The Caribbean Export Development Agency is in town, and that’s good news for businesses which could use some financial assistance in a wide variety of areas, from equipment modernization to market research and testing and nearly everything in between. Caribbean Export receives funding from the European Development Fund, and acts as the agency to pass on those funds through a Regional Private Sector Development Program. It’s all about creating greater cohesion and fostering competitiveness and innovation in CARIFORUM member countries through a Direct Assistance Grant Scheme. Today, the Belize Trade and Investment Development Service, better known as BELTRAIDE, facilitated a workshop for Caribbean Export at the Radisson. Freelance reporter Mike Rudon was there and has the story.
Lejia Gideon, Deputy Executive Director, BELTRAIDE
“BELTRAIDE is a partner with Caribbean Export. We actually sit on their Board on behalf of the Government of Belize, so we are their often-time on the ground in the country partner and because we deal with SMEs, small enterprises in Belize, and their product here is a grant scheme, it is the perfect partnership for us to bring our group of enterprises to this workshop to aid them in getting access to grant money.”
Mike Rudon, Reporting
That grant money will come from a Direct Assistant Grant Scheme run by Caribbean Export, and today Senior Grant Advisor Kirk Brown outlined the entire application process for a roomful of potential grantees from Belizean businesses all across the spectrum.
Kirk Brown, Senior Grant Advisor, Caribbean Export
“Caribbean Export has a program with the European Union called the Regional Private Sector Development Program which is funded for five years to the tune of twenty-eight million euros. The program or workshop we are doing today is focusing on one key specific area, which is grant funding for private sector firms within CARIFORUM…and Belize being a part of CARIFORUM means we have a right to promote this program to Belizean firms and individuals who are seeking to export goods and services. The facility we offer is a grant facility. We have two types of funding. One is the small grant, which is five thousand euros, and one is the large grant, which is thirty-thousand euros, and firms have the opportunity to get funding to fund anything which can enhance the competitiveness of their company or business. Simply put, if they needed to develop a website, if they needed to upgrade equipment, if they needed to train staff, if they needed to market or promote their business or services, if they needed to attend trade shows, they could get funding.”
According to Brown, the grant facility wasn’t being explored by Belizeans at all, but that is definitely changing, even if slowly and today there are businesses from different sectors in Belize who have actively sought and received grant funding.
“It has been quite interesting, our collaboration with the Belize Chamber of Commerce here in Belize and BELTRAIDE as well where over the last maybe three years we’ve seen where there has been…well I don’t want to say there hasn’t been interest, we probably never marketed the program well enough in Belize. But we’ve gone from zero to having twelve companies actually benefit from our program.”
“Last year we had an excellent turnout, actually the biggest one in the region because every year when they launch the new call, they go to each country to do preparatory workshops, and last year Belize had the largest turnout. This year against as you can see it is a sizeable turnout. Last year we also had three companies successfully accessing the grant scheme with all EU funded grants and projects. The application process is tedious…not difficult but just tedious, and that’s all the more reason why you need the workshop to help you to break it down to small bites. So we’re hoping that this year we could get even five, six companies that access the grant scheme.”
“There is room for more firms to come, and from taking a look here today I would say we have a lot more newer faces here. There are one or two who have applied in the past and might not have been successful, but they’re here today to try and see how they can become successful.”
Both BELTRAIDE and Caribbean Export are working together to address the challenges in pursuing and receiving grant assistance, and one of those challenges is the application process itself.
“Part of the application process is your business plan, so when they’re asking you what is your development plan, what is your marketing strategy…those simple things, a company that is not sophisticated in doing business management would not know how to fill out those sections. So this is where BELTRAIDE comes in, this is the reason why we sit here. That is another assistance we provide through the small business development center or through the main office in Belmopan. Most often it’s the intimidation, the perceived intimidation of the long application process. And then also knowing that, in this regard, it’s a reimbursement fund, so that monies need to be up, and then they will reimburse you. For this particular funding, that makes it less easy to access…not difficult, I refuse to say that.”
“It’s a reimbursable grant which tends to pose a challenge for a number of firms because you have to apply, you’re approved, we sign a contract with you, you have a specific time of six months to complete your project activities, submit your project expenses to us and then we reimburse. So no monies are given to you up front. What we try to encourage firms who may have low cash flow to support their project, that in submitting their application they get support funding from their financial institution either by a loan or an overdraft facility or even the DFC which provides business development loans to firms. You have opportunities there to explore that can support your funding.”
Today’s session included information on proposal writing and the review and preparation of the Direct Assistance Application Form and budget. Mike Rudon for News Five.
To be eligible for grant assistance under this scheme, applicants will have to be legally registered and operating in a CARIFORUM member state; have been in operation for at least two years with supporting financial records; be able to provide full funding for their project, since the grant is a reimbursement; and be exporting, or demonstrate the ability to export goods and services.
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