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Making Business Innovation Accessible to Diverse Groups

Research addresses regional inequalities in innovation opportunities for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people and disabled groups.

This is a photo of a diverse group of people doing business

Innovation and inclusiveness

High on the current national policy agenda are inclusivity and diversity challenges in business innovation. A report published by Innovate UK in 2019 identified the barriers, challenges, opportunities and support needs for minority ethnic groups and disabled people to participate in business innovation.  The government’s 'levelling up agenda' seeks to level up research and development so that it benefits every corner of the UK. Now is an opportune time for clear policy rationale for increasing diversity and inclusion in innovation-led initiatives at the regional level to ensure that the levelling up agenda is inclusive in practice.

What we are researching

Following on from the Innovate UK study, the purpose of this research project is to understand and explain where support for innovators in Black, Asian and Minority ethnic (BAME) and disabled groups is available in the UK. Birkbeck’s Professor Helen Lawton Smith (Department of Management) and a team started their project at the beginning of 2020 and will map the  provision of support for people from BAME and disabled groups of business innovators. They will consider how aspects of people’s identity such as their ethnicity and whether or not they are disabled combine to create discrimination or privilege.

The study will address three research questions: First, what are the national and regional institutional contexts in which support organisations for BAME and disabled innovators operate and to what extent do they affect their ability to function? Second, how does UK business innovation support compare with that in other countries such as the USA? Third, in what ways could public policy initiatives be improved to help such organisations in delivering support for business innovation?

To answer the questions, the project has three empirical stages. The first involves mapping the provision of support networks of each type.  Second, interviews are being conducted with support organisations in each region to determine what is available to which kinds of clients (eg by sector, age and gender) and where there are opportunities and gaps in support. Third, comparisons with developments in the US are being made to provide examples of best practice from which the UK can learn.  

“The outcomes of the research will inform thinking in professional bodies, government- Innovate UK, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)- as to what ways public policy initiatives could be improved to facilitate delivering support for business innovation to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion in business innovation.”

This is a photo of a disabled woman using a laptop

What will the impact be?

Professor Helen Lawton Smith explains that the research is contributing to an understanding of the nature and causes of inequality in opportunity for BAME and disabled innovators. She says, “The outcomes of the research will inform thinking in professional bodies, government- Innovate UK, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)- as to what ways public policy initiatives could be improved to facilitate delivering support for business innovation to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion in business innovation.”

Project fact-file

Full project title: Addressing regional inequalities in innovation opportunities for BAME and disabled groups

Funding: £7,500

Funder: Regional Studies Association 

Length of award: 1 January 2020- March 31 2021

Supported by:  The Department of Management and Centre for Innovation Management Research

PeopleProfessor Helen Lawton Smith, Dina Mansour and Ayse Seyyide Kaptaner, Birkbeck, University of London.

Outputs (Updated OCTOBER 2022)


  • Lawton Smith H (2021) Regional Geographies of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Support: an “engaged scholarship” approach; Presentation to Birkbeck Diversity Research Group May 13 2021.
  • Lawton Smith, H and Mansour, D (2021) Regional Geographies of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Support: An EDI Approach Online presentation to Circle, Lund University Research Talk Series, February 17 2021.
  • Lawton Smith, H (2020) Panellist Innovation caucus Innovators' Breakfast Club: EDI September 30 2020.
  • Lawton Smith, H (2020) Invited discussant, UKRI Expert Evidence Forum: ‘Informing Development of the UK Place-based R&D Strategy’ September 11 2020.

Honorary position




  • November 4 2020: Welfare State: A Facilitator or Inhibitor of Inclusive Entrepreneurship? (CIMR Debate in Public Policy). Speaker: Eva Kašperová, Discussant: James Brook, Chair: Helen Lawton Smith.
  • March 17 2021: Diversity and Entrepreneurship Workshop. Organised by Professor Helen Lawton Smith and Dr Ning Baines (Dr Montfort University).

Key partners

The African Business Chamber (AfBC)

African Business Chamber (AfBC) is the UK’s business organisation representing African owned businesses and entrepreneurs in the UK. Located in Birmingham, it was established in 2020 and is the only Business Chamber in the UK that focuses on empowering African businesses.

The Accessful Foundation

The Accessful Foundation is a charity, established in 2020, as a national remote working organization that provides support for disabled entrepreneurs. It does this by facilitating networking and mentoring, giving grants, creating and promoting representation and by being a transparent, diverse and innovative charity that campaigns for positive change.


