Skip to content

ESF support for Black-Led Business

The High Level Skills (HLS) programme supports local and diverse businesses to develop the skills and talent needed for healthy growth.

Supporting Black-led businesses through the High Level Skills programme.

This support is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund

The High Level Skills programme supports small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) based in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire with a package of free and subsidised support to help them identify their skills and talent needs, and benefit from graduate talent in the region.

As part of the programme delivery, we engage with a number of groups that are under-represented in business support programmes and this includes Black and BAME-led businesses.

Part-funded by the European Social Fund (ESF), this programme provides a range of support including fully funded professional courses, talent grants to enable SMEs to employ graduates, market intelligence and talent workshops, and apprenticeship support and advice.

SMEs also have the opportunity to put their voice at the heart of our curriculum through co-design. With co-design we aim to continually put SME needs, insight and experience at the core of developing and delivering our courses. We want to hear from you about what you need from your staff; whether it's a particular skill, knowledge or behaviour, you can influence our curriculum to help us make sure our graduates are ready to hit the ground running.

Of our activity to date, Andria Birch, ESF Programme Manager said: “We are pleased to see diverse and Black-led businesses benefiting from the support our programme provides.

“We take inclusion seriously and have examined our practice and data since project start up. Based on our latest analysis, just under a fifth of the businesses that have received support through the HLS programme have been Black-led.

“Our approach has led to many positive actions including development of more diverse strategic partnerships and more targeted marketing, and we are pleased to see this resulting in diverse access. However, there is always room for improvement, and we welcome any new partners or fresh ideas to help us further break down barriers and enable more Black-led businesses to access the support available.”

Alfred Bawak, Diversity Account Manager at B-Global


One of the local networks we have worked with – and which supports Black-led business development and success – is B-Global which provides support for start-ups, established and scale-up Black-led businesses (African/African Caribbean heritage) in the city of Nottingham.

B-Global works to ensure that local Black-led businesses are aware of the support available across Nottingham, including through High Level Skills programme, and we have engaged with B-Global colleagues several times over the last 12 months to ensure their membership and networks have access to the programme.

Alfred Bawak, B-Global Diversity Account Manager explains “If you are a Black business owner, B-Global gives you a platform to access the latest business support opportunities and answers to any business queries you may have. B-Global aims to support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to help grow the local economy and create jobs. 

Whilst our brief is to support businesses of African heritage, we work with the wider BAME business community, providing various bespoke business support interventions to enable their development and growth”.

Alfred adds “For me, B-Global is about community, culture and enterprise collaboration. We all have skills and knowledge in our industries. By joining this network, we can help each other and have more sustainable businesses”

Ucreate PR benefitted from the Women in Leadership course at NTU

Ucreate PR

As part of the programme, NTU offers a number of short courses, which enable employees of SMEs to access fully funded, bespoke and employer-led training, career coaching and advice to upskill in vocational and high-level technical skills. The offer includes Women in Leadership, a free, 3-day course designed to help women in SMEs to develop their careers and their capability to manage and lead within their organisations.

One of the course participants is Tamika Martin, the managing Director of Ucreate, a Nottingham-based PR and events company that has been running for six years.

Tamika has developed a relationship with NTU over the years, getting involved in multiple business support projects such as the Big House, and the Thinkubator Challenge, and has also employed a number of undergraduate and graduate interns. Tamika heard about the Women in Leadership course being offered through the High Level Skills programme through word-of-mouth.

Tamika said: “When I got some more details about the course, I knew I wanted to sign up right away. I believe that continuing professional development and personal growth is paramount and this was a model to support me to develop. Suzanne [the course leader] was an extraordinary individual, she was very knowledgeable and knew exactly what she was talking about, and was able to relate everything to her own experiences.

“This support was great, and I really enjoyed the examination of the culture of leadership roles and equality from a historical perspective, how that translates into today’s business world, and the complexities that come with being a BAME woman in leadership.

“Since the course I’ve gone on to make some immediate and big changes in my business. We’ve grown from a team of one to a team of six, we’ve got ourselves an office – although we’re working remotely right now – and I’m currently developing a new project around delivered sessions on Black history to children in Key Stages 2 and 3. It’s currently being rolled out locally, and I have a vision to take it nationwide in the near future.

“Overall, the course made me think more about how I could grow my business, and act on it.

