In August, therapist Kelvin Fahie had just opened his addiction-counselling practice, A Place Where Healing Begins, in Road Reef. Thanks to last year’s Kickstart BVI Small Business Loan Programme, he was finally able to furnish a counselling office where his clients could have their privacy, and business was booming.

“I bought file cabinets, carpet, everything to make it more comfortable for clients,” he said. “A lot of clients I had … didn’t want to come to my office [at the clinic] to get treatment, so when they heard I was opening my own practice, the same month of the hurricane I was getting referrals.”

Now with his entire office flooded out after Hurricane Irma, he’s back at square one.

“Everything I bought [with the loan] got destroyed,” he said.

But UniteBVI — which operates the Kickstart programme — may come to the rescue again. This spring, the organisation will distribute microloans between $2,000 and $10,000.

Since 2013, when Sir Richard Branson and Google founder Larry Page began the project, it has been encouraging entrepreneurship in the region for those who might not otherwise receive loans. This time around, the microloans will be granted to those who were already in business when Hurricane Irma hit, and, like Mr. Fahie, may have lost equipment, had their buildings damaged or received other setbacks.

“There was no doubt in our minds that we were going to continue; we were just going to flex it slightly,” said Debbie Bell, manager of the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship Caribbean. “We want to target businesses who are giving back to the community; doing something innovative and are helping with the rebuild or creating jobs.”


A ‘positive environment’

Another previous recipient was Alex Dick-Read, who runs GroundSea Adventures out of a shop in Tortola Pier Park, where he offers tours to mangrove areas on Beef Island. The loan allowed him to buy kayaks, paddles and other essential equipment, for which he was grateful.

“It’s quite low level, but as a way to quite literally kickstart, ten thousand might make a difference to get yourself going,” he said. “I’m not a billionaire businessman here, but it’s helped me a lot.”

He especially valued the mentorship programme and the relationships he formed with other entrepreneurs, saying they helped him “look at things differently.”

“It’s a great group of people,” he said. “We’ve kept meeting, and that’s really nice to just have that expert advice to share with other local people who also got loans. It’s a very positive environment.”

Ms. Bell said that the mentorship aspect is one of the most important aspects of the programme. Many of mentors are global entrepreneurs inspired by Sir Richard.

“But we also use local entrepreneurs from the Caribbean who are inspired by other businesses they’ve seen abroad — and we are always looking for more mentors,” she said, adding that experienced local entrepreneurs interested in becoming mentors should contact her through the “Get Involved” page at



Mr. Dick-Read said that the hurricane wiped out many of the life jackets he stored on Beef Island. However, he hasn’t made a decision yet about whether to reapply, saying most of his clients have not yet returned to the territory.

“A lot of my business comes from holiday villas,” he said. “And those are almost nonexistent. I have enough resources right now to make it through this season.”

He would encourage others to apply, however, based on the positive experience he’s had.

“It’s been a real amazing bonus to see how helpful they are and how they kind of work through things with you and give you a hand,” he said. “It’s very useful to have another mind looking at your business.”

Mr. Fahie, meanwhile, said that he wants to stay in business, but that without an office, it would be a challenge. He considered setting up a mobile counseling centre, but his clients wouldn’t want the public exposure. For his work, confidentiality is essential.

“People need my services, but they won’t come into my [regular] office,” he said.

That means he’s going to “put aside pride and shame to do what I need to do” and reapply.

He’s told his landlord that he wants his space back, and hopes to get it in shape by April. “There are people calling me up … every day, asking me when I’m going to reopen,” he said. “They need my services.”