionate about what you are doing in business, then don’t do it! We all spend so much time at work these days [24/7 with modern technology], that you have to love what you do to make it be worthwhile,” she says.