Business Enterprise Centre
BEC the Business Enterprise Centre is based in North West London in Hammersmith and received funding under the Phoenix Development Fund. Their main target group was start up businesses from BME communities particularly African Caribbean. Their approach centred on the development of a mentoring model for supporting start-up and early stage projects. It was distinctive because the mentors were paid and focused on start-up businesses. There were some residential experience in the programme through away weekends. The programme continued after Phoenix as a result of support from Business Link and LDA grants
The project raised a key question about whether mentors be paid and are they still mentors when they are? What is the difference between paid mentoring and coaching.
A well organised project that has done what it set out to do.
The project had a clear understanding of where it wishes to be, and what it wishes to achieve and how: but focussed on the delivery of events focussed on the organisation’s own development rather than the creation of business growth as its main priority. Whether this view is echoed or endorsed by Peter Ramsden who has visited the project or in the interviews and notes remains to be seen (KH writing on 7.7.04). The file contains almost no evidence – apart from sound bites and quotes – from the participant companies. Nor does it appear to try and estimate in either quantifiable or other terms, what business growth has actually taken place amongst the participant businesses. Most critically, the project does not appear to seek evidence of its own added value effects – what has it caused to have happen for the participant businesses that would not otherwise have happened. I have undertaken an analysis of the Goals and Achievements contained in the quarterly Project Progress Reports as evidence to support these conclusions. This analysis in full is contained in Section 4. below.
The contents of the Enhanced Return are more or less useless to us – and should not have been acceptable to the funder when it was submitted. It is almost impossible to draw anything meaningful from the information provided. But there is data on the market for the service – which clearly shows that the Business Centre believes that there are seven more clients amongst the original 8,000 identified as the market. If a public agency is providing continuation funding on the basis of that market analysis by the Centre then they should be aware of this.
The PDF Project - Context to Issues and how this project tried to innovatively address them
Background to the Problem Tackled
The project focused on a part of the African Caribean Community in West London which has high aspirations to enterprise but a relatively low conversion rate. This is particularly true of men from the community who also have high levels of offending and unemployment.
Summary of Project Modus Operandi
The Business Enterprise Centre is located in Enfield, London. Its project, Surviving into the Mainstream tries to show aspiring business owners that the only limitations they face are the ones they place on themselves. The project seeks to assist businesses run by women and people from black and ethnic groups, to start small enterprises that have the potential to appeal to a mainstream market, reaching customers outside of their own communities. The message that the project’s coaching programme seeks to promote is that once you’ve got the business skills you need, the options for your business are endless.
“Surviving into the Mainstream” reported to the DTI that they found that a lot of people who approached them for help had started their own businesses, but lacked the confidence or experience they needed to make these businesses grow. But through coaching “Surviving into the Mainstream” reported that many businesses learned how to survive as small sustainable businesses serving their communities, before expanding in a more ambitious direction.
“Surviving into the Mainstream” also reported that they found that taking people away from their normal work environment could also open their eyes to a wider spectrum of business opportunities. So the project has organised residential business training programmes for businesses run by women and people from Black and minority ethnic communities. Over a weekend, business owners attend seminars on everything from legal issues to business financing and development planning, and personal development sessions encourage the owners to talk and discus their concerns and share common problems. “Surviving into the Mainstream” also suggests that this programme helps attendees build contacts with other small businesses in their local communities.
“Surviving into the Mainstream” uses the services of successful business owners to run the training sessions it organises – involving many people who are themselves previous users of the project’s services. So, argue “Surviving into the Mainstream”, the trainers have first-hand experience and an understanding of the challenges faced by woman and people from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, wanting to develop their businesses.
“Surviving into the Mainstream” also argue that this approach towards coaching also helps develop a wide support network that new businesses can tap into for support and guidance. This they suggest, is a move away from traditional one-to-one business support sessions, towards developing their training programme as a broader mentoring programme. As well as the coaching “Surviving into the Mainstream” also use the facilities of the Business Enterprise Centre’s day seminar programme. These one-day seminars focus on specific aspects of business such as creative communications or customer relations, as well as offering courses of a longer duration looking at business skills in more detail.
