CARIBBEAN. Trinidad and Tobago Leverages Entrepreneurship Towards Economic Diversification.

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Trinidad and Tobago Leverages Entrepreneurship Towards Economic Diversification
Trinidad and Tobago Leverages Entrepreneurship Towards Economic Diversification

Trinidad and Tobago.

By UTT’s Entrepreneurship & Technology Commercialisation Unit

“Trinidad and Tobago” is typically mentioned amongst the general global populace in the context of holiday-making and images are often evoked of tropical landscapes, flora and fauna and pristine beaches.

While the natural splendour of Trinidad and Tobago is indisputable, these conflated Caribbean tropes betray the true fullness and scope of the twin-island country’s human, social, cultural and economic resources.

Trinidad and Tobago is recognised as having developed-nation status and enjoys one of the highest average incomes in the region, with the third highest GDP per capita in the Caribbean. The country’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business score even places it above the regional (Latin America and the Caribbean) average.

Building a New Trinidad and Tobago: The Early Ingenuity and Resilience of its People

While entrepreneurship is considered the essence of the dynamics in modern capitalism and has become popular as a study and career choice for millennials, the beginnings of entrepreneurship and trade pre-dates the Industrial Revolution. The traits commonly appraised as being those of successful entrepreneurs are the abilities to assume the risk and deal with uncertainty, self-discipline, persistence, and action-orientation.

It is undeniable that the forebears of Trinidad and Tobago’s 1.3 million people not only exemplified those qualities but, to cite Jean-Baptiste Say’s definition of entrepreneurship, they were also able to “shift economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield” to build a better life in a new land.

A Turning Point: The Discovery of Oil

Trinidad and Tobago was securely on the road to becoming one of the oldest hydrocarbon producers in the world and a significant petrochemical hub. The active presence of the British-Dutch oil and gas supermajor, Shell, since 1913, played a major role in the development of the country’s oil and gas industry. By 1930 crude oil production had already increased to 10 million barrels per year.

With the establishment of Atlantic, the result of a unique partnership between four energy majors, soon the country boasted a place among the five largest world exporters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and up until the large-scale development of shale gas in the United States, Trinidad & Tobago supplied 60 percent of American LNG imports.

The country was able to attract exploration companies to the deep-water including BHP and its co-ventures: British owned bpTT, multinational BG Group’s BGTT and Spanish global energy company, Repsol. The country’s downstream endeavours are not any less noteworthy.

It boasts five (5) methanol plants and the privilege of being the largest supplier of methanol to North America, as well as eleven (11) ammonia plants which include two ammonia complexes, one of which is amongst the world’s largest.

Striking oil was Trinidad and Tobago’s pot of black gold; the energy sector has since been the most significant contributor to the country’s economic activity and wealth, with oil and gas production accounting for around 40 percent of GDP each year, and approximately 80 percent of its annual export earnings.

Although oil production peaked in 2010 and declined for years subsequently, it took another positive turn and began trending upwards again in 2018. It is forecasted to make a moderate recovery in 2019, and according to the Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago, current projections indicate continued growth through 2021.

 Much of this good fortune is owed to the development of additional offshore compression projects and new fields by Shell, DeNovo, and bpTT, in particular, bpTT’s Angelin field which launched in 2019 and will account for a peak production of about 550 million standard feet of gas per day.

Recognising the need to align with the shift towards sustainable energy, Trinidad and Tobago recently launched a renewable energy fund on the Trinidad & Tobago stock exchange to generate capital for investment in renewables both locally and regionally.

Trade and Investment: Why Trinidad and Tobago is Ideal for Doing Business

Trinidad and Tobago’s world reputation and success in the energy sector laid a solid foundation that would catalyse local development and foreign investment in other areas including service industries, financial services, the information industry, and transportation. The services sector contributes approximately fifty-six (56) percent to the country’s GDP and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, recognising the sector’s potential, has been working to implement interventions that would further reinforce trade facilitation and promote investment in services.

As it stands, Trinidad and Tobago has already been ranked as the Caribbean country with the second best Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) strategy, according to the Caribbean and Central American Countries of the Future 2015/16 report, published by The Financial Times’ FDI Intelligence unit.

Contributing to the country’s good investment climate is its sound banking and investment policies and a well-regulated securities exchange which safeguards private sector investments.

