This month, Black South West Network (BSWN) supported by partners launched a Network to aid the development of effective networking, collaboration and innovation amongst BAME entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs in response to the findings of its research as part of 2018 Summer of Research Programme

BSWN’s 6-months research project begins to map the BAME business community in Bristol in order to understand the barriers to growth and sustainability that it faces.

Among the main barriers identified most frequently was the lack of information and support when accessing finance and dealing with bureaucracy. The supporting infrastructure already in place to aid new and old entrepreneurs to navigate the challenges of business development was deemed inefficient and, in some cases, discriminatory.

Barriers in the forms of negative stereotyping, as well as conscious and unconscious biases, was overwhelmingly identified as the most significant barrier to BAME business development. As one of the participants to the research commented, “Social networks definitely are an issue in terms of success and it’s much harder to access those opportunities that exist in White middle-class networks if you are Black.”

The research also highlighted the strengths of the BAME sector, namely innovation and resilience. Among the largest and most promising business sectors within the BAME community are Food Services and Creative Industries and identified areas for future growth such as Information Technology and Construction.

Regarding the Network Launch, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, added “Having the opportunities and spaces in which to come together to discuss business issues, develop collaborations, hear of new opportunities, and exchange ideas are the life-blood of a thriving business community. Developing networking opportunities for BME business leaders in Bristol is an essential step forward in our drive to create a vibrant and inclusive economy and a city in which nobody is left behind.”

On the research, Regional Mayor, Tim Bowles, said, “The West of England has a flourishing and vibrant economy with BAME businesses and entrepreneurs playing an important part in the economic growth of the region. However, I recognise the barriers faced by BAME communities and the points raised in this report will play a part in my thinking going forward. I will continue to support the efforts of the BSWN to understand the needs of communities in the region and look forward to further discussions.”

The event itself was a vibrant forum for discussion, two panels addressed the issues raised in the research both were chaired by Mohammed Saddiq, Managing Director of GENeco and fellow of the Institue of Chemical Engineers. The first saw Martino Burgess of the LEP, Sado Jirde BSWN and Councilor Hibaq Jama discuss the findings in the research, and where the region can focus its attention to address the issues – including the creation of a dedicated hub for BAME founders and entrepreneurs.

The second speaker panel saw Vincent Baidoo of South Blessed, Bobbi O’Gilvie owner and creative director at Read To Blog Designs and Kalpna Woolf CEO of BeOnBoard speak about their own personal experiences within industry, including a vigorous question and answer session from which several of the panellists stressed the importance of young BAME people embracing tech as it begins to shape all other industries – as well as the need for the tech industry to embrace them.

Bobbi O’Gilvie gave us her thoughts on the importance of the network, and creating a functioning infrastructure for BAME people in the region, “representation matters. For young people coming up in tech in Bristol, the UK, and internationally, it’s vital that there are examples, support, and infrastructure that can help them in their endeavours and serve as a navigation system when obstacles arise. Networks are crucial and sharing experience and knowledge are keys to success in any industry but I believe that in tech, specifically, the community can benefit in profound ways from having a dedicated space to share ideas, connections, and goals.”

Several networks from the region exist to support BAME people in the region, as well as BSWN, you can find POC Tech on meetup, the Black Professional Network on Facebook and the national network UK Black Tech. Of course, there’s also TechSPARK’s own SHIFT Programme which is currently accepting applications for its second cohort.

Geraint Evans