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Getting down to business

SMILES ALL ROUND: Voice MD George Ruddock presents a raffle prize to Eugenie Simms courtesy of Tropical Sun

EVIDENCE SHOWS that black businesses are four times more likely than white start-ups to be refused bank loans outright.

Rather than being a barrier, it has simply inspired Lambeth’s enterprising residents to get a little bit more creative.

During The Voice’s community conversation, held on Saturday, February 25, at Lambeth Town Hall as part of the newspaper’s Around Black Britain initiative, careers professional Mathy Lisika Minsende told how she was left reeling after being made redundant last year and having to deal with her father passing away.

Stuck at home and facing a crucial crossroads in her life, she began researching opportunities on the internet and started blogging about her experience.

It inspired her to start her own venture ‘What the Job is this?’ which offers advice to those in ‘career transition’ via online mediums like videos, podcasts and blogs.

Having previously been unsuccessful in securing funding in the past, Lisika-Minsande stumbled across innovative ways to make her vision a reality.

She said: “There is not a lot of funding out there, but there is some. You just have to look for it and it is not easy to find. The important thing for me is that I did not want to start my business in debt.

“One way to get funding is through business awards. They can be up to £500 – you just need to get a certain amount of people to vote for you. Another way is through crowd funding, which is basically what some might know as village funding.

“The way it works in the village, for example, is if a child wants to go to school but has no means, everybody chips in. Some people give £50. Some might give £1. In exchange for the financial support, you offer a service a return. So with a £1 donation, we will put your name in one of our videos, for example.

“I never would have known about it, if I didn’t take the time to find out for myself.”

The idea of ‘giving something back’ is something that is very dear to the heart of Chantell Graham, who has run her own make-up artist and beauty therapy business for the past seven years.

She is also project manager for Black 100 Plus – a social enterprise which celebrates high-achieving Black Britons through an annual photographic exhibition.

ENTREPRENEUR: Mathy Lisika Minsende

It has been running since 2007, and is currently open for nominations. This year, they hope to host the exhibition in Lambeth.

Graham said: “Black 100 Plus is a self-funded business and we are really proud to say that. We like to fund it ourselves because it means we control it. We believe we can raise the money and we always have. It’s not cheap, but it’s possible.”

The way the organisation raises cash is by offering services. Its founder, Lorna Stewart, one of only a few project writers in the country, takes ideas and packages them as viable businesses.
She runs sessions for City firms like JP Morgan with all the proceeds invested into Black 100 Plus.
“You could say she takes from the rich and gives to the poor,” explained Graham.

“It fits in with one of our schemes called Give Something Back. For example, if I need to rent a meeting room, I might not have the money, but I might have a service you can benefit from.

“I’m not advocating running your business for free, but we have got to be creative and flexible sometimes. I believe in the black community. I believe that we can support each other, so we all get what we want.”

At the meeting, working together to achieve individual goals was a recurring theme. Audience members harked back to an era where Caribbean migrants relied on the ‘pardner’ system – a pooling of resources – in order to get on the property ladder.

Activist Junerly Raymond, who was born and raised in Brixton, is the director of Lambeth Enterprise, which works with social enterprises and small to medium businesses to help them thrive.

She recalls: “Banks see our community as a risk no matter what you have, unless you have a house to borrow against that they can take away from you. We advocate using our own means. The Government is pulling funding, so we can’t rely on public funds anymore.

“When our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents arrived in this country, they relied on pardner, or ‘susu’. Different islands have different names, to buy their own homes.

“It was not uncommon to have 12 men sharing one room with six beds. They operated a rota system, six slept on the floor, six in the bed. Now I worry we’ve gone full circle. We need to the pass baton to the young people now, but they are not prepared. We need to prepare them now.”
Raymond said one of her biggest concerns was what she called an “ethnic cleansing” of Brixton businesses.

“I think licensing rules work against black businesses. Brixton is a 24-hour economy. Lots of money is being spent here, and the businesses that are closing down are black ones. I’d like The Voice to explore this. Why have we been here so long and don’t own much? We need to learn to lobby. We are getting the hang of networking, but lobbying is the language the Government understands.”

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