The country is also home to some of the largest commercial banks and financial institutions indigenous to the Caribbean as well as international firms such as the Royal Bank of Canada and Scotiabank who both established operations in Trinidad since oil was first discovered in the early 1900s.

According to the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago’s 2017 Annual Economic Survey, Trinidad and Tobago’s competitiveness has also improved as a result of an increase in enrolment of tertiary education. There are over forty (40) registered post-secondary and tertiary education institutions in the country including the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the national university, The University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). It is estimated that 98.97% of the adult population (aged 15 years and above) in Trinidad and Tobago can read and write.

The Caribbean and Central American Countries of the Future 2015/16 report also identified Trinidad and Tobago as the most cost effective country in the region since 2013, where cost effectiveness is calculated based on the country’s performance on the data points of expenses involved in establishing a business, registering a property, obtaining construction permits, exporting, importing, corporation tax rate and total tax rate.

Trinidad and Tobago’s developed communications infrastructure is another favourable consideration for investors; the report placed Trinidad and Tobago within the top ten (10) countries with the most business-friendly environment and best connectivity.

The Government’s incentives across several non-energy sectors including Maritime, Tourism and the Creative Industries also encourage foreign direct investment. General incentives across all sectors include financial support for research and development facilities, and manufacturing incentives include import duty concessions and free trade zones.

Finally, and perhaps most obvious, is that the country’s easy access to North and South America makes it a strategic location as a transhipment hub for exports. 

The country has access to the markets of CARICOM and international markets through trade agreements with the United States of America (USA), Canada, and the European Union (EU).

Entrepreneurship and Education: Taking the More Difficult Road

Trinidad and Tobago’s “Vision 2030” National Development Strategy 2016-2030 identifies five (5) key transformations which must be made if our nation is to advance truly, one of which is “citizens who are more independent and critical thinkers, creative, innovative and entrepreneurial.” Recognising the indispensable role of entrepreneurship and a culture of creativity to the country’s economic diversification, the Government sets out in its Vision to strengthen all state institutions which play a role in developing the SME sector. It will also expand and customise funding facilities to meet the needs of firms at their various stages of growth. This will be supported by mechanisms to resolve insolvency, protect property rights and enforce contracts.

One recommendation which the national strategy document makes is to include the concepts of innovation and entrepreneurship as part of the curricula, school activities, and teacher training models and as compulsory entrepreneurship courses at tertiary level institutions. UTT is no doubt a crucial enabler to the realisation of such.

UTT is unlike the traditional University which may find it challenging to convert knowledge to real-world application and wealth creation. Indeed, UTT offers entrepreneurship courses across all disciplines, staying true to its mission “To contribute to the sustainable and entrepreneurial development of society through the advancement and application of research, dissemination of knowledge and public engagement in our pursuit to produce work-ready graduates, innovators and critical thinkers.”

What’s more, in 2014 UTT launched its Business Incubator/Accelerator – uSTART – to assist in the successful development of start-up and fledgling companies of students, staff, and alumni, by helping them to survive and grow during the vulnerable early stages of development.

Creative, New and Emerging Industries; the Role of Education and UTT

In its Vision 2030, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has also expressly recognised the importance of new and emerging economic sectors to achieving global competitiveness. Thus, as part of a more comprehensive economic transformation programme, it will support the establishment of new business clusters in seven key national economic areas: Financial Services; Maritime Services, Aviation Services, Fishing, and Fish Processing, Agriculture and Agro-processing, Software Design and Applications; and the Creative Industries.

At its core, the concept of creative industries is about creativity and intellectual capital that is based mainly on local capabilities and culture and if anything, through every surge and slump, Trinidad and Tobago has always been rich in both. The country has a diverse and growing music scene, several theatre companies and venues, an Art Society, seven galleries of the National Museum and exhibitions year-round by local talents.

 Leading designers take part in Trinidad & Tobago Fashion Week and the two-week annual Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival in September/October screens local, regional and international films. Trinidad and Tobago is the land that produced the musical steel pan instrument from crude oil drums.

It is the land which novelist and playwright Earl Lovelace and Nobel Prize winner, Trinidadian-British author, V. S. Naipaul, called home. It is the land of world-renowned artist, designer, artistic director and masman Peter Minshall and of Carnival, dubbed “the Greatest Show on Earth.”

