In our eighth episode of season two of 15 Minutes With we’re talking to Nick Howe. Nick is the Enterprise and Climate Partnerships Manager at NatWest.

Nick has nearly 25 years of experience working with 1000s of businesses, having been inspired by the very first business customer he met. Nick is also a sounding board for growing SMEs and a social enterprise mentor, a Woman in Business advocate, delivers enterprise education to students and he’s passionate about supporting growing businesses. He is also the lead for the NatWest group’s partnership with Princess Trust.

In this episode, we talked to him about diversity and inclusion, underrepresented groups, the difference between equity and equality, the advances we’ve made and what more needs to be done.

You can find out more about the Business Model Canvas mentioned by Nick in this episode over on HBR.


Ways to Listen

You can listen to it right here on the blog using the player below or you can head over to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or Amazon Music where you can subscribe or follow the podcast too so that you never miss an episode. You can also check out the podcast website to find the other apps our podcast is published on.


Want to be featured on the Podcast?

We’re always looking for new industry experts to speak to and if you think you’ve got some great insights that you’d like to share with our audience, reach out to us via our contact page and we’ll get back to you to arrange an intro call.



Graham  00:13

On this episode of 15 Minutes With we’re joined by Nick Howe, Enterprise and Climate Partnerships Manager at NatWest and the lead for the NatWest group’s partnership with Princess Trust. He has nearly 25 years of experience working with 1000s of businesses, having been inspired by the very first business customer he met. Nick is also a sounding board for growing SMEs and social enterprise mentor, a Woman in Business advocate, delivers enterprise education to students and he’s passionate about supporting growing businesses. We talked to him about diversity and inclusion, underrepresented groups, the difference between equity and equality, the advances we’ve made and what more needs to be done.

Shelley  00:48

Hi, Nick, welcome to the podcast.

Nick  00:50

Morning both

Graham  00:51

Morning. You’re involved in diversity and inclusion, but not in the traditional sense, or the way that most people think about it. Can you tell us a little bit about what it is you do and how you’re involved in that part of it?

Nick  01:01

Yeah, thanks for having me, both of you. So basically, I’m lucky enough to do a role of Enterprise Partnerships Manager for NatWest. And effectively what this means is working with identifying different underrepresented communities, especially when their passion, their focus is all around starting and growing businesses. So me and a small team that we have across the bank, we focus our time and our attention and our resource on different underrepresented groups. So these will be women in business, these will be ethnic minority owned businesses, these were young people, and also those launching a social enterprise. And all of those are for various reasons, people who just have been not at the starting line to the same degree as other people. And that’s all down to a whole host of barriers and issues and privilege to be blunt that others have and some don’t. And so what we try to do is to work with those key partners who know those communities brilliantly to try and understand what we can do to try and best support those groups.

Shelley  02:06

It is such an amazing incentive to be working on I’m sure you find it so rewarding, working closely with these communities. In recent years. Have you seen that there’s been an improvement or have things like COVID? And what we’re seeing with the economic recession? Have they had the impacts?

Nick  02:23

Yes, yes, they have. And I think the sentiment for the various different underrepresented groups, so if we take women in business, for example, there are some really encouraging signs, some of the progress that is absolutely being made. So for example, with our Rose Review Update, which we published a fifth of new companies that were created at Companies House, we’re all female lead, so it’s 20%. Now, back in 2018, when we started all of this, that figure was 16%. And quite encouragingly. The biggest lead of companies being formed by all female teams were in that 16 to 25 year old age categories, that’s been a huge sort of huge uplift has something like a quarter. So the sentiment, the general trajectory and trend are absolutely in the right way. However, this is a massive issue. This is ingrained in the system, there’s so many facets and barriers that need to be addressed. And when we look at, for example, the impact of COVID, particularly on the ethnic minority owned businesses, unfortunately, and disproportionately COVID impacted on those groups, even more than others, one from the point of view, they’re the medical side seem to impact more on those diverse communities than any other. Secondly, because a lot of jobs and a lot of businesses tend to be in those people facing industries where you’ve got a diverse founder that’s running that business or working in a space, they tend to be some of the toughest sectors as well. And also, if communities tend to sort of shop and trade within their own communities, then if your customers have been most impacted by COVID, then it’s going to damage and impact your business even more. So I think the sort of general summary is that over the last, say, five years, I think progress is being made. But we have a long, long way off of equitability in terms of being open and fair for absolutely everyone in terms of the opportunity, particularly when it comes to starting and growing your own business.

