Forms with Function – Can we do more to encourage startups?

An enabling environment consists of the set of conditions that allow something to grow and thrive -or keep it from doing so.
In agriculture, these conditions include weather, irrigation, fertilizer, and the other factors required to have a particular crop grow in abundance.
In the case of business, such conditions include laws and policies, taxation levels, enforcement, population levels, governance, infrastructure, financing costs and so on.
If required conditions aren’t present, or aren’t optimal, the crop doesn’t grow. This is as true for business as it is for agriculture.
Imagine this: you have a great business idea for a Belizean delicacy you want to produce and sell. You’ve been making it for your friends for years. Every time they taste it, your friends say that you should make it to sell because it’s that good. You toy with it, make batches, test it on them (much to their delight), and soon you figure you’re ready for prime time.
Now you want to design a nice package, buy enough ingredients to make for sale, and hire somebody to do some of the work. All of this requires money, and you have some saved, but you need more.
Making a business loan at a financial institution requires a plan, and it requires collateral. Assistance with writing up plans is available through entities like the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Belize City, or you can pay a professional, if your savings allow for that. If you have access to neither of those, you do the best you can to pull that plan together, maybe using an online template, and then you gather up your house papers and head back to the bank.
In a perfect world, you get your loan, fill out a form online, and in a few days you have a fully registered and financed business. In a week or two you’re ready to go out and sell your treats and on your way to fulfilling your dream.
Unfortunately, for those who wish to do things the right way, our world is far from perfect. Instead, if you are granted the loan, you now need to do a tour of several offices between your municipality and Belmopan. You need to register the business, get a trade license, hook up your utilities, get relevant certificates for your type of business, such as public health certificates, register with GST if they’ll let you, register with Income Tax to pay your business tax, and so on. Each of these activities requires a visit to a different address, the filling out of yet another form, and the payment of yet another fee.
Everywhere in the world that business exists -I’m not sure if North Korea has commercial trade, hence the qualifier- has forms and fees as part of the gauntlet business startups have to run through.
The countries that make the gauntlet shorter and easier are the ones that see higher rates of entrepreneurship, in terms of both startup and durability. Imagine if all the procedures above could be carried out in one stop, with one fee payment, and you could get back to the business of making your dream come true. You could be moving from strength to strength much more quickly, creating jobs, and setting an example for others with dreams.
However, financing, forms and fees are just a small part of what makes or breaks an enabling environment for business. In other issues, we’ll talk about how businesses can help each other to succeed, and about ways in which the government can create a fertile environment for business and innovation. In the meantime, if you need testers for those treats, feel free to recruit me.

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