SME Chamber

158,000 business enquiries, 75% linked to Covid-19 – Business 1st CEO

Business 1st was one of the frontline offices within Malta Enterprise during the past months, working tirelessly, at some points even 7 days a week, in order to help businesses to survive this crisis, The Malta Business Weekly was told.

Marika Tonna, Business 1st CEO, revealed the operation’s scale within the last year to support businesses across Malta and Gozo, particularly regarding the issuing of the Covid-19 wage supplement scheme. “We have experienced over 158,000 business enquiries, 75% of which were related to Covid-19” she added.

Tonna is no stranger to the sector, having worked in foreign direct investment at Malta Development Corporation, the predecessor of Malta Enterprise, and public sector consultancy, before returning to Malta Enterprise as COO in 2014 and ultimately taking the reins at Business 1st.

Business 1st serves as a one-stop-shop for small-medium enterprises and self-employed individuals, where they can find all the support and guidance they need to set up, under one roof.

Essentially located at the centre in Mriehel, one can receive guidance related to the services offered by Malta Enterprise and other government departments.  Today the CfR (VAT and Income Tax) offers all the services to business from B1st and the Malta Tourism Authority, and the Environmental Health Department have permanent representatives at Business 1st.

Other entities such as Business Enhance, Identity Malta, Jobs Plus, and Customs Department, had a weekly presence at B1st pre Covid-19, which will be reintroduced soon.

What is innovative in the service given at B1st is that clients are not sent from one department to another, even if the representatives are all under one roof –clients can have one holistic meeting with different entities at one go – in most cases by the end of their meeting they would have registered their business and been given all the information required to apply for any relevant government incentives.

The busy department is jointly run by Malta Enterprise and the Chamber of SMEs but also falls under the umbrella of It strives to streamline lengthy bureaucratic processes and paperwork trails. A massive digitalisation project is in the pipeline. “We have an ambitious project coming together as we speak. It involves us collaborating closely with over 30 other entities to transform our services to a one-stop online portal. Users will be able to access all the information and the services they need through a few quick questions which will signpost them accordingly without the need to repeat information.”

Tonna explained close collaboration with government departments was essential when it comes to the immense logistical operation of implementing the Covid-19 wage supplement scheme.  “Understandably given the scenario, we have had businesses right now in crisis, contacting us for advice on government measures to assist in these difficult times. Our staff has been effectively trained in managing such scenarios. However, I must say it hasn’t all been a negative picture over Covid-19. We have had many clients come to us looking to set up a business,” she said.

“For many, time off work has given individuals time to pursue a dream they have always wanted to bring to light; for others circumstances forced them to go it alone or think out of the box. It’s been amazing to see how creative some people are and incredibly resilient. What’s more, we must not neglect some sectors have done well, despite the pandemic such as home renovation and self-care businesses.”


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