Reframing Entrepreneurship in Bermuda

When I ask what is an entrepreneur, the most common response is a small business or a vendor, but where would Richard Branson fit into that response? Of course, I strongly believe in the power of small business as a vehicle for socio-economic mobility, empowerment through self-employment and filling niche market needs, however I believe that a reframing of the conversation in Bermuda is necessary. Some question if Bermuda compares with the rest of the world. Whilst we may have a nascent start-up educational system, we are world leaders in entrepreneurship in other fields. We must believe in our collective and individual strengths, we must understand where we are world leaders and we must celebrate our creators, our risk-takers, our market disruptors, our entrepreneurs!

Events such as Global Entrepreneurship Week hosted in November every year does a great job in celebrating business creation. We are the host country with the highest participation per capita in both events and partners, consistently beating out other jurisdictions both large and small.  Our young talent is as creative as any. Just this year Bermudians Conor Burns and EJ Burrows beat out world-wide competition to win the Future Agro Challenge. Their idea was innovative, their application of technology was brilliant and their business model had almost no application in Bermuda, but was scalable worldwide. Small island, big thinking. In the last month, we held the island’s first Start-up Weekend. Closely held ideas that were starving for air were allowed out into the open where they flourished. Participants and organizers alike were allowed to peek behind the curtain and see what is possible when ambitious thinkers were allowed to collide and create.

For as small an island as we are, many are not aware of the global innovations that have emanated from our IB sector. It was a group of big thinking Bermudians over 30 years that understood what our assets as a country were and managed to leverage them turning Bermuda into the Reinsurance Capital of the world. As a jurisdiction we continue to innovate in this market. Just now Britain has finally passed a law to try and imitate our success with Insurance Linked Securities. Bermuda epitomizes the fast moving, flexible entrepreneur and it has taken Britain almost 5 years to figure out how to respond. International Business is a convenient descriptor for the reinsurance and related industries, however I feel it is limiting in many aspects. At the tech awards during Global Entrepreneurship Week, FinTech company Trunomi was celebrated for its innovative solution to Know Your Client and Data Sharing challenges in the financial industry.

We are in a pivotal period in our island’s history. I have full faith that our entrepreneurs will lead the charge in our recovery. I challenge all of you that call Bermuda home to think big. We live in a world economy, on an island with world-class communications networks and an impressive professional services support network. Like Conor and EJ, don’t limit your ideas just because they may not apply to Bermuda. Technology allows even folks who live 1000 kilometres at sea to scale with incredible ease. I challenge every entrepreneur to consider scalability in everything you do. Our economy is based on attracting foreign capital. If your company can attract even one foreign dollar, you are helping support the recovery. Entrepreneurs rise up, your country is counting on you!

Originally posted at:

Nick Kempe

Nick Kempe


Chair, Bermuda Economic Development Corporation




I Love Making Entrepreneurs Cry – Ethan Bagley

Ms. Smith was afraid. Her fear was a common one: if I share my idea, someone will steal it. I hear it a lot when working with entrepreneurs as a part of Startup Weekend. This fear is a consequence of past experiences, missed opportunities and rejection. Asking someone to speak about their most passionate thoughts is never easy. Seeing others go first might have inspired her.


It might have been Zaire. A ten year-old boy, father in tow, who took the stage to share his idea after a little coaxing. But then, who didn’t need a little coaxing the first time they spoke to a crowd? Between football games, rugby matches and robotics competitions, Zaire had been thinking. When I first met him, he wouldn’t say hello or make eye contact with me. I asked him a few questions about what he was thinking about pitching. His dad and I encouraged him to get up and share. And he did.

It might have been Dean, who has been running a shuttle service on the island for almost two decades. The grandson of one of Bermuda’s most celebrated musicians, Dean’s pitch was beautiful. It struck a cord not only with me, but with the crowd. It’s rare for there to be a lot of cheering after a pitch. Dean received an ovation, along with gasps of “what a wonderful idea!” and “how exciting!”

The common thing these three entrepreneurs had was community. They were local, knew one another, and found strength through their common experiences. As with Zaire and Dean and Ayo and Dahji, I believe Ms. Smith saw what sharing an idea could look like. And when she saw that, she chose to stare down her fear, get to her feet and take the stage. And on Sunday? Her team took first prize.


