This summer, 11 entrepreneurs from Haiti participated as the 2019 Cohort of the BEL Initiative, an entrepreneurial program of the Georgia Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce, Inc (GAHCCI). The program which stands for Business, Entrepreneurship and Leadership exist to provide education, mentorship, access and exposure to entrepreneurs from Haiti, while having them explore business culture in the U.S. for a summer. Further, it provides an environment to increase trade and investments between the Haiti and the United States. During the program, the entrepreneurs refine their existing business ideas, challenge their business concepts and improve their business acumen. The fellows are then charged to return to Haiti and implement the knowledge, resources and solutions to their businesses/projects and their local community.
The 2019 Cohort is the third group of entrepreneurs to successfully complete the program, totaling 24 graduates of the program since its beginning in 2017. The cohort consisted of fellows representing different industries such as textile, footwear, technology, education, medicine and the food industry.This year University of Iowa and Albany State University were the host campuses for the program and welcomed the fellows with open arms. University of Iowa played a big role in this year’s program. The fellows were officially introduced to the Lean Startup Methodology while they went through Venture School at the John PappaJohn Entrepreneurial Center. Some of the key things learned were the importance of going through the process of customer discovery, finding and choosing customer segments, creating a customer archetype and pitching. Fellows were also reminded the importance of networking and learning how to contact leading people within their industries. Venture School proved to be one the favorite components of the program among the fellows.
After spending two intense weeks in Iowa, fellows returned to spend time in Georgia between Albany State University and Atlanta.While at Albany State, sessions were conducted by the Albany Business League (ABL) who taught the fellows the importance of social responsibility their companies should have within their communities. ABL also had conducted several site visits to local companies in Albany to help fellows understand the operational aspect of different small businesses in the area. The biggest site visit came after their time at Albany State when the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport hosted the fellows for a full day. Alrene Barr, the Director of International Business at the airport and other airport officials such as Mea Boykins, Elliott Paige, Jai Ferrell, and others gave presentations on the inner-workings of airport, and how they remain the “Busiest and Most Efficient” airport. Presentations were followed by a tour of the airport and fellows even got a chance tour the airport control tower.
The final week’s purpose was also for the fellows to connect and build their network and relationships with other professionals in their industries, entrepreneurs, investors and potential partners. Throughout the program, fellows met with officials such as Fritz Duroseau, Board member of the Bank of Haiti, Consulate General of Haiti Atlanta Staff, and Jean-Robert Jean-Noel from the Ministry of Agriculture in Haiti to name a few. Through such connections, impacting communities through positive business and cultural relationships became a global impact as an environment for partnerships, investments, and even knowledge transactions were happening between Haiti, Georgia, and Iowa through the BEL Initiative program.
After weeks of learning, training, and networking, a pitch event was held and Serendipity Labs where fellows pitched, presented, and answered questions for an audience of Atlanta-metro local business people. The program concluded at the annual Pwochen Lide Scholarship Banquet hosted by the GAHCCI, where scholarships were awarded to Haitian-American students heading off to college in the U.S., and BEL fellows were awarded and celebrated for their dedication to building the Haiti we envision. The 2019 fellows were teary eyed as they realized the end of the program was near after spending a summer building a bond with other entrepreneurs from Haiti, but also seeing the amount of support and cheerleaders they had from the diaspora, the instructors, and others here in the U.S.
Not only did the 2019 cohort return to Haiti believing in the mission of the program, but vowing to help improve the program for the next cohort and making a financial pledge to continue the movement. The BEL team then realized that the program was not only building an entrepreneurial ecosystem just in Haiti, but globally. Building on that ambition from 2019, the 2020 program will expand to have a larger impact. Furthermore, it serves as fuel towards our mission of aiding Haiti to become an economic powerhouse in the Caribbean.
Learn more and connect with the 2019 Cohort! (CLICK HERE)