Entrepreneurship

About Entrepreneurship

The role of the small business, or entrepreneurial venture, in a tourism-based economy is perhaps the most crucial link to be further strengthened in the Bahamas. With any number of large scale development projects ongoing, the need for support services and spin-off activity is essential for the success of those developments, but also for the evolution of the larger economy.

Through capital formation and technological adaptation, local groups are increasing their investment in tourist-related projects. In a global economy, the process of entrepreneurship is recognised as being at the heart of an economic development task and driven by the motivations of individuals, who are seeking to satisfy their personal goals. The ultimate aim of economic development is to create opportunities for personal fulfilment through economic activity. It is a reality that people are turning to entrepreneurial careers. The reason for this is that they are in fact ?buying? personal independence and control through the process of new venture creation.

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Entrepreneurial Opportunities

In the Bahamas, the opportunity to be an entrepreneur has grown in proportion to the development of the tourism industry, although the route to entrepreneurship is varied, from a response to a crisis situation to the exploitation of a market opportunity.

In Exuma, the Emerald Bay Four Seasons is the perfect example of a tourism development that has either spun off a number of activities or created a need for them, from laundromat facilities, to apartment ownership, to grocery stores, the resort has also created a need for car mechanics, beauty salons and barber shops and recreational and entertainment facilities aimed at both the local and tourist populations.

Overall, tourism entrepreneurs comprise of bonefish guides and operators, authentically Bahamian manufacturers and retailers of paper products, bedding materials, decorations and any other products necessary to run a hotel or operate a restaurant facility.

Destination management companies are entrepreneurial ventures, as are niche market consultants (honeymoon/weddings) ground tour operators, caterers, recreation companies, (undersea adventures, blue lagoon), hair braiders, straw vendors and taxi drivers; but cleaning and maintenance companies, baby sitting services, landscaping and gardening services are some of the more visible entrepreneurial ventures. Legal minds, accountants, teachers, educators, engineers are also skills that are needed in the industry.

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Entrepreneurial Support

In the Bahamas an emerging partnership between policy-makers and entrepreneurs is underpinning economic renewal and prosperity. While the commercial banking system is open to lenders, the difficulty in getting unsecured loans, coupled with high interest rates and fees charged by these institutions and the lack of technical support, have left many would be entrepreneurs struggling to find adequate financing. A

As part of the solution however The Bahamas government, after years of agitation by the Small Business Association, is set to launch a $1 million Venture Capital Fund to assist entrepreneurial ventures. The fund will provide both monetary and technical support for approved initiatives.

Also, the Bahamas Development Bank and the Bahamas Agricultural Industrial Corporation (BAIC) are two lending and finance agencies that were created to assist Bahamians start their own businesses. Both government-backed institutions offer management consulting as well as human resource training initiatives and education.

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Spotlight

Amani Asikari

Vacations unlimited that's the premise behind the Bahamian upstart destination management company Amani Asikari. If a vacationer wanted to spend their entire stay in the Bahamas on board a luxury vessel, sailing through the Exuma Cays, eating 5-star meals three times a day and topping it off with a massage overlooking an Andros sunset, they'd call Amani Asikari. In the company’s first year of operation, clients have requested everything from personal shoppers to private islands.

Peace Warriors

Swahili for Peace Warrior, the company’s exotic sounding name, Amani Asikari, speaks to the two young men behind the company. The team of CEO Arlington Gibao Butler and Winston P. Newton V.P. of Operations deliver white-gloved service with style. Friends from birth, Newton and Butler started the company in July 2004 a bold step for young men in their 30s.

Butler’s more mellow personality makes him more adapt for handling the planning logistics including the company contract negotiations. One of the things you have to do in business is to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and pair yourself with someone who possesses the things that you don’t have.

His calm is counteracted by Newton’s fire spirit. As the face of the company, Newton handles the front line affairs of Amani Asikari with a contagious passion. While Butler was a senior at George Washington University and Newton across the way at the American University in Washington, D.C., the two began staking out their empire. They were going to be business moguls catering, concert promotions, retail technology sales, their minds raced with the endless possibilities that seemed just beyond their cap and gown ceremonies. Some of their business ventures succeeded, some evolved while others they took back to the drawing board over and over again.

Throughout all of their business ventures, they worked in the mainstream Bahamian corporate community and both found themselves dealing with high-end travelers with budgets and tastes to match. The god-brothers spent their first few years out of college working in the high end travel vacation industry. Winston worked as an executive for a luxury jet liner and Arlington catered to a similar market as senior manager at Caribtours Bahamas Ltd. where he charted the vacations for VIP Japanese clients.

