Time to change? A new agenda for ethnic minority entrepreneurship 

Professor Monder Ram OBE, a Fellow of The Lunar Society, is the Director of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME) that this month holds its Annual Conference to which Lunar Society members are invited (see event listings). He is a leading authority on small business and ethnic minority entrepreneurship research and has published widely on the subject and has extensive experience of working in and acting as a consultant to small and ethnic minority businesses. He is a regular keynote speaker at international conferences and advises the government.

Ethnic minority businesses (EMBs) play a vital role in economy, yet rarely do they receive the recognition they deserve. We will need the entrepreneurial qualities of diverse communities in the post-Brexit and post Covid-19 era. Action is required to encourage the and support the creativity and talent in the richly diverse West Midlands region

Recognising the contribution of ethnic minority businesses is an important first step. My colleagues and I at the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME) recently completed the largest study on the topic ever undertaken in the UK. We found that contributed £25 billion in 2018 to the UK economy. That’s equivalent to the city of Birmingham or vital sectors like the chemical industry. EMBs also make a vital social contribution, as we have seen in the heroic efforts of local retailers to support vulnerable communities in the pandemic’s height.

The perception of EMBs as predominantly struggling firms in low value-added sectors also needs to change. Our study found that their ethnic minority entrepreneurs are more innovative, growth-minded, and export-oriented than their counterparts. We will need these qualities in the post-Covid era and as British firms pursue markets overseas in the wake of Brexit.

Yet there are challenges too. A recent report by the British Business Bank found that EMBs face systemic disadvantage and often struggle to secure the finance they need. Our study also noted that EMBs are overly reliant on informal networks and not fully engaged with the ‘mainstream’ business support sources. We found plenty of examples of this disengagement in our work with local businesses and community organisations during the pandemic. Government support schemes often failed to reach EMBs.

Creativity, resilience, and entrepreneurialism will be vital to Government’s aspiration of ‘building back better’. Ethnic minority communities have always possessed these qualities. It’s time they were brought t into the light and placed at the heart of debates on the ‘new normal’.

Monder Ram