USAID’s VEGA/BIZ+ offering SME support to run till end 2017

Originally published on September 15, 2015.

This article by Quintus Perera first appeared in Sri Lanka's The Sunday Times on September 13, 2015. Click here to view the article on their website.

Are you an owner of either a small or a medium scale enterprise with a plan for market orientation and to expand your enterprise? Whether expanding your business concern would provide opportunities for the community around you to increase their livelihood? Are you expecting any financial or technical assistance to realise the above vision and if the answer is ‘yes’, then VEGA/BIZ+ from USAID would consider assisting you.

The ‘Sri Lanka VEGA/BIZ+’ (Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance) scheme sponsored by the USAID is a programme to promote the economic growth in economically lagging district in Sri Lanka and reduce income disparity in those regions. BIZ+ promotes SMEs to rapidly expand or start operations in Eastern, Northern, North Central and Uva Provinces and create employment and income earning opportunities which will in turn increase the level of household incomes in the communities where the businesses operate.

Explaining the whole programme in a nutshell, Atul Keshap, US Ambassador indicated that BIZ+ is one of the most diverse and creative ways that the US helps boost job opportunities for Sri Lankans. He said that the programme is led by USAID and they participate with local entrepreneurs to strengthen private sector investment and improve the lives of people across Sri Lanka.

To acquire a clear insight of this scheme, the Business Times (BT) last week met Michael J Parr, USAID Implementing Partner, Chief of Party at his office in Colombo.

He said that they have called for applications for this SME Investment Partnerships and the last date to apply is September 30.

The applicant, he said should also contribute an equal share of the assistance pledged by BIZ+. The assistance ranges from Rs. 5 million to Rs. 60 million. He said that the BIZ+ is not a new programme and has been in operation since 2011 and now further extended to the end of 2017.

So far it has achieved a target of 4,600 and is expected to end up with 6,500 by 2017. He said that those entrepreneurs who have completed the programme have reached their employment and financial targets successfully. Mr. Parr said that BIZ+ would sign investment grant agreements with selected SMEs detailing what each party will contribute and how the business would improve its production volumes, profitability and management practices. He said that they would select investment partners through a two-step competitive process:

In the first step the interested business has to submit a Concept Note with a summary business plan explaining market opportunity, type and amount of investment capital required and the number of new employment opportunities that the business could generate. Step two is where BIZ+ would assess whether the applications comply with the eligibility requirements. A 4-person evaluation committee would review it and assess the viability of the business idea, verify whether the employment target can be achieved and score the Concept Notes against the criteria.

The attempt of BIZ+ in this exercise, according to Mr. Parr, is to increase the income of the families affected in the conflict by helping the SMEs. He said the programme is time tested with its own prior operational experience and providing them with financial and technological assistance they could achieve the desired purpose. BIZ+ would pay special attention to the SMEs which aims the domestic market.

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