Diversity in Entrepreneurship – improving support for disabled and BAME innovators

Disabled and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people are under-represented in business innovation.  Innovate UK, the UK government’s innovation agency, commissioned the Innovation Caucus to undertake an eight month project (Jan 2019-August 2019) to understand barriers and opportunities for innovation for a diverse range of people.  The Innovation Caucus project was conducted by researchers at Birkbeck, Nottingham and Sheffield. It involved stakeholder engagement with bodies interested in addressing barriers to innovation in the two groups, with a subsequent survey and focus groups. These activities aimed to support the design of new initiatives to increase opportunities within the two groups, while recognising the importance of intersectionality and the diversity of social groupings.

A survey of 2457 disabled and BAME people was commissioned from YouGov in order to strengthen the evidence base and identify gaps.  The survey identified very little awareness and current use of business support. Between May and August 2019, six focus groups were held in order to gain in-depth understanding of support needs. A total of 15 participants (5 females; 10 males) took part in the focus groups for people with disabilities and 16 participants (5 males; 11 females) took part in the ethnic minorities’ focus groups.

The study highlighted that categories such as age, gender and social status intersect with ethnicity and disabilities to create multiple challenges for the individuals.  Strategies to overcome barriers involved either the development of personal capabilities/competencies, or drawing on external opportunities.  Support needs focused on those that could be viewed as supporting the individual’s/communities ability to navigate the system, and those that were useful for transforming the established systems/power structures.  While policy initiatives targeting under-represented groups may be necessary, they are not sufficient.  Instead, a hybrid approach is suggested that includes targeted initiatives but one that also ensures that equality, diversity and inclusivity are viewed as an integral part of, and are embedded into, the development and outcomes of all mainstream programmes.  Such an approach also calls for greater collaboration across different government sectors as well as increased partnerships with within each group of people.

Study team: Tom Coogan, Beldina Owalla, Helen Lawton Smith and Katy Wing