At Caribtours, I worked as assistant to the general manager. My primary function was handling the travel arrangements of VIP Japanese guests. Japanese are notoriously known for demanding first class service so the demands were great, Butler said. In the western society we can say No that can’t be done, while dealing with Japanese clients we just had to make it happen. The option of no was not there. This gave me good insight in to what demanding clients felt was quality service.

With lavish air and land travel experience in place, the seeds of the destination management company took roots. Before booking their first clients, the two traveled extensively throughout the United States, Europe and Asia, getting to understand the new wave of luxury travelers. They saw first hand how the a new breed of socialites and celebrities spent leisure time with escapades along the South of France, shopping expeditions in Paris and restful stays in secluded villas in Bali. What stood out most to Butler and Newton was the constant craving for customized trips that were a complex mix of exotic and eclectic.

Their approach to business is based on a simple philosophythere are no excuses. Like most high-end concierge services, they met outlandish client demands with this no-holds-barred attitude. This simple maxim steers the thinking behind Amani Asikari, propelling the young entrepreneurs forward in their mission to tap into a new way of viewing the Bahamian tourism product.

We service the top 2% of the travel population, handling all of their travel arrangements, CEO Arlington Butler Jr. While the majority of the traveling public is hands on and do things for themselves, our clients are people used to having things taken care of.

And if taking care of business means shipping in raw silk sheets or hiring Eleuthera’s best native chef to create the perfect bowl of stew fish, then Amani Asikari staff would get on the phone and do what they do best deliver on their promise of providing the ultra-exclusive Bahamian experience.

Building The Business

In a business where building a client base depends almost entirely on referrals passed casually between socialites and elite businessman, breaking into the market became crucial to the success of Amani Asikari. The company had to establish itself as the people to call to create the ultimate travel experience and as the newest face on the block, a lot went into the ground work of securing clients for the destination management firm.

Initially we utilized the luxury travel expo in Las Vegas as a launching pad for tapping into the travel agency. We also did some research with regards to placement through internet service as a way of building our brand, Butler said. The team also attended yacht shows in Miami and car shows in New York, advertising and making connections with their target audience. They quickly saw a major challenge in changing people’s perceptions about using a company based outside of the home country.

Since there are very few Bahamian-based travel service providers, people were surprised that we were locally based. They are accustomed to having external companies handle their vacations and bookings. Our way of combating this trend came by a targeted marketing campaign.

The Amani Asikari executives teamed up with a number of their local and international suppliers to share the cost of producing print ads and collateral materials to promote the company. They targeted yacht and private jet magazines, circulating information in a niche market of high net worth travelers to establish themselves as the go to company for the ultimate Bahamian vacation.

Once they were booking clients, the team encountered other hurdles. Newton, who handles the meet and greet with clients and the day to day operations saw first hand ways to improve their product. When trying to deliver this level of service we are basically outsourcing the majority of our services. A challenge is to assure that all of our service providers are up to standard. We don’t own limousines personally so we have to assure that the company that we use has drivers who conduct themselves in a certain way that the transportation is up to standards with the level that our clients are accustomed to.

It is a process of determining standards. We relied heavily on recommendations from colleagues and friends, to find out the details. We also conducted site inspections on hotels and restaurants to assure that our recommendations would be accurate. If we are going to book guests stays of $25,000 a week on Musha Cay or Indigo Cay or arrange for a client to rent a home at Old Fort Bay, I cannot assume that it will be up to standard based on what I’ve seen on a website, I need to see the house.

Determining clients ability to afford the travel experience provided by Amani Asikari became the next step on their agenda. Butler, the self described technocrat, formulated ways of qualifying the client.

Once we are contacted by clients, we get a sense of what they want out of the travel experience if it is a business trip, do the spouses want to shop during conferences, are there any special celebrations going on during the trip, are there any dietary or medical concerns then we begin the research to determine if they can afford this level of service.

Determining supplier compatibility with client needs is only half the equation for Amani Asikari. Their team of Personal Travel Assistants (PTAs) are on the front line everyday. Butler addressed this challenge head on. We have to identify a certain personality that make people feel at ease right off the bat. We have to select persons are able to relate and interact with people on all social levels, Butler said. Success for us comes in recognizing that some decisions come in the planning stages while others must be made while the vacation is being realized.

We have to hone in on our ability to recognize what people want out of something. Although we target people of high net worth, a lot of the people we deal with didn’t get rich by throwing their money away so they want to see value for money.

The greatest milestone to date has been the ability to break into the market place. Initially I could tell that some people were skeptical when we would request quotes from suppliers. After a while they realized that, hey – these guys were serious! Now we are now receiving more inquiries from major yacht charter companies people within our target market and that’s a good thing.

The Way Forward

Creating opportunities is what it’s been all about for the Amani Asikari group. This fall they’ll introduce Luggage Express where clients’ bags are picked up from their homes and arrive at the final destination limiting the threat of items being lost or stolen. The idea is that guests will never have to carry luggage again. They can ship their golf and fishing equipment ahead of time and once the trip is done they can have items purchased on luxurious island shopping sprees sent directly to their home.

