Pacific on show

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Some of the small business display their product at the Pacifi c Islands Entrepreneurship Expo at the GPH in Suva. Picture: ATU RASEA

As many as 200 entrepreneurs from across the Pacific region attended the inaugural two-day Pacific Islands Entrepreneurship Expo which ended in Suva yesterday.

Jointly organised by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Asian Development Bank (ADB), and ygap, the event culminated in a ‘shark-tank’ style business pitch by finalists of GGGI’s Pacific Greenpreneurs Accelerator Regional Pitch Finals, which was won by Ginger-Lei (Fiji) Pte Ltd.

“I’m really honoured to be among great businesses that are doing wonderful things across the region in the greenpreneurs space and I’m really proud to have represented Fiji in this space,” said co-founder Talei Tora.

“To have an accelerator program like this is really important.

“I think for businesses who are trying to scale and yet still be environmentally sustainable and to have mentoring by the team at GGGI and then to come to an event like this and to see what our other colleagues are doing around the region I think is really important because sometimes we only see what we’re doing in Fiji,” said Ms Tora.

“And we’ve made networks and we’ve made friends and we understand each other’s businesses and even though our businesses are very different we also share similar problems around scaling and those kind of sustainability issues.”

“Again thank you to the GGGI team, to the mentors, this is all about preserving our environment and our ocean.”

GGGI, an intergovernmental business support agency, offers business incubator and accelerator programmes for business start-ups in developing and emerging economies. GGGI senior program officer Esther Bates said the expo had helped reveal innovations taking place in the Pacific region.

“The idea of this expo is there’s plenty of great ideas, great innovation that’s happening all around the Pacific but they don’t often get a chance to be encouraged to get connected with each other, to connect with either financial providers, donors and other people who are important in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. So what we wanted to do as GGGI and also other donors — ILO, UNCDF, UNDP, ADB and ygap — we’re all working together at a regional level to support entrepreneurship. So if we can bring together people to share their knowledge, expertise and experience, there’s so much knowledge that’s within this room in this expo here that we could learn from each other,”

Ms Bates said. Also from different countries, people have solved different challenges and others can learn from that.

“The connections and networks are so important as part of entrepreneurship and this is why we’re having this regional expo, bringing together entrepreneurs from Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.”

The Merch owner, lawyer-turned-businessman Watesoni Nata Jr said joining the GGGI Greenpreneur Accelerator Program was a way of addressing accessibility to finance when trying to scale up his business.

“Going to the banks is usually a lot harder so this is an alternative available for SMEs that want to scale their businesses. Because the pitching competition was not only about the prizes that were awarded today, there’s a monetary value that’s being applied for, I think people are applying for between $US30,000 ($F67,63)-US$50,000 ($F112,717).

“So that’s the backend application process that’s still ongoing. And that’s the talk about accessibility to finance and a way of getting money to scale up our businesses as well.

“It has been a really brilliant opportunity for me as well trying to pitch my business. It’s not a very easy thing standing up in front of everybody and trying to talk within five minutes is a challenge in itself but I’m very grateful to GGGI and the organisers of this event for bringing us all together here and we’ve been encouraging entrepreneurs to grow and also with the specific focus on being green.”

Zoe Victoria Tate, technical specialist at UNCDF, said access to finance was core to UNCDF’s work and the reason it had supported the expo.

“We know when we talk about economic growth, when we talk about innovation, it’s often the entrepreneurs who are the change makers in that space but at the same time, we know that being an entrepreneur in the Pacific islands is very challenging because the cost of doing business is very high and it’s difficult to get access to finance,” Ms Tate said.

“But this is a group of talented people that really needs to be supported more so what we’re doing in this two-day expo is bringing together these entrepreneurs in order to figure out what are some of the most pressing demands that we can look at and also to bring people from the development programs, financial service providers, maybe even one or two investors to also see from the business ecosystem point of view, what are the challenges that they are running into and how can we create a stronger ecosystem so that entrepreneurs can be supported.

“It’s a very complex issue , there are a lot of challenges to overcome but I think it’s worth bringing visibility to these people and trying to work through the barriers one by one so that we can actually support more startups, more entrepreneurs with all the good results that will come from this.”

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