“I’d certainly recommend that other businesses contact NTU for advice about the support available to them. The amount of information out there can be a little bit mind boggling sometimes, and I have been able to pick up the phone and speak to the right individuals who have been able to steer me down the right path.”

Naskam Homes joined the High Level Skills programme in 2019

Naskam Homes

Naskam Homes is a Community Interest Company and registered supported housing provider based in Nottingham. The company started in 2014, initially providing supported accommodation for six people; since then it has grown and now is able to offer 26 beds. They joined the High Level Skills programme in 2019 and consequently received support through a comprehensive package including  an Organisational Needs Assessment (ONA), a bespoke action plan, apprenticeship advice, and are currently in the process of accessing a graduate talent grant.

Mustapha Kamara, CEO at Naskam Homes explains: “The support we have received from the High Level Skills programme has been invaluable. Based on the findings of the ONA, we were supported in developing a bespoke action plan showing how we can grow within the next three years, something as a business we had never done before.

“We are really excited by the opportunity to utilise graduate talent and high-level skills to boost our business productivity.”

Naskam Homes help to rehabilitate ex-offenders, by supporting their moving on aspirations. Mustapha explains “We support people who are socially excluded, this includes people who have gone through the criminal justice system, people recovering from drugs and alcohol problems along with others suffering from homelessness.

“We work to enable this vulnerable group of people to reintegrate back into society, enabling them to live cohesively with others who are more fortunate in communities.”

Mustapha adds: "We just want to help people have a chance in life. A lot of people who stay here have struggled and we provide food and a place to stay. We want to help build people's self-esteem for them to go back into society and make a positive contribution. Looking ahead, Naskam Homes are wanting to expand further and through the programme are currently in the initial stages of recruiting another eight graduates to support a new 30-bed home in the Mansfield area of north Nottinghamshire.

Niyo Enterprise aims to build more female entrepreneurs and career women.

Niyo Enterprise

Niyo Enterprise is a multifaceted organisation that is dedicated to using innovative hair, beauty and community development tools to economically empower lives and break the viscous cycle of poverty, particularly underserved by Black women through sustainable creative enterprises. These enterprises will deliver valuable services powered by innovation and technology.

As an organisation, success for them is seeing women who would normally suffer economically be completely empowered by creating their own disruptive sustainable enterprises with a social mission or employed and making impact socially at Niyo Enterprise or an organisation of their choice and ultimately achieving and exceeding their utmost potential.

Níyó Enterprise is currently made up of two brands: Níyó Hair & Beauty, and Níyó Network. Niyo Hair and Beauty is a 400-strong clientele mobile hairdressing service powered by innovative technology, whilst Niyo Network exists to increase the career prospects and business prospects of Black women through technology and accelerator bootcamps.

Níyó Enterprise was founded by Oyinkansola Adebayo, otherwise known as Oyin. Oyin pioneers the vision behind Níyó Enterprise with massive support from Laolu Dada who plays the Chief Marketing Officer role. Both women are passionate about empowering Black women to reach and exceed their potential and to successfully contribute.

She states: “As Black women ourselves, our desire is to build more female entrepreneurs and career women. The knowledge and wisdom impacted by members of NTU staff through the High Level Skills programme has helped us in channelling our business goals”.

Supporting black-led businesses through the High Level Skills Programme

Nigel Wright, Deputy Vice-Chancellor - Research and Enterprise at NTU states: “We are committed to creating opportunity and enriching society at NTU through our wide range of ESIF-funded business support and skills programmes and have supported over 1000 businesses in the last three years.

“Most small and medium organisations in Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire are eligible for support and we are keen to build on this track record to enable more Black-led businesses to benefit from working with NTU in the future.”

Who is eligible?

Most small and medium organisations in Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire are eligible for support. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are defined as:

  • Less than 250 employees
  • Annual turnover under EUR 50 million or;
  • Annual balance sheet less than EUR 43 million

Businesses must be based in the D2N2 area to qualify for support. D2N2 is the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.

If you are interested in accessing the support available through this programme, including talent grants, fully funded courses, workshops and advice, please visit our website for more information.

You can also contact our team directly at or by calling +44 (0)115 848 8899.

Since 2018, the High Level Skills programme has supported businesses and individuals that may face additional barriers to high-level skills, including:

  • Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people
  • people aged 50+
  • women
  • people with disabilities
  • people who missed out on traditional educational opportunities
Published on 29 September 2020
  • Category: Business