Bahamian women entrepreneurs should get off the venture capital sidelines and jump into the investment pool in a big way. Davinia Bain, Executive Director of the Access Accelerator Small Business Development Centre, made the proposal while speaking on a panel at the first-ever Women Economic Forum-Caribbean (WEF-Caribe), hosted in Puerto Rico over the past two days.
The Women Economic Forum (WEF) is an international platform that connects more than 250,000 attendees in 200 countries. The WEF-Caribe is expected to attract more than 30,000 virtual attendees from the region and the world.
Addressing the panel discussion on “Where are the women investors that impact entrepreneurship in the region?” Ms. Bain said the research showed that women starting a business stand a great chance of success, save for one major obstacle: access to capital. She noted that in 2018, $130 billion in venture capital funding changed hands: male founders received almost 98 per cent of that money, with female founders receiving only 2.2 per cent of that total funding.
Bain’s fellow panelists included Shila Nieves, Founder, Managing Partner of Zane Venture Fund, and Shirley McPhaul of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust. Nieves’ mission is to champion underrepresented business founders, while McPhaul aims to contribute to the growth of the digital creative industries in Puerto Rico and to help those who want to invest in cryptocurrencies to onboard and participate in decentralized applications, especially to members of vulnerable communities such as women and racial minorities.
Ms. Bain encouraged women to broaden their scope when considering what to invest in. She argued that no individual is predisposed by their gender to invest in or involve themselves in particular industries and recalled the earliest days of the Access Accelerator as evidence to support the argument.
“From an organizational point of view, it was important to us not to pigeonhole ourselves into any specific thesis. Initially, it was something very new we were doing in the country. We needed to help as many people as quickly as possible in as many industries as possible, simply to bring to the fore the entrepreneurial spirit, which we knew was always here in The Bahamas. We’ve always been very entrepreneurial, but the support hasn’t really been there. The finances and investment, the training and advisory services – that part of it has been missing. So we didn’t start off by having these focal points for investment (like target industries).
However, three years into it, now, we are excited to begin to focus on certain points. A lot of it is connected to the Sustainable Development Goals. There’s definitely a focus on technology, and there’s a focus on fishing and farming.”
She added, “COVID-19 has brought a lot to light in The Bahamas during the period of time when we were going through shutdowns, there was a lot of concern about our vulnerability as a small island nation to import simple things like food. As an organization, it’s important for us to encourage more entrepreneurs – male and female – to focus on certain types of industries.
That said, when you’re trying to match the gender of an entrepreneur and certain industries, I think you may be riding a line that could be a little dangerous. I don’t think there’s any industry that’s predisposed for a particular gender; however, I want to encourage women to look at some of the industries that we haven’t had a foothold in.”
Other panels feature a diverse array of speakers, including the vice president of Costa Rica, the president of Georgia Institute of Technology, the Jamaican Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, the Minister of Women from the Dominican Republic, the Editor in Chief at the Arab Journal of Quality in Education (AJQE) Jordan and others. Some of the other panels also featured Bahamian panelists, including the Bahamas Country Managing Partner of Ernst & Young, Michele Thompson, and Director at Sumner Strategic Partners, Edison Sumner.
The Forum – endorsed by The United Nations Women and the U.S. Agency for International Development – is intended to promote economic inclusivity throughout the Caribbean and create synergies between governments, the private sector, and civil society to build a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive region.