Entrepreneurs on wrong side of microloan story
A $24 million stimulation package from the Business Economic Development Corporation will have little impact on small businesses in North East Hamilton, some entrepreneurs predicted yesterday.
Business owners Charles O'Brien, Jenefer Brimmer and Carmon Cyrus claimed the BEDC's application process for its Business Sustainability & Continuity programme of microloans was too cumbersome and the amounts on offer were not enough.
Mr O'Brien, of Hi Group on Union Street, said: “You need a doctoral degree to fill out the paperwork.
“I'll bet there are few participants filling out this documentation. It is horrendous. It doesn't reflect the needs of Bermuda.”
A business profile, financial statements and copies of bank statements plus proof of payroll tax and social insurance payments are required by the BEDC.
But Jenefer Brimmer, of BKS Wholesale Liquors, also on Union Street, questioned how small businesses could meet these requirements.
She said: “If you have a one-person business, like a street vendor, they need financial assistance. Where will they fall into this programme if they don't have those kind of details?
“In a pandemic, what do you want a business plan for? People just want to survive.”
But Jamillah Lodge, director of communication and development at the BEDC, said the paperwork required was standard.
She added: “These are documents that are necessary for our offices to be able to conduct a proper analysis for financing.”
Ms Lodge added that, to help people who might not have these documents, templates were available to download on the BEDC website or they could be e-mailed to applicants.
Ms Brimmer said that assistance should be in the form of grants.
She added: “Small businesses don't need to be in greater debt right now. And if they go out of business they are still going to have that debt to pay back.”
The programme was designed to provide microloans and grants in a tiered system.
For businesses with one to three employees and taking in less than $100,000 a year, there is a maximum loan of $10,000 and $5,000 as a grant.
For small businesses with one to five staff and earning between $100,001 and $250,000, the BEDC is offering a loan of up to $15,000 and $7,500 as a grant.
But Ms Brimmer said that was insufficient, even for smaller businesses.
She added: “That won't sustain you for another three or four months.”
Ms Brimmer said that after totting up operating costs such as staff pay, rent, electricity and phone services over a three-month period, plus the cost of buying stock and importation, businesses would need at least $50,000 in assistance.
Mr O'Brien added the majority of small businesses on the island could be saved if the Government did more consultation with the sector to figure out their individual needs.
He said the BEDC should also start a co-operative programme.
Mr O'Brien added: “They don't know what the people really need.
“With a committee or co-operative, there is an opportunity to get deep and find out what the people in the back of town need to help them be successful business people.”
Mr O'Brien said a co-operative could help small businesses with advertising, marketing and accounting.
He added: “This pandemic has caused us to realise that a lot of things that have been under the carpet have come up.”
But he insisted: “We are not asking the Government to shell out and to be irresponsible. If we have been in business for 15 or 18 years we are responsible. Some businesses have been going for 20 years. Do we just throw them in the trash?”
Mr Cyrus, of Bermuda School Uniforms on Union Street, questioned why the BEDC had not consulted business owners from North Hamilton.
He said: “Everyone else has been consulted.”
Raymond Lambert, the BEDC micro, small and medium enterprise unit director, admitted that the microloan scheme had met with opposition from some.
He said: “We have found that there are a few business owners who have been very outspoken on their opposition to loans and have wanted us to focus on grants, specially for northeast Hamilton.”
He added: “I believe we have listened to their concerns and included the grant component in the majority of our Covid-19 related microloans.”
Mr Lambert said BEDC officials had done outreach work in specific zones, and were now at work on presentations to explain the application process.
He added that the BEDC was also working on developing programmes to support businesses that were starting to reopen in the Economic Empowerment Zones.