Graham  04:23

And that’s an interesting word you’ve used because International Women’s Day this year is they’re using equity. They’re not using equality. And I think people get those two things confused, right? They think of them as interchangeable words and they they’re clearly not right. And that must be something that potentially dealing with partnership you kind of have to educate people on it’s kind of the difference between those two things.

Nick  04:44

Yeah, I like to keep it really simple. Say for example, you got three different heights people standing behind a fence. Equality is giving them all some help so giving them all a box to stand on so they can see over the fence for example. Now in that mix of people you got different heights, so actually is not necessarily the tallest person that needs the box, you know, because they could probably already see over the fence. But equity is very much about understanding and taking into consideration any kind of negative starts that that person might have. So the shortest person in that analogy, well, let’s give them two boxes. So actually, we boost them up. So we’re not kind of propelling them even further than anyone else. But we’re just getting them to the same starting point. And that is the point is never about disengaging with other people’s challenges or barriers that different people face. Life can be tough for everyone. So it’s not saying that no one else has had a tough start in life. But statistically, when you look at whole communities, when you look at whole kind of ethnic groups, there is absolutely that support, and that swirl that we have to recognise that different people have had more privilege, they won’t always know it, they will all recognise it, whereas others have just had the toughest possible start in terms of everything that I’ve tried to do so trying to target in an equitable way, some of that support to try and boost people to get to that starting line to the same point where everyone starts. That’s ultimately the aim. And for me, that’s what equitability means.

Shelley  06:11

In that vein, Nick, you spoke before also about barriers to entry for these different communities. Is it safe to assume that different communities have different barriers to entry? Or do you find that actually, many of them have similar barriers? And does that then help to inform what your strategy is with how you get to know this community and gaining their trust and start working with them?

Nick  06:32

Yeah, that’s a really good question actually. I think anyone working in this space or about or interested in working in this space it’s one of the trap doors that you can fall into if you’re not careful. It takes time to build up a trust, a relationship and a rapport with different communities. Because initially, when you start a conversation, there is that reluctance and kind of that cynicism, you know, in terms of some of the first kind of conversations are Well, why are you here? You know, what do you want out of this, you know, you got to come in and tick a box and then go away again, and nothing could be further from the truth. And there are some very consistent barriers that come up. But the trap door that you fall into is if you just ride in and assume you know what the barriers actually are. So my biggest tip and learning from kind of conversations and chatting to colleagues, very first thing we do when we meet in different groups is to just shut up and listen, typically, these barriers will crop up. But let’s understand the importance the priority, you know, because different groups will prioritise some of those barriers higher, and they’ll feel the more than other groups and other conversations we might have had. So don’t be judging jury on kind of what you think people need the most have the option, have that time shut up and listen and sort of understand what the barriers are. Typically, access to networks, it always features somewhere in there in terms of, well, I don’t know an investor, I don’t know someone who’s got marketing expertise, or whatever it is that I might need in terms of helping my business. So access to networks is key. Access to funding is also an important part of that jigsaw. Care and  responsibilities is another big factor. And when we talk about care and responsibilities, I think we often think about childcare and that’s a massive issue, but also another kind of factor is elderly sort of generation, you know, a lot of people, a lot of founders, and actually in more diverse community groups, they take a bigger pride a lot of the time in caring for their parents, for the grandparents. And so therefore when that need is greater, it understandably, diverts time and tension and resource. So shutting up and listen, I think is absolutely vital to best understand the priorities of that group, you happen to be with.

Graham  08:45

For a business or an individual that’s in this position, and they don’t know where to start, is there kind of a strategy or a starting point that gets them moving in the right direction?

