In September 2017, the Category 5 Hurricane Irma slammed into St. Barts in the Northeast Caribbean; pummeling the 8-square mile island with wind gusts up to 225 mph and causing incredible destruction.
Although St. Barts has a bit of a reputation for glitz and glamor, it’s not just a haven for the rich and famous. In reality, the island is made up largely of hard-working people who pour their hearts and souls into their small businesses.
The Swedish and French immigrants who settled the island soon realized that the island wasn’t big enough for agriculture and its port wasn’t suitable as a shipping hub, so they were forced to carve out a living by fishing and trading before tourists showed up.
I recently visited the island and can attest that their independent commercial streak survives today. The tremendous independence and determination of its people is the reason the island is surviving the impact of Irma.
Fortunately, no lives were lost, but the devastation of Irma spared no corner of the island and battered large hilltop villas and small local fisherman’s cottages alike. Roads, power, water, housing, commerce, transportation, and tourism were all destroyed
However, the spirit of the St. Barts people has remained strong and they immediately began to rebuild. You wouldn’t necessarily think of these individuals as entrepreneurs, but in fact, that is just what they are. They are showing great resiliency as they work hard in the aftermath of the disaster to restore the small businesses they had built with their own capital and often with their own hammer and nails.
As they struggle to come back from the catastrophe, they are clearly demonstrating three traits that healthcare technology investors and leaders need to possess when facing their own set of challenges to keep their business viable.
1. Adapt and be flexible
Sandrine, who runs a small retail shop, saved her inventory from Irma by moving it to higher ground and did the hard work of re-opening in time for the season, all while dealing with her destroyed home. Understanding the inevitability of what was about to happen, she quickly adapted and implemented appropriate plans to salvage what she could.
Entrepreneurs often run into unexpected difficulties. The ones who succeed learn how to make quick decisions and change course when necessary to adapt to changing market or business conditions.
2. Take the long view
Faced with the destructive impact of Irma, many individual owner operators risked their own capital while waiting for insurance funds to cover what it would and took the risky bet that tourists would return.
Those entrepreneurs stayed committed to their business proposition and to their employees ahead of any commercial evidence that people would come back to the island. Seeing the results of this amazing spirit of capitalism firsthand, I can say that none of these entrepreneurs are making a big return this season, but you get a clear sense that their investments will pay off over the mid to long-term.
Patience is truly a virtue when it comes to starting and running a business. The healthcare industry, in particular, features long approval lead times and other frustrating delays. It’s not always easy, but true entrepreneurs understand that success often takes time and they must remain committed to the long term.
St. Barts has no hotel chains, restaurant brands, or large commercial stores to fund the rebuild. Instead, what it has are individual shop keepers, restaurant owners, hoteliers and businesspeople who have invested their own blood, sweat, and tears into fighting back. People like Catherine and her team who repaired their small hotel’s broken cottage roofs and facilities; and Jean Marc who rebuilt his bar/restaurant and took the opportunity to renovate with his own hands to make his business better than it was before.
Problems often come up in any business. Successful entrepreneurs stand and face the difficulties and do what is necessary to overcome them. That is the only way to grow and prosper in a tough business environment.
The story of the comeback of St. Barts illustrates the power and impact of the human spirit and the determination of entrepreneurs who bet completely on themselves and put their own capital at risk to do big things. No amount of government intervention could have come close to creating the positive change these dedicated entrepreneurs have driven on a very personal basis. Regardless of your business size, market, or geography, the lesson of St. Barts is that success as an entrepreneur means facing problems and coming up with creative ways to solve them.
If you have feedback, questions or best practices you would like to share; we would love to hear from you. Share your experience in the comments below, or contact us to learn more.