Venturefest West Midlands 2023 – Diversity in Innovation and Enterprise

A year ago, the CRÈME/ NatWest report ‘A Time to Change’ concluded ethnic minority business contribution to the UK economy could increase four-fold with more encouragement, changes in perceptions, targeted support and fostering of inclusivity. If they reached their potential, ethnic minority businesses could contribute £100bn to the UK economy (£10bn in the region), so the potential prize is huge.

This session considered regional changes in policy and action since, and asks what more can be done, from the perspective of anchor institutions, the WM Combined Authority, corporates, and the entrepreneurial community itself.


Monder Ram, Professor of Small Business & Director of CREME, Aston Business School


Sukhdeep Nijjar, Senior Policy Advisor to the Mayor of the West Midlands

Sharniya Ferdinand, Diversity Equity and Inclusion Consultant, NatWest

Alex Cole, CEO Tin Ventures, WMCA Race Equality Taskforce Member

Monder set the scene by pointing out that the ten recommendations in the report have been widely accepted nationally and in the West Midlands region. There has been a strong drive to deliver the recommendations through co-creation and collaboration, so much of the year since it was published has focused on building consensus and buy in from organisations that can help to deliver, such as Be the Business, Innovate UK and the ten Metro Mayors, including Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands.

Monder welcomed the opportunity to discuss progress and next steps from the different perspectives of the panel, with an audience of innovators and entrepreneurs. He each of the panel to share their thoughts.

Sharniya emphasised the commitment of NatWest to supporting entrepreneurs and particularly promoting diversity in business, having sponsored both this report and the Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship. The value of the report is to win minds with data and win hearts with stories to get people talking about the challenges faced by ethnic minority entrepreneurs. It also provides baselines, from which to grow.

In the year since the report, NatWest has grown its own team around diversity, which has begun to collaborate with and grow community partnerships, such as Black Seed Ventures.

Sukhdeep started by pointing out that entrepreneurs from different cultures may have very different approaches, for example different attitudes to borrowing. The term ‘hard to reach communities’ is frequently used, but, she argued, no community is hard to reach if you ‘speak their language’, listen to their needs and help them to navigate support.

During the pandemic faith organisations in the West Midlands were worked with extensively by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). Building on these relationships could be a pathway to reaching entrepreneurs. But having reached them, the WMCA needs to adapt its funding, and UK Shared Prosperity funding, to community-led, local delivery working with the WMCA in a genuine hub and spoke model.

Alex agreed with the point about recognising the diversity of approaches and emphasised the importance of allowing business founders/ owners to be authentically themselves in term of approach and, importantly, purpose.

He also pointed out that vast amounts of potential economic benefit identified in the ‘Time to Change’ report would largely involve growing minority ethnic micro businesses to start employing one or two people. This may seem small but it is transformational for the businesses. Alex explained that the West Midlands Race Equality Task Force is therefore approaching policy development by looking at the data around the businesses that need to grow to understand what support is needed. It is clear part of the need is training people in digital, innovation and enterprise, and doing it in the community to get better engagement.

Audience discussion:

  • It is important to engage young people in community-based support, so there needs to be appropriate packaging of the offer, as young may not be as connected to community leaders. More talking about it in schools would help to encourage young minority ethnic people to see enterprise as an option.
  • Better representation in business support – this will come gradually with (sometimes uncomfortable) dialogue.

You can access speaker slides here.

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