A study published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in 2012, titled “Creative industries in the Caribbean: a new road for diversification and export growth,” stated that “tertiary training is an important force in driving innovation and change.”

In Trinidad and Tobago, UTT is the only tertiary institution that holistically addresses the need for education and training in the creative industries and other new and emerging sectors. The University provides separate start-of-the-art Maritime and Aviation Campuses; and offers programmes in Biosciences, Agriculture and Food Technologies, Software Engineering and Visual Communications Design; and over fifty (50) undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in areas including Sport and Environmental Studies, Fashion Design, Carnival Studies and the Performing Arts.

In December 2017, UTT was awarded Continuing Institutional Accreditation by the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT) for the maximum period of seven (7) years (until 2024).

In the same study, the ECLAC authors posited that “although the so-called maverick creator is important for start-ups, the process of systematically turning these ideas into competitive products and services requires a strategic team that is built on sound tertiary training. This is essential for ensuring more consistent success in the sector.”

UTT increases the likelihood of turning students’ ideas into reality, not only through its tertiary training but more essentially, through its UTT Business Incubator/Accelerator – uSTART which provides a logical next step for earnest students seeking to take their ideas to the next level.

The National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) contends that entrepreneurs who get their start at an incubator have a higher success rate on average than those who go it alone. There are currently sixteen UTT start-up companies – comprising thirty-six individuals – who occupy the physical space and an additional eleven companies – comprising seventeen entrepreneurs – who access uSTART’s business development services.

These “Maverick creators” originate from the Information Technology, Digital/Animation, Fashion, Agro-processing, Performing Arts and Engineering programme areas?. uSTART was founded and is currently led by Mr. Inshan Meahjohn, Assistant Vice President, Entrepreneurship and Technology Commercialisation.

The Roadmap for SDG Implementation in Trinidad and Tobago outlines further critical steps towards the achievement of the Vision 2030 and the 2030 Agenda. It states that supporting SMEs as a driver for private sector expansion and economic diversification will be especially critical to building economic resilience.

uSTART constitutes an essential part of this plan and has successfully secured European Development funding for the development of pilot projects including the uSTART Seed Financing and Capacity Building project to provide mentorship and second stage funding for entrepreneurs.

Other projects include the development of multiple innovation hubs, all of which are either completed or in progress; they include the uSTART Agri-Business Incubator, Fabrication Lab, Animation Lab, Sound Recording Studio, Fashion Starter Kit and Fashion Production Facility.

Three of uSTART’s premier companies – each at an advanced-level stage of incubation – are “Coded Arts” (ICT/Animation), “Uppoint” (Fashion Management) and Neptune Blue Energy (Engineering – Clean Energy) and are featured below.

Coded Arts

The Video Game Industry grows by 2.2% year-on-year. According to statista.com, the global gaming industry is projected to increase to USD$90 + Billion by 2020. Given the demand for all content to be digitised, Coded Arts’ founders seized this opportunity to offer to the industry some Caribbean flair and an option to develop content on a scalable level.

They have the advantage of being an English-speaking nation with a favourable exchange rate and proximity to North America. These significant drivers prompted us to form an outsourcing game development and asset creation studio. They have not limited themselves to outsourcing and are continuously developing their skills in other segments of the industry such as Body Motion Capture, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and their Intellectual Property for Games and Software.

Founded and operating in the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago since 2015, Coded Arts has been achieving standards and recognition. The company is one of the major players in the development of the local and regional industry through international partnerships, networking, and grooming of upcoming artists.

The mentors and advisors are dynamic and diverse in the fields of business, video gaming, and finance. They are particularly honoured having mentors with ten plus years’ experience each in Electronic Arts and Activision respectively. Their input to the development of production and quality have raised the standard of our team.

They have worked with numerous local and international companies delivering within budget and timelines, such as:

•    Bravo Language Services (Canada),

•    The University of Prince Edward Island (Canada)

•    The University of Trinidad and Tobago (Trinidad and Tobago),

•    Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (Trinidad and Tobago)

Currently, they are working with a local chapter of an international company to develop a digital interactive medium to prepare differently-abled persons to deal with and manage natural disasters.

They were also awarded a grant from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) through the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to hire industry experts from leading studios to provide training to the team in critical areas of production.

