Unlocking the Potential of Black and Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurs

Black and ethnic minority entrepreneurs bring unique ideas and skills to the UK entrepreneurial ecosystem and make a significant contribution to UK PLC, on a par with cities like Birmingham and industries like pharmaceuticals. They also offer social value by providing jobs in neglected areas and refuge for excluded communities.

Introducing the topic of this CIMR Debate in Public Policy, Professor Monder Ram OBE, Director of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME), reminded delegates of the significant barriers faced by Black and ethnic minority entrepreneurs, many of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Calling for collaboration across the public and private sector to find solutions, Monder invited our expert panel to share insights into the lived experience of Black entrepreneurs and what is being done by government, business and researchers to address inequality in entrepreneurship.

The context in government: update from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Business Owners

Kicking off the discussion, Diana Chrouch, Special Advisor to the APPG for BAME Business Owners, provided an update on the group’s activity and highlighted some of the key challenges at grassroots level.

Over the past year, the APPG has looked at a range of issues, including access to finance, loans, business bank accounts, investment capital and has worked in collaboration with the banking sector to find solutions to the barriers that business owners face. Diana commented that providers do not always offer tailored support services and that business support networks are not always “as inclusive as they could be”. She warned that, without access to data and the everyday experience of businesses led by ethnic minority people, policymakers were often working blind to solve the problem.

A mixed picture of support in the UK

Professor Helen Lawton Smith, Director of the CIMR, shared findings from ongoing research into diversity and inclusion in innovation. Helen’s interest lies specifically in the regional disparities in support available for entrepreneurs. In particular, the research team found a lack of dedicated activity for ethnically diverse women entrepreneurs, excepting some good examples in London and Scotland.

Helen is now undertaking an engaged scholarship approach to addressing inequality in innovation which looks at best practice across the country and maps regional networks. She stressed the need for people to come together and establish sustainable networks for diverse voices to be heard. For policy to be successful, the government needs to take into consideration the differences arising through space and gender.

The unique contribution of Black and ethnic minority entrepreneurs and their greatest challenge

Jabo Butera, Co-Founder and Managing Director of the Diversity Business Incubator (DBI) in Plymouth spoke to both the opportunities and barriers for ethnic minority entrepreneurs. The ethos of the DBI is to tap into the value that individuals bring to UK business through their unique perspective and cultural heritage.

Continuing the theme of regional disparities, Jabo noted that there are fewer Black individuals in Plymouth compared to more diverse cities like Birmingham or London and that access to finance and capital investment is poor. Black and ethnic minority entrepreneurs may not have the luxury of ‘failing small’ and falling back on support from family, so equal access to finance is essential.

Breaking the cycle: case study from NatWest

Our final presenter, Sharniya Ferdinand, Enterprise Manager at NatWest Group, gave insight into how banks can be part of the solution to addressing inequality in entrepreneurship.

NatWest’s enterprise team aims to create 50,000 new businesses across the UK by 2023. The team runs an accelerator programme with hubs in most major UK cities and 26% of the businesses they are currently supporting are run by BAME entrepreneurs.

Last year, NatWest’s CEO set up the racial equality taskforce, which aims to understand the lived experience of Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues. The Bank laid out its commitment towards better racial equality for colleagues, customers and communities in the report ‘Banking on Equality’ and is now taking stock of progress one year on.

Discussion: challenges and opportunities

The presentations were followed by discussion from Brenda King, Rapporteur on Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship at the European Economic and Social Committee, Yemi Jackson, CEO and Founder of Engage Transform, and Kimberley Mamhende, Business Development Manager at the Centre for African Entrepreneurship.

The discussants overwhelmingly agreed with presenters that the key issue was financial capital, as Yemi explained: “Lots of people want to teach us, but what we need is more business!” She suggested that organisations could give trials to new entrepreneurs to support growth.

The discussants were also in agreement on the need to drill down further beneath the ‘BAME’ umbrella. Brenda questioned how the data might differ for Black and Asian entrepreneurs, while Kimberley highlighted the need to consider refugee entrepreneurs separately, as they will face more challenges than BAME individuals who have been brought up in the UK.

Questions from the audience focused on how government schemes can be made truly accessible to all, notably via the new BEIS Industrial Strategy and the Help to Grow scheme.

Ensuring access to the best available data via links with universities was highlighted, as was the need to take decisive action, as Kimberley concluded: “Talking is well and good, but what are we doing, what are the next steps that we are taking to achieve this? … Let’s continue working together and take it a step further.”

A video recording of the workshop is available here.

Here is a short video with Diana Crouch about the All Party Parliamentary Group for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Business Owners.