By Claire West

Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group will launch a Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in the Caribbean in the first half of 2011. Virgin Holidays is the primary funder of the Centre. More funders are being welcomed to come on board. The Centre will support aspiring entrepreneurs aged 18 - 35 years old, in the creation and growth of small businesses in the Caribbean.

The Centre will offer practical business skills, access to coaches, mentors and financing opportunities. It aims to act as a hub to support the development of small, and growing businesses and create jobs in the region with an emphasis on sustainable tourism related businesses.

With £2 million committed from Virgin Holidays over the next decade, Virgin Holidays is the lead business sponsor from the Virgin Group.

Amanda Wills, Managing Director of Virgin Holidays comments: “We believe every business has the potential to be a force for good. With this Centre we are once more leading the travel industry in showing how it can do more for the communities and countries in which it operates.

“Virgin Holidays has been committed to responsible tourism principles for many years and central to that is giving something back to the destinations that support our business. This centre is evidence of our commitment to the long term economic sustainability of one our most important markets. We will support the Caribbean’s primary industry and contribute to the maintenance of its cultural identity by encouraging the creation and growth of indigenous businesses.

“As a Virgin Company, entrepreneurial spirit is one of our core values so it is only right that we support an initiative that promotes it in others and contributes to the future of the region.”

In addition to the initial funding from Virgin Holidays, Virgin Unite and the Centre’s management team are seeking the support of both individuals and organisations with an interest in nurturing the next generation of business leaders in one of the world’s most exciting tourism regions. The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship will be based in Montego Bay with a number of smaller satellite virtual ‘Chapters’ throughout the Caribbean, developed on a bespoke basis as funders come on board. Interest parties can find out more by visiting www.bransoncentre.org.

Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, said: “I have always loved the Caribbean and we’ve been sending people on holiday there for many years now. We hope the Centre will inspire young entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and create opportunities for future generations. I’m excited to work with a group of visionary leaders to ensure that we can support as many young entrepreneurs as possible. Please get in touch with the team if you are interested in joining me in this exciting new opportunity”.

Successful Jamaican entrepreneur Patrick Casserly will lead the Centre as the Interim Chairman. Best known for his pioneering call centre and back-office processing company e-Services Group International, Casserly, who sold the multi-million pound business in March 2009, is keen to impart his insight into creating new business models. Casserly said, “I believe that the Caribbean has a rich pool of talent and the Centre is going to be the launch pad for a new generation of business leaders to emerge and thrive.”

The first Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship was launched in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2006, and has seen an array of successful businesses funded, thrive and grow. Theses range from IT, fashion designers, and a bespoke uniform supplier to small hotels to a gaming business that equips young people with computer skills, as well as providing a safe environment for them to play the latest video games. These businesses have created jobs in their local communities and inspired a new generation of entrepreneurs.