Nedco launches grants for small, micro businesses

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Nedco CEO Calvin Maurice – File photo by Angelo Marcelle

ASPIRING entrepreneurs, start-ups and those with a registered business in operation for under 18 months can now qualify for a $20,000 grant from the government, without repayment, and comprehensive mentoring to promote sustainable business models and practices.

The Ministry of Youth Development and National Services, line ministry for the National Entrepreneurship Development Company (Nedco), launched the Micro and Small Business (SBM) Grant Scheme on Tuesday. This opens an opportunity for 1,000 business aspirants from a wide range of sectors to obtain capital, along with mentorship and guidance, as mandated by the scheme.

The Finance Minister revealed the initiative in the 2024 budget presentation. Nedco CEO Calvin Maurice, delivering welcome remarks at the NIB building in Port of Spain, said the timing of the launch was “crucial” after the closure of the Entrepreneurial Relief Grant (ERG), implemented by the government in 2020 to compensate qualifying businesses which were crippled financially by the covid19 pandemic.

Maurice said the pandemic has shifted the company’s focus on lending and startup support.

“Unfortunately, some (SMEs) had to shut down during the pandemic. This programme is designed to offer the necessary support for these businesses.”

The grant scheme also provides comprehensive technical training and support for prospective entrepreneurs.

Maurice said, even more than support or a hand-out, it “represents a substantial investment in the entrepreneurial endeavours of our young people and aligns with Nedco’s strategic vision of meeting pubic needs at every level.”

While those over 35 (the typical qualifying age limit for similar government youth programmes) are open to register, youth entrepreneurs will account for 60 per cent of the recipients, with 40 per cent of the funding reserved for applicants over 35.

“It is crucial to shift the societal mindset and reinforce the belief that our youth can successfully engage in business,” said Maurice. “This grant programme is an intervention to support this belief.

“We anticipate that in the next five-ten years, (we’ll see) a transformation in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, with a significant increase in young people successfully starting and sustaining businesses.”

Nedco’s marketing campaigns have successfully targeted youth.

Maurice said some 2,800 people under 35 have applied for loans since June, 2022 – 1,543 female and 1,258 male – while just under 1,400 took part in Nedco’s monthly entrepreneurial training and business advisory programmes.

The company will continue to support its pre-existing loan programmes. Nedco chairman Clarry Benn said after its launch in 2002, the company quickly “differentiated from the rest of the field, as our pioneering approach focused on providing comprehensive business solutions to the communities we serve. Our loan funding was critical for business operations, but equally important, training and business support services were essential to ensure the long-term sustainability of these enterprises.”

Benn said after facilitating the ERG programme, Nedco is “deeply honoured” to administer the (MSB grant scheme) on behalf of the government, through the ministry.

Successful applicants will undergo a 15-day training and skills development programme and mentorship programmes designed to help them navigate the technical aspects of running a registered business. “The scheme,” Nedco said, “covers a wide range of sectors, including entertainment, transport and logistics, food sale and processing, agriculture, plumbing, welding, auto repair, air conditioning, personal services and more.”

Qualifying businesses must have a turnover below $250,000 over the past year; or a forecast turnover below $250,000 for the first year, if not yet in operation.

Existing businesses must be registered and the applicant must own more than 50 per cent, a BIR number, and must comply with legal requirements for running their business.

They must also “possess relevant skills, experience, or qualification” for the proposed business,” Nedco said.

“The initiative aims for a positive social impact and promotes inclusivity, community development, and a sense of ownership among our youth, fostering a society where everyone has an opportunity to thrive.

“(The scheme) mirrors the government’s commitment to economic diversification by supporting a broad range of sectors…to build a resilient economy that can withstand challenges and seize new opportunities.

It represents a pivotal moment in our commitment to economic diversification, youth empowerment and inclusive growth.” The grant scheme does not cover alcohol-related businesses or real estate, and is not open to those who have received funding through other government grant programmes. After applying, documents will be verified and the application assessed to determine the “grant pathway.”

The relevant grant pathway will be assigned before the applicant submits a business plan for assessment and approval.

The grant will then be disbursed, and applicants will be monitored and evaluated on their processes and use of capital investment. Applications are to be submitted online via the programme’s dedicated website at msbgrant.com.