Businesses small in size but powerful in reach
“Micro But Mighty” is more than just the theme of NUDGE Caribbean’s communications campaign. It is the core maxim of its founders, who have committed themselves to supporting the dreams of micro enterprise owners in their homeland of Trinidad and Tobago and across the Caribbean.
NUDGE Caribbean, a social enterprise founded by Julie Avey and Anya Ayoung-Chee, helps early-stage start-ups to stabilise their businesses, provides them with critical training and technical support, and most importantly, underwrites grant funding for capacity building and expansion, as well as provides access to retail space and marketing support.
Hailing the funding partnership with the Caribbean Development Bank’s (CDB) Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Unit, the two female business executives described the Bank’s endorsement of the successful and ambitious programme as “timely and reassuring”.
The Bank’s MSME Unit, under its Caribbean Technological Consultancy Service (CTCS) programme, provided USD 320,000 to support the NUDGE Caribbean project through capacity building initiatives and increased market access opportunities for participating businesses. This support is complemented by corporate investor and benefactor, the Massy Group. Overall, Massy has pledged USD 1 million annually for three years, including mentorship and coaching led by top executives of the regional conglomerate.
“NUDGE committed to onboarding 150 entrepreneurs in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and St Lucia, and we are 90 percent complete,” Avey, a Senior Vice-President at Massy, disclosed during an update in late December 2022.
Today, some 157 microbusinesses in the twin-island republic, Barbados and St Lucia, many of which were launched during the early period of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, have been strengthened and placed on a more secure trajectory.
Enterprises included in the project encompass healthcare, beauty, craft, food and beverage, jewellery, leather goods, art-to-table products, 3D printing, spa and essential oils production, and fabric painting.
A consequence of the pandemic and the massive loss of jobs has been a substantial increase in the formation of micro businesses.
Avey noted: “The reality is that many jobs we now know are not going to be there in the future . . . and there are people who are really unhappy in their traditional work.
“We’ve also found many people who had side hustles before the pandemic, who have chosen to leave their careers to focus on their passion. It really has been a joy to watch them grow in confidence. When you love what you do and you can get entities like CDB and Massy to support you in that passion with funding and access to markets to get to the next stage, it is a beautiful thing.”
She also emphasised the importance of “big business” in the region recognising and responding to their role in building stronger communities in the Caribbean, which in turn, complements the endeavours of regional development institutions like the CDB.
The NUDGE Caribbean programme was designed in response to the specific needs and deficits identified by the entrepreneurs. Though it was not intentionally built into the NUDGE programme, the overwhelming majority of its participants are female entrepreneurs.
“We are a 100 percent female-led team across the Caribbean and this aligned with the type of support that we were offering which resulted in a 98 percent female representation,” Avey noted, describing this as a “joyful accidental outcome”.
Meanwhile, Ayoung-Chee highlighted some indications that show “micro was indeed mighty”.
According to the NUDGE Caribbean co-founder: “We have anecdotal evidence of increased accessibility of these micro enterprise products to the consumer. . . . It is not a stretch at all to say we have seen the shift in the lives of members of this segment of the business community and the partners who work with them.
“In addition, perceptions about the quality of the products are increasingly receiving positive comments. We have had resistance in the past to the purchase of local products, however, I do believe we have impacted the shift in perception about the quality of locally produced products. There is also the intangible experience of consumers and partners in buying these products and supporting these entrepreneurs.”