The destination management company is also looking at introducing their services to the local market as a way of combating slow periods in their business. We plan to introduce our services to the local market, providing for a select group of about 100 individuals and companies giving them membership where they can utilize anything from chauffeured cars, babysitting services, dog-walking to paying bills. It’s a similar concept to the concierge services provided to individuals living in New York and around the world.

According to Butler and Newton, the theory here is not for entrepreneurs to start luxury hotels where there is insufficient financial backing. What they are advocating is for young Bahamians to see the potential to provide subsidiary services to these high-net worth individuals. Butler suggests young Bahamians go out and see the world. If you want to improve the product and see what you are up against you have to travel. When you do this you get a sense of some of the unique touches as it relates to guest services

The Bahamas has been a place for wealthy people for the past 50 years. With high-end travel the market doesn’t fluctuate rich people travel and when they do, they do on large budgets so there is always a need for luxury services here. The trend of developing smaller, boutique hotels in the out islands stem from the industry's move away from the manufactured vacation. Entrepreneurs make the mistake of starting up a hotel geared towards the broad market of travelers. If you are going to do it, it might as well be done for the high-end traveler. To sell a room in Ragged Island for $100 a night, even if you get 100% occupancy you lose money. It’s easy to see why high- end properties can generate enough income to succeed.

It is difficult for a start-up company to gain confidence in short order. Far too many people are thinking in the context of the big hotels. Entrepreneurs must identify the untapped needs of people find out the needs that aren’t being met. There are opportunities out there for Bahamians. We must come to the realization that Bahamians can do these things. We have to bring in the client base and cannot wait for guests to reach here. We have to create the opportunity.

 

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Kenneth Bowe

It’s Sunday evening at the Chat N Chill Bar & Grill and as the big pig turns on a spit grill, vacationers anchor their boats on Stocking Island Beach, Exuma, to partake in a new island ritual. Every Sunday for the past five years crowds gather by the hundreds for a pig roast at Kenneth Bowe’s island retreat.

To outsiders, the trendy eatery seems a strange mix of retirees and spring breakers, stockbrokers and co-eds, coexisting and celebrating island living at its best. For Exuma entrepreneur Bowe, Chat N Chill represents a simple plan.

People think of an island and they think of something simple beach, sun, native huts. Hollywood put that out there, why should they make all of the money from it

In the mid 1990s, Bowe a former financial analyst, built a wooden bar on stilts on a section of his 8.93-acre property on Stocking Island. The goal: to create a business in his native Exuma catering to baby boomers with extra income to spend on leisure products including vacations. To solidify his ideas for a new bar and restaurant, Bowe listened to boat owners, their mates and business colleagues, to get an understanding of what cruisers wanted.

He served up cold beers to sailors and used the informal meetings to determine what tourists traveling to the islands expected. He found out how much they spent each day and what was considered an affordable lunch and dinner. A man gets a drink and he starts talking about what he wants and it becomes very clear. Not much room for doubt.

The cruisers nicknamed him K.B. and laid out their vacation fantasies one by one. A man works hard for 10-11 months out of the year, he has to get all that he needs out of a two-week vacation.

In his past life as a Chicago corporate financial analyst, K.B. learned to rely on aspects of human anthropology that he later applied to his business venture. While the former Fisk University Economics major and University of Chicago MBA graduate’s ideas seem easy to dream up, his approach to business is anything but Bowe hones in on human interaction in its raw state.

If the female is unhappy, if she can’t find a clean, safe place, she leaves and the male follows, Bowe said. I started tapping into the women who sailed to Stocking Island. Even though most of the men bring the boats over, the women plan the vacation from meal to meal. They wanted food that wasn’t fried. For them, island food, while tasty, was heavy. They wanted simple things on the menu: grilled conch, fish, chicken with salad. The only thing they wanted fried were the French fries and even those had to be fried crisp, not limp.

They stressed clean bathrooms. That was a must for women to spend the day eating, drinking and playing on Stocking Island. There had to be proper facilities that were clean.

Bowe constructed a 30 x 30 foot barn style wooden structure, complete with push-out windows that doubled as hurricane shutters. He figured, if the grill and bar flopped, he could easily turn the space into a souvenir shop or sell boat parts.

On March 12, 1998 Bowe opened Chat N Chill and by that evening, with 60 cases of beer and 24lbs of hotdogs sold, he knew he had a hit in the rustic little restaurant facing Exuma’s Elizabeth Harbour. At first the bar flourished and eventually they tasted the food and kept coming for more.

Bowe further tweaked his business approach in the coming weeks. He stressed the magic three to his staff: Taste, Presentation and Affordability.

