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BEDC praised by small businesses

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The owner of a natural deodorant business said yesterday she did not think her firm would have survived without the backing of the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation.

Surlena Smith, who runs PondaPits, said sales went into a major slump after the coronavirus crisis hit the island.

She added: “Without the BEDC's help, I don't think I would be able to pivot at all, or have my head above water.

“I am still in a breaking even type of place in my business. I believe with this boost from the BEDC I will be able to be a profitable situation.”

Ms Smith said she had used a long-term microloan from the BEDC to set up a website and to expand her product range.

She explained: “Instead of just one deodorant at a time, we are doing packages. I am going to be offering subscriptions where you will be able to receive three deodorants at a time on a monthly basis.”

Participants in the BEDC scheme have up to four years to pay back the money.

Repayments start three months after the loan is given and the first three months of payment are interest only at a rate of 3.4 per cent.

Ms Smith said: “That is basically the cheapest money you can get on the island. It is a breath of fresh air that the BEDC are able to offer a very cheap interest rate, as well as offering a grant.”

Aisha Spencer said that she and her business partners would not have shut their two spa operations for good, even without financial assistance from the BEDC.

She added: “We're not quitters.”

However, she admitted survival would have been a lot tougher without the corporation's help.

They closed the Three Graces Day Spa at Newstead Belmont Hills in Paget and Sisley Spa at The Loren at Pink Beach in Tucker's Town after the pandemic hit Bermuda in March — but there were still bills to pay, plus payroll tax due this month.

Ms Spencer, who has been in the business for 11 years, said: “We went to the BEDC and they were super helpful.

“We are just very grateful for the loan they were able to provide us, especially around now. It is a precarious time.

“We were closed for two months with no revenue coming in. The money has assisted us with paying health insurance, and payroll tax.”

She added the businesses had “managed to stay afloat” until they reopened yesterday.

Michelle White said she had just taken over temp business Executemps Ltd in the Washington Mall in Hamilton, when the Covid-19 pandemic started.

She added: “I had literally just opened our doors — then we had to close.”

The business had been sold to her at its bare bones and she had one temp worker employed.

When she heard about the BEDC microloan scheme and grant programme she was excited but also worried.

Ms White explained: “In the initial stages it didn't seem like I qualified for anything.”

But she said she made contact with the BEDC and filled out the needed forms.

Ms White added: “There was a lot of paperwork, but it challenged how you thought about what exactly your expenses were.

“You had to do an expense sheet and balance sheet. Even though I took one of their classes before, it was a bit overwhelming to know I was doing it now, not for a class, but for a reason.”

She added the application process also helped her think about how she would pay the corporation back.

Ms White said: “It is a commitment. You can't keep having negatives along the way.”

She added she has her head above water again after the BEDC helped keep her afloat.

Renee Simons runs a private paediatric psychology practice based in Edgewood Paediatrics in Richmond Road, Hamilton.

She explained she was not an employee of the clinic and had to pay rent and health insurance.

Dr Simons said, although she was classed as an essential service, 98 per cent of her clients stopped coming when Bermuda went into lockdown in March.

She added: “That definitely caused financial hardship. My income was cut in half and I still had to pay for everything.”

Dr Simons said she wanted to offer baby sleep and maternal health services online to make her practice more financially viable.

She added she was using the BEDC's business continuity programme to become certified in these areas.

Dr Simons said: “There was a lot of paperwork to fill out. But I was happy to do it because I was happy to receive the funds.”

She said William Spriggs, the BEDC's economic and co-operative development director, was always there to answer questions about the application process.

Michelle White, of Executemps Ltd (Photograph supplied)
Business boost: Surlena Smith, of PondaPits, says that the BEDC has been a lifesaver for her company (File photograph)
Pediatric psychologist Renee Simons with her son, Noah (File photograph)
Aisha Spencer, right, and husband Roderick (File photograph)

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Published May 26, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated May 26, 2020 at 1:49 pm)

BEDC praised by small businesses

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