It all started when a group of Asian businessmen on a training course discussed the possibility of creating a support network. A contact within Business Link Hertfordshire suggested seeking an alliance with the organisation to provide a venue for our events.
Our mission, from the outset, has been to develop a support network for minority businesses by providing professional training and business advice. We established a voluntary executive committee, but we did not have sufficient time and resources to service the needs of its members. So Business Link has helped us by providing administrative support.
Business Link helped us secure funding for the MBN. Much of the financial support we have received has come out of the Phoenix Development Fund, an offshoot of the European Social Fund. To support our network, Business Link provided us with access to a pool of technical skills. This included marketing and finance and guidance on the import/export market, which was of particular interest to our members. Some of our members also face additional hurdles to mainstream owners/managers. For example, they may have difficulties obtaining bank loans when English is not their first language. With Business Link support we are able to provide the necessary guidance, advice and information to these people. Business Link has also tailored a number of training courses specifically for our members, particularly in areas such as finance and financial planning. Our networking events have also proved to be a great success. We often invite successful business people from the black and ethnic minority community to come to speak to our members, thus providing positive role models for their own achievement.
We have also developed a number of our own initiatives including a Mentors’ Forum. Two small groups of ethnic minority business representatives meet once a month to discuss mutual concerns and come up with solutions.
Alagappa’s views on why a Minority Business Network can help black and minority ethnic business people:
· It serves as an excellent representative body that can talk with one voice to express the views and concerns of many businesses.
· Many small black and ethnic minority businesses have a long-term aim of becoming mainstream. The MBN provides a useful stepping-stone for businesses to expand into new markets.
· It is a useful forum for members to exchange ideas, discuss their challenges and provide mutual support for one another.
The Minority Business Network (MBN) was established in 1995 by a number of Hertfordshire businessmen from the Asian community. With over 560 members (Dec 05) the MBN is now the largest representative network for minority ethnic business men and women in the county.
Alagappa Jeganathan, ex chair of the MBN, explains the benefits of such a network and how the support of Exemplas – through its Business Link Hertfordshire operation - was vital in helping it develop and grow.