So the key features of the Pilot Project are:
- Targeted support for women and people from Black and Ethnic Minority backgrounds
- A focus on developing and extending the market for small enterprises serving the needs of a very local community
- Taking people away from their normal work environment on a residential course to develop their business ideas
- Using the services of already successful business owners in the delivery of this weekend training programme
- Using the services of previous clients in order to deliver the business training programmes
- Developing a mentoring model rather than one-to-one business advice sessions
- Supporting the core residential mentoring programme with one-day specialist business skills seminars and training programmes
- Integrating the mentoring programme into the wider training programmes offered through the host organisation – the Business Enterprise Centre.
Background to the Project
The Business Enterprise Centre’s Surviving into the Mainstream Project defines its current objectives as “The improval of survival rates of businesses owned by women and minority ethnic groups through the provision of coaching”. Originally focusing on assisting the enterprise growth, the project noted specifically that it has not changed the approach to the project’s operations over the period of the Phoenix grant – except to scale-up the operation through the addition of more delivery tools.
Inputs and Financing
The project received Phoenix Development Funds (£ 111,569). In addition the project also received European Regional Development Funds. No details of the amounts either, of the ERDF grant, nor of the annual expenditure profiles were provided by the project. Nor was it possible to know the areas of activity (such as staffing, overheads, infra-structure etc) where the monies were spent. Nor were details of the paid staff days per annum provided, although it was confirmed that no volunteer contributions were included in the expenditure contributions.
Fresh Thinking and Innovation
Lack of any data meant that it proved impossible to identify the main activities undertaken by members of the project team on a day-to-day basis – although some more general information about the nature of the activities was provided. The innovative features of these activities, were defined by the project to be as follows:
Activity name Brief description of activity Innovative feature of the activity undertaken % of total project activity
Advice, client contact and follow-up casework Correspondence / telephone follow up with clients ?
Project management Co-ordination, report writing, liasing with business coaches, staff ?
Other administration Invitations ?
Reporting to funders / boards / trustees Claims submissions, monitoring reports ?
The project was asked to identify the innovative features of these activities. Innovation was identified in two respects – however not within the framework of the activities listed above. For the record, innovation was claimed by the project in its approach to two actions as follows:
Coaching The use of web based Personal Business Portfolios ?
Learning opportunities Residential weekends ?
Targeting the Benefits
The main work of the project clearly focuses on direct advice and support for women, and individuals who are from ethnic minority backgrounds who are considering setting up, or already involved in the running of an enterprise. Consequently, the Business Enterprise Centre was asked to identify the total number of potential clients for their business support services. The Centre identified this total as 8,000. When asked how many of this number might be interested in the business services offered through the project, the Centre responded with the figure 400 – with the additional information that it was the Centre’s view that of this number, three-quarters (300) had been reached by the project’s activities to date. Of this number, the Centre confirmed that thirty-five (35) had been active in approaching the project, and twenty-eight had become clients of the project. This figure of twenty-eight represents a conversion rate of a little over nine percent, and, if the reach estimates are correct, indicates that only a further seven clients remain within the 100 individuals still to be targeted by the project if it were to run on into the future.
The project identifies the following mechanisms as most important for reaching clients:
- Using the projects own research to analyse the market
- Talking with local people
- Using databases of potential clients which the project has developed and maintained itself.
The project identified the most important measures of success that it would apply to the project to be:
- To explore the possibility of enterprise as a positive career choice
- To grow existing businesses
- To understand the practicalities of setting up and running a business or social enterprise
- To develop business ideas.
The project identified gaining confidence and moving from thought to action as key indicators of success
Where clients have established an enterprise, the project identified the most important changes that the project can achieve through working with each enterprise to be: Strengthening management; growing the business and turning dreams into reality.
The project identified that its impact in over-coming barriers to setting up and running businesses, was significant in the following areas: addressing a lack of business skills; a lack of confidence and a lack of capital.
Finally, the project seeks in its objectives to offer significant opportunities for women and individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds. The Business Enterprise Centre reported on the backgrounds to the individuals assisted under the Phoenix Fund. For a project with a positive action focus and a significant target audience, the results appear good. Over 80% of beneficiaries were women and a similar percentage were from ethnic minority backgrounds – so black women were the main beneficiaries of the Project. However, participation in the project by people with disabilities, and individuals who are long-term unemployed, or ex-offenders, or prisoners, or refugees, was reported at a minimal level.
Sustainability and Mainstreaming Best Practices
The BEC received funding under the first phase of Phoenix but was not selected for funding in the second phase Building on the Best. However, it was able to continue with support from On more mainstream funding from LDA and Business Link for London A success as a consequence in that the result of the Pilot Programme have been mainstreamed.