Boaters want good tasting food that is consistently good. If they had the conch burger or the grilled snapper six months ago and it was good, they wanted it to taste the same every time, he said. The overall island presentation must also be intact (hammocks, thatched huts, etc.) and the basic amenities that make people comfortable must be in place.

He added two TVs, the only connection to reality at Chat N Chill  strictly for weather reports, the news and sports scores. Bowe also incorporated a Take one, Add one rotating library among the boaters, where readers left their favorite high-sea novels for others to take a stab at while on vacation.

Bowe encouraged patrons to leave their mark on property  signed t-shirts, tattered business cards, license plates and woodcarvings cover almost every inch of the bar. When people leave a piece of themselves, they are more inclined to return and bring others and say, I was here, this is my territory.

K.B.’s success in business comes from his ability to listen to consumer opinions and use those ideas to heighten island life experience. To draw in corporate clients, he started the Sip ‘N’ Dip Bar and invited CEOs to hold retreats in the Exumas, where drinks are served seaside to employees as they bob up and down in the blue waters.

Keeping it simple lead to the Sunday Night Pig Roast. It was an instant hit, Bowe said. It succeeded because it recreated a feeling associate with island life. Guests flash back Survivor and Lord of the Flies or a luau. They love it.

Either way, for Bowe the risk paid off.
You can’t hold on to ideas that you believe will eventually work – hold on to those that actually do. If I introduce a new item to the menu and it doesn’t turn over in the first week, I don’t take it personal, I toss it.

Not taking things personal quickly earned K.B. a reputation for being a stern boss and an unreasonable businessman.

Reliability and standards are necessities to grow a business. People have to know that when you say you are open at 11am, your kitchen can serve a meal at 11am. If an employee is late, it interferes with the guest experience, if the food is different the experience changes. Sometimes employees take liberties that can hurt a business. I create all of the menus and no one is allowed to deviate more than 5% from the original recipe or I’ll fire them, he said smiling.

For K.B, there are more pressing things for an entrepreneur in the tourism sector to worry about than a few crushed egos, like the seasonal nature of his business.

This is the biggest challenge facing any tourist-based business. After the peak season is over, how do you generate business when most of the guests have headed back to the real world.

Taking a proactive approach, K.B. is developing new products to increase traffic from the upscale Four Seasons at Emerald Bay development. This summer Bowe will launch Chat N Chill Adventures using a 33 seat passenger bus, where guest pay a flat fee for food, drinks, land and sea transportation from the Four Seasons to Stocking Island.

The way in which we do business on Exuma is changing, in particular with developments like the Four Seasons where the clientele is very high-end. We have to shape our business to adapt to these changes, still keeping in mind that guests are looking for a natural island experience.

Simple business tactics alone did not earn Chat ‘N’ Chill high mentions in Fodor’s as a very hip and upscale, yet casual… or multi-page spreads in travel magazines. While Bowe benefits from word of mouth marketing among boaters, he hasn’t neglected alternative marketing solutions including a website www.chatnchill.com. Bowe knows that once guests leave, their island memories are only a click away. The website also attracts new potential visitors, helping to combat seasonal lulls.

There are other challenges as business expands. As we grow and as the clientele shifts there are differences in what patrons want to experience. Young locals are looking for quick service. The whole set up is for relaxation. The grilled food may take a while because it is cooked fresh. A guy from Minnesota, enjoying his beer in a beach chair doesn’t want anything rushed on his vacation. Local patrons demand fast service so the staff receives mixed signals.

Another challenge, finding motivated workers who can execute the vision of a Bahamian vacation.  We as Bahamians must move beyond the notion that service is servitude. There is a responsibility on the part of employees to show up on time and to sell the product. If something is not available at the time, it is up to the employees to suggest other options, another beverage or meal option, anything that pushes the product.

While his approach may be unorthodox, pushing and reinventing the product is something that Bowe does well.

He made provisions to start beach Church on the island in an attempt to draw more guests to his island escape. For six months out of the year, Stocking Island’s non-denominational church, lead by Rev. John Gray of Tiskilwa, Illinois, meets for Sunday services under the pine trees. After service, parishioners take in Sunday brunch, volleyball and a few rounds of dominoes at the Chat N Chill.

I learned early on in business that where ever there is a church, there is hope, Bowe said.  I lease the space under the trees, near the volleyball court to Rev. Gray for $1 a year. To me, beach Church represents the hope that exist here on Stocking Island.

Bowe plans to expand his island development to include small cottages to encourage boaters to overnight on Stocking Island. In 2006, expect more beach parties and bonfires, a gift shop, shower facilities, an Internet caf and the much-anticipated Laundromat for weary boaters to cleanup and reenergize for the long journey ahead.

 

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