As an island boy at heart, Smith grew up exploring the shores of his native island of Exuma. When he became an adult, his love for the ocean led him to seek employment at a water tour company – that is – until the first wave of COVID-19 hit Bahamian shores and pulled the tourism industry under.
“During the lockdown, Coastline Adventures closed down, but I continued to walk on the beach every day,” Smith shared. “It was part of my daily routine for years, and eventually, I started to collect all the corals, stones, and shells that would wash ashore. I knew that I could make good use of them instead of leaving them on the shoreline. That’s when I got the idea to make souvenirs.”
Most times, Smith said he would leave the beach with a “backpack full” of things that washed up on the beach. He said he quickly recognized that the sea treasures still had value and “did not have to go to waste” since they had the potential to “evolve into a lot more.”
“I had all of the corals and shells in place, so I started putting everything together during the lockdown,” Smith explained. “First, I got scrap plywood and cut it into different sizes; then, I used a hot glue gun to stick the corals, stones, and shell pieces on before covering the base with sand. During my final step, I placed the souvenirs in a clear case and tied a ribbon with the colours of the Bahamian flag around it.”
With the ultimate goal of highlighting the treasures of his island home, Smith said he wants the world to understand that The Bahamas is “much more” than its capital city, Nassau. He said he even launched a line of wet shirts, shoes, and pants, which featured vibrant photos of Exuma’s coral reefs to promote his island’s beauty further.
“My wet suit clothing line was well supported,” Smith stated. “The reception from locals was especially mind-boggling because I was mainly marketing my clothes to tourists. I didn’t expect Bahamians to jump on board as they did, but they gave me their full support.”
After researching ways he could get funding for his business, Smith learned about Access Accelerator and was encouraged to sign-up by a “good friend” familiar with the programme.
“I thought it would give me a good jump start, so I decided to try,” Smith stated. “The content of the courses was easy to understand, and the information I learned was pretty straightforward. I already had experience with business management, but Access Accelerator gave me a good refresher of how to run a business effectively and efficiently.”
After the end of the programme, Smith received a $50,595 grant to develop his budding enterprise. He said the funding was a “big help” because he did not know where he would have gotten “that kind of money” from on his own.
“Honestly, without the Access Accelerator, the Exuma Underwater Store would not exist,” he said. “When I heard I was a recipient, I almost jumped through the ceiling because I could not believe it. I have thousands of dollars worth of inventory, and the funding I received was the kick starter that got me going. Without the Access Accelerator, none of this would have been possible.”
Smith said he is determined to put Exuma Underwater Store on the global map, and his first step is revamping his packaging system.
“I’m working on changing my case concept to one where my underwater souvenirs are placed in silicone molds that I can pour acrylic resin in to give them a hard marble finish,” he explained. “While the general reception has been good, some tourists still hold off from purchasing my products because customs officers can red flag coral and shells at the airport when placed in cases. If I seal and place my souvenirs in resin, that won’t be an issue.”
Now that Smith has the “kick start” he needed, he plans to go full speed ahead. He said that he has over one thousand pieces of inventory that are waiting to be repackaged in silicon resin. He also said he is in the process of planning his next big project.
“I’m working on establishing the first 3D underwater store in The Bahamas where people can walk into my business and get an immersive underwater experience,” Smith said. “I’m also planning to get a brick-and-mortar store built in George Town near tourist hotspots and want to branch into underwater snorkeling tours and launch an underwater-themed seafood restaurant. The Exuma Underwater Store is the beginning of a big dream, and with the help of the Access Accelerator, it’s moving along great.”
About The Access Accelerator
The Access Accelerator is the product of a tripartite arrangement between the Government, through the Ministry of Finance, University of The Bahamas (UB), and the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC). The Centre works to guide the development, funding, growth, and evolution of Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (“MSMEs”) in The Bahamas. Visit us at www.accessaccelerator.org.