The first event of the Minoritised Enterprise Policy and Action Lab Scotland (MEPALS) took place in May, and important discussions were conducted regarding making entrepreneurship more accessible to minoritised communities. Here, Nichola Quarmby, recalls the day in action.
Attendee asking a question to the panel

MEPALS is an interdisciplinary network of researchers, policymakers and practitioners (entrepreneurs and eco-system actors) that aims to contribute to the advancement of understanding and action regarding the challenges and benefits of minoritised entrepreneurs in Scotland. The important focus is on action – what are actionable things we can start today to make entrepreneurship easily accessible to all.

The event was launched by Professor Gavin Jack, the newly appointed Dean of the University of Edinburgh’s Business School, who highlighted the need for these uncomfortable discussions and thanked all the different stakeholders present for the event. These stakeholders included government and policy institutions (Scottish Government, COSLA, Glasgow City Council), economic development agencies and support organisations (Scottish Enterprise, Business Gateway, Investing Women, CEIS, Enterprise Support, Firstport, Scottish Edge, Royal Bank of Scotland), academic institutions and innovation hubs (University of Edinburgh, University of Strathclyde, Edinburgh Innovations, CodeBase (Tech Hub)) as well as social impact and collaborative work spaces (Challenges group and The Melting Pot) and lastly entrepreneurs in Scotland.

The interactive and engaging aspect of the day was the policy hackathon which followed a social lab approach which consists of four different components – complex problems (problems that are not clearly defined and whose solution does not fall within the responsibility and expertise of any single organisation), inclusion (stakeholders with different worldviews collaborate in order to understand and solve the problem), experimentation (the resulting course of action is first tested in a small environment with before scaling up the idea and applying it in the real world) and reflection (there is increased attention given to the problem- solving process, e.g., learning, trust-building, sharing, communicating).

Three different complex problems were inspired by recent research in the field and were addressed from a variety of stakeholders. Each table brainstormed and co-designed prototype positive actions that the host partners at each table could consider implementing. Positive actions are defined under The Equality Act 2010 as a proportionate way to help members of a group with protected characteristics:

  • enable or encourage the group to participate in that activity
  • enable or encourage the group to overcome or minimise given disadvantage
  • meet the group’s different needs.

What is the complex problem for MEPALS?

There are two different aspects to consider when identifying the complex problem for MEPALS: entrepreneurship and people with protected characteristics. Entrepreneurship includes participation, performance and experience of entrepreneurs in Scotland. Protected characteristics include race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion or belief, being pregnant or on maternity leave, being married or in a civil partnership and gender reassignment.

The three complex issues of the day with some brainstormed answers include:

  1. What actions can we [Positive Action Partners] take to extend awareness of our support programmes to minority ethnic entrepreneurs?
    • Consider message and channel – Use community groups and tailor messaging
    • Build trust and confidence in communities that have never engaged before – this can be done through testimonials
    • Better understand the needs of these communities – invest in and resource networks
  2. What actions can we [Positive Action Partners] take to increase minorities’ participation in the networks we work with and enhance equal access to information and other resources?
    • Make networking affordable and culturally appropriate – time/format/alcohol free/location
    • Intercultural Mentoring Programme – connect majority entrepreneurs with minority members to foster partnerships
    • More representation at events – panels and speakers
  3. What different outreach programmes can we design and implement to more effectively support minority entrepreneurs pursue and achieve their goals?
    • Co-design, Co-create and Co-delivered with reflective feedback and refocus loop
    • Invest in training for minority facilitators/trainers to provide a cultural frame of reference
    • Programmes that are impact and data driven

By engaging with uncomfortable conversations with diverse stakeholders, interesting answers emerged for each of these questions. The key takeaway from these questions were that these discussions are vital in making entrepreneurship more accessible, it is important to have these discussions with a variety of stakeholders and ethnic representatives to learn from one another and lastly it is important find actionable ways that everyone can help solve this issue so that we are not sitting here a year from now discussing the same issues with no actions.

The final point on the agenda was a Question time – style plenary where necessary uncomfortable questions were asked and answered. The panel consisted of Karen Rogers (Scottish Government), Shan Saba (Brightwork Staffline), Bayile Adeoti (Dechomai), Rhona Campbell (Investing Women Angels) and Steven Hamill (Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank). With this diverse panel it ensured that a wide range of answers emerged from each question. Dr Poonam Malik, the Head of Investments at the University of Strathclyde wrapped up the evening with closing remarks where she beautifully summed up all the topics for the day.

Throughout the day there were many different opportunities to network and make connections with people from a variety of different sectors. I even managed to make connections with people who can help me with my dissertation topic, so it was a very successful event for me. Although I felt a little bit out of my comfort zone, I am very happy I got the opportunity to be a part of such an important event.