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Mind how you go - enterprise in disadvantaged communities

Surveys show that the aspiration to set up one’s own business is consistently higher amongst ethnic minority groups compared to white people. Furthermore, new migrant communities, whilst facing some challenges, are also showing a promising tendency towards entrepreneurship according to a new report. Business and social enterprise support schemes are thus important to support enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Of course, as most race equality campaigners and development specialist know, the mere presence of schemes does not generate fair and equitable access. This has to be worked on - and there are wider challenges that go beyond access issues. Strategic challenges remain because many black and ethnic minority groups are concentrated in disadvantaged areas, which generate their own constraints. Although dispersal from inner city areas is growing many BME communities still live in relatively less prosperous areas. And such areas tend to consistently display lower levels of actual enterprise and entrepreneurship compared to prosperous areas.

Harnessing higher levels of entrepreneurship requires both direct and indirect barriers to be addressed. The former, for example, in terms of generating self-belief and know-how amongst local communities and the later in terms of providing access to finance and premises, boosting the reputation of areas and putting in place long-term regeneration plans. Yet, with the demise of mass area-based initiatives, many local communities are becoming much more dependent on enterprise to create opportunities for local people and stimulate community change.

But risks remain if small scale projects end up generating low-quality entrepreneurship. I can hear some arguing that even low-quality entrepreneurship may be better than the poor quality jobs, being locked out of certain job markets or prospects of unemployment.

Generating low-quality entrepreneurship need not be the default option for disadvantaged communities. We, for example, now know more about what factors explain differences in BME enterprise performance. According to Ram money, management and sectors go a considerable way to explaining these differences.

At the recent launch of BTEG’s Opening Doors Network Enterprise Programme, aimed at young adults aged 18 to 30, delegates also identified a number of other issues we need to be mindful of:

  • When it comes to sectors, we shouldn’t get seduced purely by technology. Young BME entrepreneurs are now creating new starts up in a wide range of industries.

  • And in a connected world, building social capital needs to be integral to any approach

  • There is a need to focus on up-stream enterprise education but the emphasis should be on inspiring entrepreneurship not simply providing employability skills

  • When trying to rejuvenate high streets, ‘pop-up’ premises can help create space for testing new ideas and provide start-up premises - but these only work if set within a wider regeneration plan for the area.

Armed with a broader and richer picture, we should be in a better position to encourage higher quality entrepreneurship in disadvantaged communities.

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