ADP provides free confidential information, advice and support to disabled people and people with long term health conditions, who run, or want to run, their own business.  ADP’s experienced disabled business advisors have been providing support through the Disabled Entrepreneurs Network (DEN) since 2001.   

Asian Business Chamber of Commerce

Formed in 1987, the ABCC has a long history in supporting the vast variety of diverse Asian businesses that operate in the West Midlands. The largest Chamber of its kind, the ABCC acts as a gateway for any organisations looking to target the West Midlands Asian business community.

Ning Baines

Ning’s research, ‘An examination of development policies for people with disability (PWDs) in the UK’ focuses on the ways in which existing “Disability and Equality” and “Enterprise for All” policies in the UK may contribute to creating and developing entrepreneurs within the PWD community.

British Business Bank

The British Business Bank has published a report entitled ‘Alone together: Entrepreneurship and Diversity in the UK.’ The report examines the profound effects that ethnic and economic background, gender and place have on entrepreneurial opportunities and outcomes. British Business Bank is also working on a joint accelerator programme with the Welsh government. This programme is designed to support under-represented groups including BAME and disabled communities.

The Business Clinic, Northumbria University

The Business Clinic was established in 2013. It provides free consultancy advice to SMEs, multi-nationals and not for profit organisations who are looking to grow by taking their business in a new direction, explore new challenges or require fresh eyes to help them succeed.  

Business Wales

Business Wales is the Welsh Government’s fully-funded business support service, helping Welsh businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs to access the information, advice and support they require to start, run and grow their businesses. No matter where a business is in their life cycle, from start-up to growth phase, established, expanding or maturity, Business Wales has the skills, experience and knowledge to guide and assist the ambitions of business. The level of support is tailored according to the business need and they offer a mixture of online and face-to-face support, as well as workshops and individual advice. The main calls to action for business support in Wales is in line with those outlined in the Economic Action Plan. Business Wales is a free service that provides impartial, independent support and advice to people starting, running and growing a business in Wales, regardless of disability or any other barrier to access.

Cabinet Office Disability Unit

The Disability Unit aims to break down the barriers faced by disabled people in the UK. It is creating an evidence-based disability strategy that understands the lived experience of disabled people.


The CAE is a charitable organisation based in the heart of Swansea. The CAE works to inspire and support individuals from marginalised backgrounds to succeed in employment and enterprise. Their services are curated to the needs of the community and these include; refugee women empowerment, community transport services, mental health aid, employment support, job coaching, entrepreneurial support and they also have a podcast where the youth in Wales can discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on their lives.

Centre for Entrepreneurs (CFE)

CFE is a registered charity and is the UK’s leading entrepreneurship foundation. The Centre delivers entrepreneurial development programmes; researches the state of entrepreneurship and how to unlock potential in neglected groups, communities and locations; builds thriving entrepreneurial communities; and engages with and informs policymakers and the public.

Aston Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME)

The mission of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME) is to ‘make diversity and enterprise everyone’s business’. CREME delivers leading-edge expertise on business support for ethnic minority entrepreneurs and has transformed the perceptions of ethnic minority entrepreneurs by working with business policy-makers and influential organisations to engage collaboratively with overlooked or disregarded business communities.

Diana Chrouch

Diana is Special Advisor to the All Party Parliamentary Group for BAME Business Owners and is Chair of the National BAME Business Policy for the Federation of Small Business.

Philip Connelly

Philip has fourteen years’ experience of working at a strategic level in national charities, holding or supporting their dialogue with the government. He is currently establishing the Disability Resilience Network, which looks to create an inclusive economy and entrepreneurship for and by disabled people.

Professor Tom Cooney

Tom Cooney is Professor in Entrepreneurship at Technological University Dublin and Academic Director of the TU Dublin Institute for Minority Entrepreneurship.


Diversity Business Incubator is a Business Hub for primarily BAME entrepreneurs that assists individuals, business owners and startups with business advice, finding grant money and growing financially.

Shani Dhanda 

Shani is a disability specialist and entrepreneur. As a practitioner for inclusion across business, government, non-profit and wider society, Shani helps organisations break barriers and integrate inclusion into their business frameworks. The barriers she has faced as a South Asian woman who experiences disability inspire her intersectional activism. Shani has taken change into her own hands and founded numerous organisations to improve representation and challenge social inequality globally. 

Enterprise NI

Enterprise Northern Ireland’s primary aim is to grow the economy and enrich local communities through development of enterprise and entrepreneurship. All activity is underpinned by a commitment to inclusivity.