Winning wasn’t without difficulty: Ms. Smith was stressed out. She almost didn’t get her finished presentation to me before pitches began! It’s hard not to be stubborn with someone peering at the idea you love. Telling you you’re doing things wrong and picking nits at every turn. She came to me on Sunday morning, intimating that she was “burned out.” Dreading the thought of presenting in the evening. I asked her, “Why not let one of your teammates take the stage instead?” Her reply was that, “That’s not what a good leader does.”

And, as I had done several times throughout the weekend, I challenged her. Her reluctance, a mix of stress and fear, wasn’t insurmountable. It just needed justification. Her pitch did’t need her to be on stage. Her idea wasn’t just hers anymore. It had progressed by leaps and bounds over the 54 hours of the event. It had also found a community. While she did take the stage for part of her team’s presentation, it was a team effort. She let her teammate take care of her idea for her. A brave act, if ever there was one. Many people don’t realize it, but ideas are our children. We care for them and hold them so tight; it can be hard to let go when the time comes. In the end though, letting go is what the idea needs to grow.

Ms. Smith (and her idea) got out of the building, and into the world. And that’s where the concept stopped being an idea, and became an innovation. Bermuda is a beautiful place. Sunny skies, the bluest water I’ve ever seen, friendly people, amazing food. Their manner of politely disagreeing and criticizing was a little foreign to me. It took some getting used to. What Ms. Smith found was that no one wanted to steal her idea: they just wanted to be customers. They wanted to sign up. To be ready when it was time. They wanted to support her, and her goal. They saw the same opportunity she did, and encouraged her through their positive feedback.


By the time judging wrapped up on Sunday evening, we’d heard nine pitches. 42 original attendees. 20 plus pitches. Nine teams. Nine potential future job creators in Bermuda.  While the judges met and attendees ate, we all got a sample of some great local food. After one of the closest crowd favorite votes I’ve seen , we announced the winners.

Third place went to Bermuda Hacks, an online repository and community for people new to the island, and for those familiar with it looking for something they’d yet to discover. Second place went to K.I.M.s List: a site for parents and kids to share and buy educational content.  A sponsor offered any team who could show $10k in revenue in the next six months iWatches. Then came first place. We shared Ms. Smith’s idea one last time at the event. But first, a little background:


The economic downturn hit the tiny nation of around 60,000 people hard. Due to the mergers and acquisitions taking place, Bermuda has seen their population shrink. Jobs were moving to cheaper ports in other parts of the world.  One positive result of these changes was an explosion of micro-entrepreneurship, particularly around food. As in other places, including Bermuda’s neighbor, there is a growing cottage food industry. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a cottage industry is one that involves the manufacture and sale of goods from a home.

Unfortunately, Bermudian homes tend to be small, and so the kitchens can’t support food businesses as they attempt to scale up or diversify their offerings. With only so much time in the day, and so much space to work with, these people were hungry for help. Ms. Smith wants to create that help. She wants to help her fellow entrepreneurs succeed. Like the other chefs who had joined her team.  And so she developed a pitch for a shared kitchen space: an innovation on Bermuda. While it’s a model that has worked elsewhere in the world, could it work in Bermuda? I hope Ms. Smith finds out.

It took a moment. The name popped up on screen: The Kitchen. A cheer went out, and my eyes searched for Ms. Smith.  But that wasn’t what surprised me when I found her. It was the look of shock. Before she realized she had won, she had the face of someone expecting ejection. Her idea, in her mind, had already failed. My idea and I weren’t picked. I’ve been there: it hurts.

Then came the tears. As her teammates cheered, she looked up, surprised. A hand went to her mouth, and she stood, already crying. She wasn’t the only one. The atmosphere was wonderful. Everyone she passed on her way to the stage was looking for a high-five or a hug. We all shared in the joy. It was, for lack of a better term, magical.


After cleaning up the venue, we met for the traditional after-party, and I got the chance to talk to Ms. Smith again. She reflected on the people who had inspired her to get up on stage. She hadn’t even made up her mind to pitch when she arrived on Friday evening. And here she was: The winner.

My advice to her was to hold on to the feeling: it won’t last. Darker and more difficult moments will come. My hope is that for her they’ll pass easy. Replaced with joy. Like the joy she felt on Sunday night as Bermuda’s first Startup Weekend came to a close. There was one more piece of advice I gave her: stay tenacious. Stick-to-it-iveness is important as an entrepreneur. Even in the hard times, you can’t let anything stand in your way. You can’t be afraid to be yourself. Even if that means sobbing in public.

I love making entrepreneurs cry.

And smile.


Originally published at:

Ethan Bagley

Ethan Bagley