Erica Smith, executive director of the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) since 2014, and her team already dedicated their working life to helping entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed by offering workshops, one-to-one advice, incubator programmes and a variety of loan options. Then COVID hit and Smith went into overdrive.
“We were able to ramp up and provide additional resources,” she says. “We were fortunate to be provided additional funds from the Bermuda Government to deploy to businesses by way of a range of products.” Such products included the Business Continuity and Sustainability Funding Programme, which has so far deployed $5.1 million in grants, loans or guarantees to 287 applicants.
“That has been a great support and relief to businesses to overcome closures and restrictions,” she continues. “We were also able to bring on additional staff to help with the demand of outreach.”
The list of proactive measures taken by the BEDC over the last 20 months is extensive, including the reduction or removal of fees, interest rate reductions on their financing products, working with financial institutions and lobbying government on behalf of small businesses, increasing the number of students in their summer student entrepreneurship programme, and increasing the number of entrepreneurship education programmes they run.
“Businesses need access to knowledge to make the best decisions for themselves,” continues Smith. “We’ve always provided free advice and support. Normally we do about 650 [one-to-one meetings] per year, but this doubled to over 1,300 because of COVID.”
Moving forward, Smith is ramping up their intensive programmes including the Enterprise Bermuda Incubator and Enterprise Bermuda Accelerator. The former is a 12-month programme for start-up businesses and allows them to use BEDC office space and resources for free. The latter is for more established businesses and helps them overcome challenges and reach the next stage of their business.
This year the BEDC has built out three additional incubator hubs in their economic empowerment zones of northeast Hamilton, St. George’s and Somerset, allowing them to increase the number of start-ups they can incubate from eight to around 30 each year.
“I find it exhilarating to be able to assist other people in achieving their dreams,” says Smith. “Collectively, entrepreneurs and businesses inspire me because it takes a lot to establish a business and be successful, so I am in awe at the resilience, perseverance and risk entrepreneurs take every day in Bermuda.”