Why SMEs like Splice Studios are the real test of our ‘Roadmap to Recovery’

Originally published on Wired868 Wednesday 26 May 2021

So the dream of Splice Studios is no more. If Abigail Hadeed—with her brand recognition, contacts, creativity, and privilege, could not navigate to save her business during this pandemic—then tell me who can. Just reading her post was painful:

‘Thank you all who have shared, supported or created at Splice for our short lived but yet still inspiring existence. Like the Phoenix I will rise from the ashes.’

Photo: Keeping my head above water in a pandemic…
(Copyright Abigail Hadeed/Splice Studios)

Like the crisis of Errol ‘The Independent’ Fabien and Gayelle, hers was brought into the public domain but with a different result. Splice is up for sale while Gayelle, through crowd funding, has pivoted to a different kind of offering.  

For each Abigail Hadeed, there are hundreds of others who are quietly drowning and cannot even hold up a hand to attract attention. She is a good example of one who breaks the stereotype that says creativity and entrepreneurship seldom reside in the same body; and in T&T, she is not alone.

Why did it come to this? Could it be that the banks have not changed their operations to suit the changed economic context? Is it that there is no end to foreclosing on defaulters and what next? 

Is there a viable resale market in an economy which has crashed to a halt? Is it that the business ecosystem remains firmly rooted in pre-Covid norms?

A reimagined role for the banking sector would be to shift from the 1980s ‘greed is good’ template, and move to a practice of preventing customers and clients from coming to this screeching halt. The reality is that businesses are closed, so there is no in-flow of cash but their overheads remain the same.

Photo: Splice Studios in Port of Spain before the hurt of the Covid-19 pandemic.
(Copyright Abigail Hadeed/Splice Studios)

When businesses run out of options to pay their overheads, they are forced to walk away, whether it be from office rent or rental of a Lynx/Credit card  machine. The greater the number of crashed businesses, the more difficult our recovery will be.

We know that foot traffic will return sooner rather than later, so this is the time for deeper analysis and understanding of the possibilities. The idea should be: how can individual businesses and the banking sector collaborate for businesses to survive and thrive in the short-to-medium term rather than facing closure.

The collaboration is not simply between businesses and the financial sector, but with the government as well.  A visit to the Ministry of Finance’s website suggests a structured almost seamless approach to applying for the Entrepreneurial Relief Grant so it appears that businesses should not be in too much trouble.

The social media posts from such entrepreneurs, however, leave me uninspired—because clearly there is a formidable gap between what we say and what we’ve done (or not done), and this is reflected in the reality of our poor ranking on the Ease of Doing Business Index.

Photo: A barren room at Splice Studios.
(Copyright Abigail Hadeed/Splice Studios)

The Roadmap to Recovery document referenced the Small Business Enterprise (SME) Sector as accounting for more than 20,000 businesses and employing more than 200,000 persons. This is where urgent attention and focus is needed.  Organisations like Splice, Drink Wine Bar and a number of others must be saved if we want to ‘build back better’.

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