Budding entrepreneurs celebrated sweet success having graduated from a Cocoa Enterprise Development Certificate Programme with a ceremony hosted at the bpTT Hospitality Suite in Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain yesterday (Thursday, 29 June).
The training initiative was facilitated by the Maurice Academy of Design and Craft (MADC) and sponsored by bp Trinidad and Tobago (bpTT), with support from The University of the West Indies – Open Campus (UWI-OC).
Sharing words of encouragement in delivering the feature address was Earland Kent, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Sport and Community Development: “This programme demonstrates the immense potential within the cocoa industry, and I congratulate MADC and the graduates of this initiative for their foresight. We have a rich history in cocoa production and this initiative seeks to catalyse further growth and innovation in the sector.”
“I want to congratulate this first cohort of graduates and your passion, dedication and newly acquired skills are the building blocks of a brighter future, not only for yourselves but also for Trinidad and Tobago,” Kent added.
This project is a continuation of the collaboration that started with the ‘Bean-to-Bar’ workshop in May 2019, and which was followed by an intensive training exercise. The next phase of the project will encompass a mentorship exercise focused on one-on-one enterprise development towards developing value-added services and products from the cocoa industry.
Explaining bpTT’s support was Ryan Chaitram, communications and external affairs manager, “Globally, bp is committed to improving people’s lives, and we achieve this through partnerships with organisations like Maurice Academy. I would like to congratulate MADC for its foresight in focusing on the cocoa industry, and I would like to congratulate the graduates who have been empowered to make an impact in the global cocoa industry. The seeds for success have been planted, and we look forward to the fruit that this initiative will bear.”
Through expert and industry-relevant lecturers, participants were exposed to a wide scope, including Cocoa Agronomy, Estate Development and Operations, Bean-to-Bar Production Management, Enterprise Training, Product Marketing and Export Strategies. However, the cocoa-based enterprise training was not limited to chocolate but extended to encompass cocoa-based spa products, handicrafts, beverages and cuisine.
MADC’s Managing Director, Merle Grell-Lawrence explained that the project is expected to propagate business startups, enhanced small and medium-sized enterprises and create employment along the entire value chain of the cocoa industry.
“Because of the age span of the participants, from 20 to 60 years old, this project is also seeking to encourage intergenerational succession planning. Overall, we expect that the project will result in sustainable communities centred around revitalised estates, increased cocoa commodities and derivatives, as well as tax revenue and forex for our country as these businesses go global,” Grell-Lawrence explained.
Also voicing encouragement and support during the ceremony were Tobias Frenking, Programme Coordinator, MADC; Miguel Grell, Director, MADC; and Karen Rosemin, Head of Digital Learning Innovation, UWI-OC. Rosemin noted that building on the excellent outcomes demonstrated by the first cohort, the programme is earmarked for rollout to other Caribbean nations going forward.
Based on a critical analysis of each enterprise after this training phase, five of the most promising participants were selected to receive mentorship grants of $20,000 each. Built on the foundation of the core training, the project now dovetails into business incubator training and support where each recipient will be paired with a mentor to guide them towards the realisation of their business goals.
Ecstatic grant recipient and valedictorian, Katherine Lewis, will be using her training and experience to expand her impact as co-owner of the National Cocoa and Chocolate Museum and Heritage Complex in Moruga.
According to Lewis, “I’m originally from California and a decade ago I came to Trinidad and fell in love with the fascinating legacy of the cocoa industry. Since becoming involved, I’ve taken Trinidad and Tobago’s rich cocoa history and world-class products to events in the US, including Los Angeles and Hollywood, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. This training helped me to take my ideas, nurture them and help them blossom into what I plan to grow into a global brand. The cocoa industry has untapped potential, and we are all willing to share what we’ve learnt to help reinvigorate this limitless industry.”