Panel Two: Building “Diverse” Start-up Nations

On Monday, Feb. 1st, we brought together leaders from New York City, London, Nigeria, India, Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda for a panel on supporting and democratizing entrepreneurship globally. Diversity has different meanings globally, so the speakers discussed what providing equal access to funding and support looks like in each entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The event started with a keynote address from Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services Jonnel Doris. Black entrepreneurs are underrepresented as business owners, according to Commissioner Jorris, who said that the group makes up 22% of the population but only 2% of business owners. His department’s work has only grown in importance during the pandemic, which has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

“Entrepreneurship is, in my view, the most viable and sustainable way to close the racial wealth gap,” he shared.

Commissioner Doris expressed optimism that financial support and mentorship for entrepreneurs, especially those who have been historically underrepresented in entrepreneurship and in receiving funding, was a key priority. “Our world has changed, folks,” he said. “However, entrepreneurship remains a vital solution for the nation’s economic recovery, for our city’s economic recovery.”

Right after the keynote, we held our panel, which featured Kenneth Ebie from Black Entrepreneurs NYC, Chris Smart from British Patient Capital, Janet Coyle from London & Partners, Diane Edwards of Jamaica Promotions Corporation, Garfield Joseph of the government of Antigua and Barbuda, Ajay Batra from Wadhwani Venture Fastrack, and Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF). The panel was moderated by Erika Brodnock, co-founder and head of research at Extend Ventures.

One theme expressed by the panelists was that the difficulties faced by BIPOC entrepreneurs are systemic and will require cultural changes and deep investigation. Smart said that the UK Prime Minister has commissioned a report to understand some of the underlying causes that result in an unlevel playing field for those who are ethnic minorities in the country.

Ebie, who is executive director and chief development officer at BE NYC, agreed that the disparities and inequities in the playing field for entrepreneurs are a result of historical practices that need to be closely examined.

“They have to take a very serious approach in terms of looking at what the root causes are, and then also identify what the issues are today, with a level of precision to be able to address what types of policies you want to put forward,” he said.

A survey BE NYC conducted last August found that the biggest problem plaguing Black entrepreneurs is a lack of equitable access to capital. And this has become especially pertinent during the pandemic, where some reports have found that up to 50% of Black-owned businesses have shuttered through the end of 2020.

Coyle said London & Partners has been working to support overlooked entrepreneurs and their startups through financial support and connecting them to diverse entrepreneurs globally. The firm has also been doing much to support female founders, where the statistics for Black female representation can be “diabolical,” Coyle lamented.

Edwards said Jamaica has been working on building venture capital and angel investor networks, and it has started to have an impact. Jamaica Promotions Corporation has been working to implement new programs of support and education, like one to support those in with experience or aptitude in technology or business, even if they had not graduated from university or high school.

In Nigeria, the Tony Elumelu Foundation has been providing small grants to entrepreneurs who otherwise would not have the capital they need to start up their businesses.

“There weren’t that many institutions playing at the bottom of the pyramid, which is where you have talented young individuals who have an idea, but they need that boost to turn that idea into reality,” Ugochukwu shared.

Joseph emphasized the importance of entrepreneurial education not only for existing businesses, but for young people and students. “We are not seen as an entrepreneurial class of people,” he said. “So we can introduce entrepreneurship in the school, so young folk can have a sense of what entrepreneurship is all about.”

Finally, as for India, Batra said that Covid-19 had offered new opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, for instance, India had developed and exported a coronavirus vaccine. There’s been “A lot of focus on innovation that makes sense: health, agriculture, environment, all the focus areas for which is great,” Batra said.

Overall, the panelists emphasized the importance of collaboration and supporting local, diverse entrepreneurs not only through mentorship, but also through providing them with startup capital. And in a world which has been profoundly affected by the pandemic, entrepreneurship can offer new avenues for growth in every country represented on the panel and beyond.

Watch here