Business leaders from the Bristol region are mapping out an action plan to help more black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) entrepreneurs access funding and support.
At a virtual meeting hosted by BusinessLive and partner NatWest, the group discussed how the banking sector could address some of the most pressing issues facing BAME-led businesses.
BAME companies are being hit “particularly hard” by the coronavirus outbreak, according to new research by the Black South West Network (BSWN).
The report found the virus and social-distancing rules have exacerbated pre-existing socio-economic inequality in the region.
It also revealed cashflow and liquidity are the biggest problems for BAME business owners and the self-employed.
The meeting was hotsted by Matt Hatcher, NatWest’s director of commercial banking for the West of England and chair of the Greater Bristol sub-board.
The event was also attended by:
– Sharniya Ferdinand, business inclusion programme manager at NatWest
– Noel Davies, regional campaigns manager of NatWest
– Simon McNamara, head of NatWest’s BAME taskforce
– Kalpna Woolf, founder of Be on Board and 91 Ways to Build A Global City
– Sado Jirde, founder of the Black South West Network
– Cllr Asher Craig, deputy mayor of Bristol City Council
– Marti Burgess, corporate partner at Bevan Brittan, member of the West of England LEP and founder of Lakota
– Sandeep Roy, hi-growth specialist and champion of entrepreneurial diversity
Sado said: “Covid-19 has hit BAME businesses particularly hard and has highlighted the systematic inequality this group is facing.
“As we emerge from the crisis, we must ensure that our economic response reaches everyone equally and equitably.
“We really need to think about the new environment we are getting into and help businesses pivot and diversify.”
Asher pointed out the same discussions around inequality had been “going on for decades” and her daughter – a businesswoman – was still facing the same problems.
Marti agreed. She said: “Historically there has been a lack of understanding of where black business comes from.
“There has never been a support infrastructure around running a black business – and maybe if we had had that in place when we started [Lakota] we might not have made some of the mistakes we made.”
Asher said: “If you keep doing the same thing you are going to keep getting the same results. You have to turn things on its head.”
The group said BAME communities needed access to support, information and finance, and that the “perception gap” needed to be addressed.
It agreed on a number of action points that could be carried out by banks such as NatWest.
Kalpna said mentoring was “hugely important”, while Sandeep suggested a weekly drop-in mentor zone for young BAME entrepreneurs.
He said: “It would be a safe, encouraging environment where interested people can simply talk about their ideas and to others. Bank branches can be one place or possibly third-party places.”
Kalpna said: “The problem is there are people who don’t know what is available to them. It’s about making sure there is access to information for these communities.”
The group also said they wanted to see more BAME relationship advisors within banks.
“It shouldn’t be white-led intermediaries, but people of colour within the bank,” said Marti. “Banks also need to do more so people know what is available.”
The group also mooted the idea of banks “joining forces” with each other to help the BAME community – and said financial institutions “need to innovate” to address the lack of cultural awareness within financial institutions.
Matt said: “We need to be more ambitious [as a bank] – and to have the similar ambition we have for gender-led initiatives.”
Another idea suggested at the roundtable was to create a BAME accelerator.
Sandeep said: “The need for the moment is action. Else we will talk of the same thing next year, and year after. I am keen for Bristol to aspire to become the Diversity Business capital of Europe.”
Asher added: “We have known what the barriers are for a long time. Understanding and acting on those now is critical.”