As the company continues to develop, they have identified hurdles and short-comings in their aim to reach the international markets. They have plans in place for financing opportunities which will boost their abilities. They consider Coded Arts Ltd. one of the success stories of uSTART.

The Incubator space offered them a place to work, host meetings and build their capacity while having all the necessary infrastructure and facilities a regular business would have at their disposal, but only it was at no cost to Coded Arts.

Uppoint

Uppoint is a young and dynamic software company focusing on empowering fashion brands to run efficient businesses by providing them with a seamlessly integrated process and connection to the much-needed resources to manage their fashion value chain activities.

Essentially, Uppoint uses technology to enable fashion brands to take the quantum leap from idea to market. Uppoint was founded by Jamilia Alexander, a fashion manager with ten years’ experience in the fashion industry, and Cory Bennett, a sales force administrator with expertise in data modelling.

Jamilia is an Innovator and who always believes in finding a better way. Shortly after graduating from fashion school, Jamilia developed a fashion vocational programme with 250 beneficiaries and headed three fashion trade missions to Tokyo.

Over the last ten (10) years, Jamilia has developed value chain solutions for dozens of brands. These solutions are digitised and available through Uppoint.

Cory is a problem solver, always replacing “We can’t” with “but if we could, how would we?” Cory got his start in User Support (IT) before becoming a self-taught Salesforce Administrator. After working on projects ranging from building a portal to match volunteers with opportunities for inner-city youth to creating an online and community for Entrepreneurs, Mentors, and Investors, he’s in the trenches building Uppoint from the ground up.

Currently, the Uppoint platform hosts brands/users from the Netherlands, England, Tanzania, Kenya, various states in the USA, Colombia, The British Virgin Islands, and Trinidad and Tobago. Uppoint also hosts suppliers, manufacturers and service providers from Colombia, China, Japan, Korea, the United States of America, Ethiopia, Kenya, and India.

Uppoint’s unique approach to fashion technology puts the company on a growth trajectory to be a leading fashion platform worldwide.

Neptune Blue Energy

Imagine if all hydrocarbon products ranging from transportation fuels to fertilisers, plastics and everything in between, were manufactured using carbon extracted from the air around you instead of petroleum.

It may seem like science fiction, but once upon a time, we did not have many things in our life that we now take for granted. That is the future being envisioned by Simon Neptune, founder of Neptune Blue Energy.

Originating in Canaan, Tobago, the company is building upon five years of cutting-edge research aimed at improving energy security and access around the world, and its first technology launched to market will be aimed at manufacturing hydrocarbon fuels in domestic markets using ambient air as a raw material.

Companies in Europe and North America are also working on achieving the goal of extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for use as an industrial feedstock, but the technology developed by Simon Neptune is set to be a dark horse in the race to disrupt the energy economy.

Existing companies aiming to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are taking the path of most resistance with methods doomed to fail, by utilising mechanical compressors and electrochemical technology to pump air and separate the carbon and hydrogen feedstock; in addition to chemical-based separation methods to remove carbon dioxide from the airstream.

Fundamentally, success in the goal of manufacturing carbon neutral hydrocarbon products from the air requires the development of technology that is at least an order of magnitude better than those utilised by companies such as Linde Industrial Gases and Air Liquide for producing high purity chemicals from the air.

This task is not easy but not impossible. Our technology minimises the number of required moving parts through convection current compressors that result in high mass flow rates of air through the system. It enables efficient separation of carbon dioxide and water vapour while also eliminating the need for costly electrolysis systems with a highly productive thermolysis based process that produces high purity carbon and hydrogen feedstock.

Founder, Simon Neptune, expects a not too distant future where all the transportation fuel needed by a country is manufactured domestically and is free of air pollutants such as nitrogen and Sulphur compounds while being carbon neutral.

In light of recent reports by the UN, removing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere is a necessary component of the global portfolio of climate solutions, but an even more significant impact can be had economically through the production of domestic, low-cost transportation fuels in the global economy.

It is early days, but expect more from Simon Neptune and Neptune Blue Energy on advances made in pursuit of this vision.

For further information visit our website at www.u.tt  or contact Mr. Inshan Meahjohn via email Inshan.Meahjohn@utt.edu.tt,  skype at Inshan.meahjohn or telephone at (868)-642-8888 ext. 21176.

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