Evenbreak is a social enterprise run by and for disabled people. Evenbreak supports employers to become more inclusive and accessible, offering relevant and accessible careers support to disabled candidates.

Innovate UK

Innovate UK is committed to encouraging and supporting diversity and inclusion in every action: as an innovation investor, partner and employer. This is to ensure that we are supporting the best ideas and most talented innovators within UK businesses. 

Kaleidoscope Investments (Ki)

The aim of Ki is to invest in great business ideas that originate from people with disabilities. Ki provides ongoing help, expertise and investment throughout the duration of the business life-cycle, nurturing and encouraging ideas, in order to best achieve lasting commercial success.

Eva Kasperova

Eva Kasperova is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship, Aston University. She has been researching inclusive enterprise policy and support and the barriers faced by underrepresented and disadvantaged groups of entrepreneurs for over a decade. Eva has a particular interest in the effects of disability on entrepreneurship.

Kings College London Enterprise Institute

100 ventures have come through the Kings College acceleratormany of these BAME entrepreneurs. 

Leonard Cheshire Stelios Awards for Disabled Entrepreneurs

This annual competition is designed to help people launch outstanding business ideas.


MENTA is a non-profit organisation, established in 1984. It supports aspiring and established business owners in Norfolk and Suffolk and throughout the East of England region, offering non-biased business advice and support with a strong commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. It has helped some 35,000 start-ups since the mid-1980s.

National Enterprise Network (NEN)

 In 1993 the National Enterprise Network was formed as an independent, not for profit organisation, seen as the home of enterprise support. Its focus is representing, uniting and supporting all organisations who are passionate about inspiring and encouraging enterprise. 

Nimbus Disability

Nimbus Disability works across sectors to improve the experiences of disabled visitors and employees through a variety of consultation, training and auditing services. Their unique Access Card scheme helps connect disabled people with businesses that can provide an excellent service.

One Africa Network (OAN)

One Africa Network (OAN) is a membership-based social development organisation in Birmingham that focuses on issues that affect BAME businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals. It was established in 2018. OAN platforms connect like-minded African Caribbean leaders, businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals to create economic solutions, advance  entrepreneurship, innovation, excellence, inclusiveness and sustainable economic growth.

One Tech

OneTech is on a mission to connect underrepresented communities with opportunities in the tech startup ecosystem to enable racial, gender and socioeconomic equality. Their vision is a just and equitable tech start-up ecosystem where everyone has equal access and voice.

Dr Beldina Owalla

Beldina Owalla is a Research Associate at the Centre for Regional Economic and Enterprise Development (CREED) at Sheffield University Management School. Her research, which primarily adopts a gender or intersectional lens, focuses on understanding the impact of gender and culture on entrepreneurship and innovation activities in different geographical contexts.

Piers Roberts

Piers Roberts is a creative entrepreneur who was diagnosed Autistic six years ago. Piers champions the valuable contribution made by people who feel, see and think differently. He is the founder of Designersblock, producing major creative festivals in London, Milan and Tokyo covering design, architecture and illustration over a twenty-year period and he recently established Riskkit to introduce Trinary thinking, a methodology that helps organisations identify opportunities and navigate change.


Since 2016, the Support And Mentoring Enabling Entrepreneurship (SAMEE) charity has taught self-employment skills to enable over 200 Dorset-based disabled adults to gain further independence by creating their own income. SAMEE’s mission is to alleviate poverty for disabled adults by narrowing the disability employment gap. They do this by supporting disabled adults to explore non-traditional forms of employment that will fit around their health challenges and reduce the barriers they face to employment opportunities. 

UKRI External advisory group for equality, diversity and inclusion

UKRI engages with a wide range of research and innovation stakeholders. The external advisory group provides advice and challenge, working to identify and prioritise areas where the most progress can be made.

Universal Inclusion

Founded by Jacqueline Winstanley, who is also Founder and CEO of The Inclusive Entrepreneur and Secretariat and Inquiry Advisory Board Chair to the APPG for Inclusive Entrepreneurship. Universal Inclusion is a global thought leader in increasing equality of access to life’s opportunities, eliminating the conflict between global policy intent and its administration via holistic solutions.


The Yorkshire Asian Business Association (YABA) was created in 2015 to provide a voice for the Yorkshire Asian Business community. It is a membership organisation, with membership provided free to small businesses. It supports BAME entrepreneurs by offering a range of opportunities to its members including networking events aimed at achieving set business criteria and objectives as well as supporting members to gain international opportunities.

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