Guests at the Forge opening ceremony last week check out interactive displays showcasing the event space. (Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

An entrepreneur presents a pitch video to investors from all over the world. A big-screen television shows a football game while bartenders serve cocktails.

Wedding guests clink crystal glasses together, and a girl and her friends eat cupcakes to celebrate her turning 6 years old.

And it can all happen in the same room.

Three years after the founders of the Forge conceived the two-storey entrepreneurial and event space, it opened on Feb. 10 in the R&R Malone Complex in Pockwood Pond, where interactive displays showcased all of its possibilities.

“It’s a platform that we’ve established,” said Meade Malone, CEO and managing director of the venture. “And it’s there to do events and training, but it’s also to be a gathering place where entrepreneurs can come together and share ideas to change the world.”

Mr. Malone and Forge Chairman Curt Richardson, founder of Colorado-based Otterbox and owner of Little Thatch Island, first conceived the Forge as a small co-working space in the Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park, and it was on the verge of opening in 2017.

Hurricane Irma, however, had other plans.

“We had completed it. We hadn’t opened it,” Mr. Malone said during his opening remarks, after which he led guests upstairs and through each section of the space. “

“After Hurricane Irma, we went up to Colorado again and did another strategy [session]. And out of that strategy, what we decided to do was to basically preserve the Forge and its future by looking at it as a platform [where] persons can come and do what they need to do.”

Entrepreneurs

Chad Lettsome, founder of financial technology company Ching, is already a veteran of pitch competitions, and won the Present Your Startup Competition Caribbean in 2018. He’s one of the half dozen young entrepreneurs who already have found a space at Forge.

“They give you lots of business skills,” he said during the launch. “I personally had the opportunity to get legal advice, to have business meetings with them to make sure the pricing is on point, to make sure you’re targeting the right audience. They have training and seminars, with accounting skills to account for your business that put you on a stage and give you an opportunity.”

Under the Forge model, entrepreneurs have options to either collaborate with colleagues in person or work remotely. The recent pandemic, and the hurricanes before that, have underscored that need for flexibility,

Mr. Richardson explained. “A forge is in many ways a brutal and tough thing that makes a steel heart,” he said. “Two fires and a hurricane, … but the Forge came through it, and it forced its way. And now as we approach living through a pandemic for almost a year, we hope more than ever this space could be a place that brings people together with ideas — or maybe just a wedding or maybe just time together, because that’s really what we need right now as a community.”

As pandemic restrictions have encouraged more people to work digitally and remotely, he added, he expects a bigger market for entrepreneurs flocking to places like the Virgin Islands, where technology can allow them to have a global reach.

‘Purely digital’

Guest speaker Lisa Lou, CEO of Bank of Asia, explained how the bank serves as an example of this concept.

“We’re a purely digital bank here in the BVI, but we service the clients worldwide,” she said. “So thinking about that, there’s all this digitalisation, and the opportunity for islands like this where we are.”

Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said recent legislative developments make the project especially timely.

Guests at the Forge opening ceremony last week check out interactive displays showcasing the event space. (Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

“We have legislation that says that we have to demonstrate substance: Our companies which are tax resident have to demonstrate substance right here i the Virgin Islands,” Dr. Wheatley said. “And one way that you can demonstrate substance is by having your conference meet here in the Virgin Islands. … We have to see how we can see the opportunities.”

At its core, Mr. Malone said, the Forge is attempting to find people “who are passionate” about their area of interest.

“Get them together, you can train them, give them direction and see what emerges out of that,” he said.


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