Black business owners in Birmingham have spoken about their experiences and what society can do to better champion their potential during a roundtable hosted by the NatWest Accelerator.
Sharing their experiences of launching a business as a black entrepreneur, the panel highlighted some of the challenges they faced compared to their white counterparts – including a lack of relatable role models and mentors, socio-economic inequalities, difficulty in accessing finance and the importance of cultural intelligence.
Kameese Davis, founder and CEO of Nylahs Naturals, shared the difficulties she had in securing funding at the early stages of her business.
She said: “In my experience, I found that because investors were unaware of products and services specifically created for black people’s needs, they were also unaware of the opportunity they can present.
“My business offers an award-winning hair care solution to people with afro hair, and although this covers a huge market in the UK, investors had no idea of the potential in my product offering.
“By becoming more educated in the demands of non-white communities, investors can unlock new opportunities and markets they never knew existed.”
The roundtable discussion also covered the need for systematic change in the business market – with a clear lack of governance over diversity, businesses and organisations need to be more accountable.
Joel Blake OBE, founder and CEO of The GFA Exchange which organised the recent black Business Live event in partnership with NatWest to celebrate black-led businesses, said: “No matter what your background, becoming an entrepreneur has its own set of challenges and research shows that 90 per cent of new businesses will fail within the first five years. But being a black entrepreneur comes with its own unique set of challenges.
“I believe as a black person, we are attuned to work twice as hard to secure things like backing and investor support, and while this can mean things might take a little longer, it also means that we become more resilient and focused in the process, which is an advantage in business.
“I believe that our race is not as a blocker, but as a positive force that makes us stronger.”
The participants also said having the right network in place is needed for entrepreneurs to succeed.
Drew Currie, founder and CEO of Vitabonna, said: “It’s crucial that we support entrepreneurs from all backgrounds, particularly those who may not be accessing existing support networks. I’m not worried about those in the NatWest hub or other programmes as they have that drive to succeed within them by being there, but we need to enable others to succeed.”
Lenah Odour, founder of gHawk Accounting, added: “Accountability has been incredibly important to my success and I think that is something more entrepreneurs need. I’ve had that through the hub but also through the wider network and I think that’s something other entrepreneurs need. Also, the network has been invaluable as I’ve gotten people to help with specific areas of my business while also adding value to other businesses through skills and experience.”
The Black Entrepreneur Roundtable was hosted by NatWest and Pam Sheemar, entrepreneur development manager at the bank’s Accelerator hub in Birmingham.
Last month, NatWest pledged to boost the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff in senior roles from one per cent to three per cent, as part of a new racial equality commitment that also includes shutting the accounts of customers who racially abuse its workers.
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Following the death of George Floyd this summer, the bank created a colleague-led taskforce to make recommendations on how the bank can better support black, Asian and minority ethnic-led colleagues and customers – including delivering enterprise and career education programmes to BAME communities in the UK.
Pam said: “Having supported entrepreneurs from all backgrounds as part of NatWest Birmingham Accelerator Hub, I’ve seen first-hand the differences people from the black community encounter.
“The roundtable has really helped us to understand these differences, this will help us at the Accelerator hub better support black-led businesses.”