Helping ethnic firms to grow

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FRESH EVIDENCE of how the race debate is moving beyond concerns about discrimination in favour of making the most of diversity comes from a pioneering project taking place in north London.

BreakOut began life as a three-year pilot designed to support Asian business development in the Harrow area. But its success has led to it being broadened to include Afro-Caribbean firms and it is being seen as a possible model for boosting minority businesses nationwide.

Research suggests ethnic businesses contribute nearly pounds 7bn to the UK economy. But Vijay Amin, the project's leader, believes there is potential for them to be an even greater force.

Businesses run by people from ethnic minorities are similar to the majority of small firms in that they have difficulty generating sufficient profits to grow, are reluctant to approach outside investors for fear of losing control and often have succession problems. Yet Mr Amin believes they have special problems stemming from their position outside the mainstream.

Accountants and other professional advisers have not always looked at ethnic businesses as future clients. And the owners have often been unconvinced of the benefits of seeking help. Mr Amin says that "part of the brief was to convince sceptics" in the community of the part that Business Links and similar organisations had to play in helping them to develop and grow.

BreakOut, a partnership involving the Government Office for London, the Harrow borough council and the Harrow in Business organisation, has over the past three years scored great successes in encouraging the Asian business community to take up various support services through workshops, seminars, training programmes and consultancy services covering succession planning, information technology strategies, business finance and marketing.

Mr Amin is particularly concerned with encouraging Asian and other ethnic minority businesses to look further afield and points to a conference taking place early next month dedicated to "internationalism".

In the meantime Harrow in Business has been sufficiently encouraged by the progress made to produce a booklet and video pack designed to help business support organisations, local authorities and others to apply the BreakOut lessons in other parts of the country.

The booklet and video can be obtained from Harrow in Business for pounds 24.99 plus pounds 2 postage and packing. (tel: 0181-427 6188).