NEW YORK (Sept. 15)-Caribbean business got a major fillip last week when the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in Montego Bay, Jamaica, was launched to harness the region’s entrepreneurial spirit and help create jobs.

The dynamic, creative British business mogul Sir Richard Branson opened the center, which is committed to capturing, inspiring and growing entrepreneurship in the Caribbean. The center will soon welcome its first group of 14 young entrepreneurs selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants.

The center is the first facility of its kind in the Caribbean and will be operated by Virgin Unite, the nonprofit foundation of Virgin Group, and lead business sponsor Virgin Holidays, one of Britain’s leading long-haul holiday companies.

“I’ve been so moved by the energy and drive from the entrepreneurs I have seen today. While the center will be a resource, the true spirit will come from the Caribbean people who are taking bold steps to improve their communities and regenerate the economy,” said Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, at the ribbon cutting ceremony.

He asserted that the center is looking for more partners to help businesses grow, create job opportunities and inspire the next generation.

“The Caribbean is a special place, and one I am happy to call home. I’m thrilled we are all coming together to support the region,” Branson stated.

The Caribbean center follows the opening of the Branson Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2005. Over the next few years, the center plans to expand across the Caribbean.

The first group entering the Branson Centre program cited accounting services, networking opportunities and marketing advice as the areas in which they needed the greatest support. Through an incubator program, the businesses (and potentially hundreds more over the lifetime of the center) will be offered mentorship and access to financing opportunities to help drive growth. Skills training and practical coaching is expected to give the young entrepreneurs a platform for success.

“Our $3.5 million, 10-year commitment to this center reflects how seriously we take our responsibility to protect the people and places our customers enjoy in this region. I’ve always been struck by the energy of the Caribbean, and this fantastic center will harness that energy and make a tangible contribution to its future as a sustainable tourism destination,” said Amanda Wills, managing director of Virgin Holidays.