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Ulster Bank – Empowering ethnically diverse entrepreneurs through mentoring

A new mentoring scheme aims to empower aspiring entrepreneurs in under-represented or disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

What do they say about best-laid plans? In March, more than 350 entrepreneurs were due to gather at events in Birmingham, Edinburgh, London and Manchester organised by the bank’s Entrepreneurship team to help start-ups reach their potential.

The events were the culmination of two years of relationship building by business inclusion programme manager Sharniya Ferdinand and her team. Ferdinand had reached out to grassroots community organisations to learn how the bank could better support ethnically diverse business leaders, and to build engagement so aspiring entrepreneurs from under-represented or disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds would know how to access the variety of support programmes on offer.

But in its efforts to tackle coronavirus – the biggest threat the world has faced for decades – the UK government announced a nationwide lockdown on 23 March, and public gatherings were halted. The Business Builder team adapted quickly, says Ferdinand, and online modules and webinars were ramped up to meet increased demand. But there was a compelling case to continue the activity in an adapted format because tailored support for start-ups and growth enterprises with ethnically diverse business owners was needed now more than ever.

This is why the bank is launching its innovative partnering scheme in September, matching entrepreneurs with its own experts for one-to-one sessions.

“Mentoring is a great way to use my skills and experience to provide support and guidance on topics that are important for our communities to thrive” – Yinka Fadina, senior audit manager, the bank

Adding value

“This initiative is a way to support business owners if they don’t have the all-round knowledge that larger businesses enjoy,” explains Ferdinand. “We’re looking to offer one-to-one sessions with colleagues who have the knowledge and skills in a specific area because that’s their day-to-day job. If you have a gap in your knowledge about the legal implications of a business decision, we can match you with someone from our legal team. Or if you’ve got a gap in your knowledge about finances, we have relationship managers who look at financial accounts all day every day, so they can give you more insight into that side of business. That’s where we can add value – offering guidance or additional knowledge on a specific pain point or where a skills gap has been identified.”

Yinka Fadina is a senior audit manager at the bank, as well as being global co-chair of the Multicultural Network and co-lead of the BAME Taskforce at the bank. She will be mentoring businesses to help them tackle a range of pain points and says that the scheme provides mutual benefits.

“Mentoring is a great way to use my skills and experience to provide support and guidance on topics that are important for our communities to thrive,” she explains. “Given the additional barriers they may face, it makes it even more meaningful.”

Ferdinand adds that providing support to all businesses is so important right now “because we find ourselves in a situation that none of us ever imagined”. Before coronavirus, there had been a growing trend of people wanting to set up their own business and increase their entrepreneurial skills. After a turbulent and challenging year so far, that start-up appetite has returned. With this initiative, says Ferdinand, business owners gain direct access to trusted expertise, to talk about what they need going forward, to bounce ideas off someone else and gain additional knowledge from an impartial professional.

“They’ll provide answers to the questions you always wanted to ask but didn’t necessarily have direct access to.”

To register your interest in the mentoring scheme, email poweringourcommunities@natwest.com.