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Unlocking inclusive support is key to driving small business growth

6 min read Partner content

Starting a small business is tough, and founders need help to succeed. PoliticsHome considers how Mastercard’s Strive UK programme is supporting entrepreneurs across the UK in building their capabilities and resilience, enabling them to not only grow but thrive.

The story of every successful business begins somewhere. Many of the nation’s largest and most celebrated companies started with the vision, drive and determination of a single person.

But starting and building a business is far from easy, and this difficulty is further amplified for female founders and those from minority ethnic backgrounds who face disproportionate barriers such as access to external finance, business skills, expertise, relevant business advice and networks1.

Rushanara Ali MP, who holds the Labour portfolio for investment and small business, told PoliticsHome that a failure to support female and ethnic minority business owners will result in the nation missing out on economic growth.

“To build Britain’s productive capacity we must tap into the latent talents, ideas, energy and skills of everyone, everywhere in the UK,” Ali explained to PoliticsHome. “We cannot hold people back from realising their potential because of their background, circumstances or gender,” Ali explained.

Off-the-shelf business support is not able to meet the unique needs of every entrepreneur. That is why, since 2021, Mastercard’s Strive UK programme has been working with partners to deliver tailored support to help small businesses grow.

Through Strive UK’s partners – Be the Business, Digital Boost and Enterprise Nation – small business owners can access free training and targeted advice to tackle a range of business challenges. To date, the programme has reached one million small and micro businesses, over half of which are run by women.

“We know some founders face specific challenges when it comes to establishing and growing a business,” Caroline Nokes MP, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, told PoliticsHome. “It is good to see companies like Mastercard listening to female and ethnic minority business founders to understand and address the barriers that they face.”

Kelly Devine, UK and Ireland President at Mastercard, is pleased to see MPs from all parties championing the issue of inclusive business support. Devine believes that if we fail to support all small business founders, the United Kingdom as a whole will pay the price. “Accessing the right support at the right time is critical for micro and small businesses,” she says. ‘If that support is not available those businesses, the economy and consumers will all miss out.”

Diana Chrouch OBE, a special advisor to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Ethnic Minority Business Owners, shares Devine’s view that the current provision does not always meet the needs of all communities. She believes that new approaches are needed if we are to successfully address the systemic challenges that some businesses face.

“The traditional one-size-fits-all economic approach has consistently failed to deliver the targeted financial investment, business support and access to market opportunities that ethnic minority businesses need,” Chrouch explains.

“To build Britain’s productive capacity we must tap into the latent talents, ideas, energy and skills of everyone, everywhere in the UK.”

–Rushanara Ali MP

Strive UK partners are already delivering tailored advice and support, such as in-depth boards and mentorship schemes targeted specifically at minority ethnic founders. This helps founders access the guidance, support and networks that can help them grow their business.

However, Devine believes that more can be done by government and private sector partners to create new opportunities for female-founded and ethnic minority-led businesses. For example, she would like to see female-founded businesses benefitting from a dedicated enterprise investment scheme and specific trade missions.

Devine argues that new approaches like these must start with better data collection to help understand the size and scale of the challenge. It is a view shared by Sarah Olney MP, who co-chairs the APPG for Ethnic Minority Business Owners. “The APPG for Ethnic Minority Business Owners has long called for better data collection on this issue,” Olney told PoliticsHome.

“This would allow the government to develop better, targeted policies to help tackle inequality and support a more inclusive environment for businesses to thrive.” That data collection, particularly at the point at which a business registers with Companies House, could be the foundation for private, public, and third sector partners to work collaboratively to connect entrepreneurs with support that can help their businesses grow.

Such cross-sector partnerships will be critical if we are to connect entrepreneurs to organisations that are already offering solutions that can address the gaps in provision.

“No organisation, whether it is Mastercard or government, can ever know all of the answers,” Devine says. “That is why it is vital to identify organisations that already know and work with female and ethnic minority business owners, and partner with them to expand the reach of existing solutions and to create new ones.”

Small and micro businesses are key drivers of economic growth and everyone who aspires to build their own business deserves high-quality support.

Putting that support in place will both help those businesses and benefit the UK as a whole, creating jobs, providing new products and services, and boosting productivity across our economy.

How Mastercard’s Strive UK programme helped Boat People Sauce

One company that has benefited from the support provided by Strive UK is Vietnamese food business Boat People Sauce.

Company founder, Caitlin La, told PoliticsHome that the advice she received from Strive UK partner Enterprise Nation not only provided practical advice on how to run a business but also gave her the confidence to keep going.

“I came across Enterprise Nation and Strive UK at the perfect time, especially when I was trying to transfer this hobby into an actual business,” La explains. “Coming from a legal background, I understood how regulations work for setting up companies. However, there were areas like social media, content creating, accounts – those are the things that I was never familiar with.”

La’s inspiration for starting the business was the story of her grandparents and their cooking. Boat People Sauce is now growing its sales channels and expanding its product range. She believes that the tailored support she received from Strive UK and Enterprise Nation was invaluable in helping her scale the business and take her products to a wider market.

“The programme created a proper image of what a business should look like,” she tells us. “What’s great about having experts who are familiar with the area is that they are able to guide you so that you don’t make those mistakes again.”


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