There is true entrepreneurial spirit in Jamaica; a palpable drive to create, to contribute, to be independent. As I know first-hand, the Caribbean is a wonderful place to be for entrepreneurs
But that entrepreneurial spirit is sometimes dampened by certain practicalities - lack of financial investment and a culture not always nurturing of growth and change. That's why it was important for us to set up the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in Jamaica. It was a practical promise to support budding entrepreneurs in the Caribbean.
Virgin Holidays and Virgin Atlantic both work closely with Jamaica and the Caribbean, so it is important that we play our part in the local communities and businesses. That's why Virgin Holidays is the lead donor to the centre for the next five years.
In the last decade, we have seen an explosion of entrepreneurs around the world. Businesspeople need to work together to think globally and keep this momentum going. Local entrepreneurs understand their communities like nobody else and we believe passionately in supporting them. These entrepreneurs are consumer champions, understanding their peers' and wider consumer groups' needs, desires and niches.
Jamaican entrepreneurs can help to develop their country's position in the global marketplace and contribute to their local economy and community. They also have the knowledge and expertise to meet consumer needs in their own markets. Yet, a lot of these brilliant, creative minds lack the opportunity to flourish and create successful businesses. That's what we set out to change at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship.
Now, six years and 134 entrepreneurs on, the centre is beginning a new chapter as it moves from Montego Bay to the island's capital, Kingston. I was in town to celebrate the launch and left full of hope and excitement for what is to come.
The centre provides coaching and mentorship as well as opening up networking opportunities. The brilliant team focusses on supporting a number of entrepreneurs, to whom we can add real value through rigorous training. We have recently moved to a refreshed model, whereby we've slightly decreased the number of people we support each year, without reducing funding. The new model allows us to invest more time and finance into each individual, so that they can develop quicker and more thoroughly.
I'm always excited by the ideas that come through our doors. One of this year's alumni is Randy McLaren, founder of Bresheh Enterprises which creates locally made, customisable bags. One of the things I find most impressive about Bresheh enterprises is its social mission to provide jobs for young people, reduce domestic violence and donate money to a charity for juvenile offenders.
It's inspiring to hear Randy speak about his business and how the Centre has supported him. He learnt new skills, such as accounting, but also gained intangible knowledge, like how to find the right people for your business; in Randy's own words, "people who strengthen your weaknesses".
Dianne Plummer is another entrepreneur that has come on the Centre's programme this year who I met at the opening in Kingston. Dianne is a truly impressive person. She is one of the country's few female chemical engineers and has created her own make up range for women with skin conditions.
The Branson Centre was set up for companies and people like this, to give young entrepreneurs the chance to grow and thrive and create businesses that will make a difference to people's lives.
Virgin has the opportunity and the capability to power local people to run these brilliant businesses. We can support them and help their companies to grow, working side-by-side to use local knowledge to meet consumer needs on a global scale. And so we do.
Moving to Kingston means the Centre will be at the heart of the buzz and thriving business scene in Jamaica and means we will be able to help more budding entrepreneurs like Randy and Dianne.
It's been an incredible six years at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship. I'm looking forward to seeing what new ideas, inspirational stories and successful businesses the Centre can help bring to life over the next six years and beyond. Who knows what we can achieve? Everyone can take on the world.