The Global Entrepreneurship Network would like to recognize Michelle N. Samuel, our new Startup Huddle Ambassador based in St. Lucia, for her leadership and mentorship of startup ecosystem builders across the Caribbean. Startup Huddle would not be possible without the dedication and commitment of our ambassadors in guiding organizers as they launch chapters to build and strengthen their local entrepreneurial ecosystems.
What is your background? How did you get started?
I am a woman of faith, a devoted mother, and an advocate for change. I grew up in a single-parent home raised by my mother, a skilled and educated teacher, and attended the Leon Hess Comprehensive Secondary School. I am also a proud graduate of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College in St. Lucia.
With more than 15 years of experience in Customer Service & Sales, three years in banking, eight months in Real Estate, and three months as a radio co-host, my interdisciplinary background led me to entrepreneurship.
Growing up, I constantly saw things that needed to be mended, fixed, adjusted, and changed. I was not a woman who would stand idly by if I saw someone fail. While others would simply stand around muttering under bated breath, awaiting disaster, I was always compelled to do more. My commitment to social change and community building is grounded in my values for responsibility and action.
What inspired you to start a Startup Huddle in your community?
As an entrepreneur, my quest to evoke change didn’t waiver. In 2017, I founded SLUDTERA, a platform of programs and initiatives created by me and my community. This was my contribution to society to address the high unemployment rate on our island. Our goal was to support young people, the unemployed, and entrepreneurs. I was also on a mission to help these individuals realize that they were not alone and could change their lives.
I was chosen to represent St. Lucia in a five-week Fellowship called the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative Program (YLAI), which was an extremely enlightening program that provided me with the opportunity to connect with key leaders and change-makers across the Americas.
I can translate it to a moth living its life thinking that the light bulb it’s hovering around is the furthest it can get, only to discover how vastly unexplored its surroundings have been, and that the world’s biggest light source is the sun. So in an ambitious effort of guts and grit, with faith, it ventures out to learn all it can in order to come back to the other moths desperately trying to get a turn to hover around the light bulb.
I worked closely with Daniel Smith, the Equal Opportunity Manager at the Full Employment Council (FEC) main office, in Kansas City, Missouri. Thanks to Daniel’s networking and outreach activities, My resource pool grew by leaps and bounds. I attended 1 Million Cups at the Kauffman center every Wednesday with him and I met several people who I am still in touch with today. These connections would serve a very intrinsic purpose in my organization, and for the people that this organization exists to assist. The environment of support and sharing was just amazing and I wanted to bring this same environment back to St. Lucia.
What are some unique characteristics – either strengths or weaknesses – of your local startup ecosystem?
Strengths? A lot of untapped potential. We are very passionate about what we do especially with regards to the Art and the Creative Industry.
Weaknesses? Many people are unaware of the opportunities that exist; people don't always lend support to others who are younger than them, when it comes to business; and there is no connective tissue holding the startup community together. It’s also difficult to get any financial or government support for initiatives, programs, and businesses.
How has Startup Huddle helped leverage these strengths and address these challenges?
The program provides entrepreneurs with support in operating their businesses locally. Furthermore, it also introduces the possibility of going global. People who attend the Huddle sessions always leave learning something new.
What do you hope to accomplish in your new role as a Startup Huddle Ambassador?
I hope to encourage other organizations to start Huddle chapters across the Caribbean and Latin America. We need to have stronger avenues for professional, cultural, and educational exchange across borders. So much can be learned from managing a Huddle chapter. Startup Huddles create space for local entrepreneurial communities to find and help one another. Each country or island needs this type of environment for startups to continue to grow, thrive, and make valuable contributions to the economy.
Can you share an example of how Startup Huddle has had a positive impact on a specific entrepreneur or company in your community?
An Entrepreneur by the name of Trudy Popo-Leonce attended a Startup Huddle St. Lucia event in July and decided to apply to present her startup in August. She also joined our Startup Huddle St. Lucia team as an organizer to lead PR efforts. Since then, she’s been promoted to become a Marketing Manager. One of the highlights of her engagement in Startup Huddle was learning about the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative during the community announcements. The program is a merit-based competition for budding entrepreneurs between the ages of 25 and 35 in Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada. This prestigious exchange program empowers entrepreneurs and innovative civil society leaders through month-long placements in U.S. businesses, strengthening their capacity to launch and advance their entrepreneurial ideas and effectively contribute to social and economic development in their communities. Trudy decided to apply and was selected as a semi finalist and then made it to the finals. This year, she will represent her company Exotic Cuisine SLU, St. Lucia, as one of 280 Entrepreneurs from the region who will travel to the United States for a six-week fellowship.
Trudy’s story is just one of the many success stories we’ve had with Startup Huddle St. Lucia so far. I’m proud of our progress so far and look forward to working with aligned community partners, sponsors, and change-makers in building more vibrant entrepreneurial communities in St. Lucia and beyond.