Nick  08:54

Yeah. And again, anything I’ve learned is born out of conversations with business founders, you know, so it’s not a training course or anything like that. It’s just been privileged enough to have those conversations week in and week out. And the good and the bad is shared by founders, you know, things that work, things that haven’t worked, and therefore, we can help to share that with the next generation coming through. So here’s a couple of things. I would say, though, first of all, I think, and this might shock people, people are often too quick to try to pull together a business plan. Now, people might think, well, crikey, you know, what you sign is not important. That’s not what I’m saying. A business plan absolutely is really, really important. However, if it’s done too early, it really can be a waste of energy and resource. And where I’m coming from with this is when we start off with an idea, the really important bit that needs to be worked out is the validation. So it’s all well and good you think and you’ve got a great idea and it’s something you’re passionate about. They’re really important factors. However, it isn’t about what you want, what I like and kind of our opinion, it’s about those, those targeted individuals, the people that you think are going to be either typical buyer of your product or service, it’s about what they like and what they don’t like. And it’s also the nudging it through from not just kind of when you ask them questions, and they think, yeah, they liked this product. And yes, they think it’s worth 50 pounds or whatever. But actually, it’s engineering opportunity to say, Well, you said you liked it, and you think it’s worth 50 pounds, can I have the 50 pounds, that test trading to really see whether that indication of good sentiment, whether that translates into cash in the till, clicks on the website, or whatever it might be. So in the earliest sort of stage, there is a template called the Business Model Canvas, some brilliant versions online, I personally prefer there’s a very yellow one, which breaks any business down into the key segments that make up any business. And on this yellow version, underneath all of the headers, it’s got the questions that you need to find out the answers to based on your idea based on your market based on your customers, your competition, etc. And that, for me, is the best spend that early sort of weeks and months when you’ve got an idea. Okay, let me see what else I can find out. And I think one other kind of suggestion is an analogy that I tend to use, and you’re gonna have to bear with me on this, imagine you’re a frog, and you’re on the outside of a huge lake. And in the middle of this lake is a tiny island. Now, that tiny island effectively that represents your dream, your ambition, your goal for this business idea. And quite commonly what will happen is people will attempt to make that leap in the very first go, and it might make it you absolutely my and this is not about detracting and taking away anyone’s ambition or goal, you’ve always got to have that dream and something you’re aiming for. But what we sort of tried to suggest is that don’t necessarily make that the very first thing you have to do in a very first step, take a run up or hop up and try and do it in the first go, you might make it but you’re probably going to fall short. So rather than doing it, never lose sight of that goal, never lose sight of that dream, but introduce some stepping stones. So these are all gradually bit by bit stage by stage, proving that you’ve got what the market wants, what your customers want, gradually getting you to where your dream actually lay, but doing it in a way that brings the risk down, but also checking with your customers with your market at every point along the journey.

Shelley  12:21

I love that analogy, Nick, I think it’s really, really easy to understand, but it’s practical as well, you can really apply it and you can understand it. I wanted to ask if you had any final sort of tips or tricks for people, whether they’re individuals or whether they’re businesses, who are wanting to foster more of an environment of inclusivity, diversity into their business?

Nick  12:44

Yeah, definitely, I’ll approach a couple of lessons from a business point of view, if I may first of all. So first of all, these are all kind of thoughts and sayings that I’ve learned from founders in the past. So first one is there may well be a gap in the market, but is there enough of a market in that gap. And hopefully, that kind of speaks for itself, you know, innovation ideas are all well and good. And there may not be someone competing in that market space at the moment. But these that because there’s the perhaps not a big enough market. So the research, the test trade, that’s all really important in that scenario. Secondly, is be comfortable being uncomfortable. A lot of founders, a lot of the traits, a lot of the characteristics of business owners, I’m blown away by really to be honest, in terms of they every day push themselves out of their comfort zone. They’re challenging themselves, they’re breaking down barriers, they’re sort of trying to make sales, they’re trying to get word out there in a highly competitive market. So be comfortable being uncomfortable, you got to understand that that’s a really important point in terms of when you’re thinking of launching your own business. And then lastly, on this sort of angle, fall in love with your customers problem, not your solution to it. Here in the UK, for example, you don’t really have to ask for anyone’s permission. There are certain types of businesses, certain types of premises, etc. That may require licences and planning, consents, etc. But on the whole, you don’t have to ask for people’s permission to launch a business and one of the dangers there can very much be that I might have a dream last night. And that’s the idea that I’ve fallen in love with. So that’s what I’m going to launch but that may not be what the market wants. So absolutely, by all means be passionate about you’re heading off into but don’t have that preconceived idea in terms of the end goal, but in terms of also serving and working with wonderful kind of underrepresented groups and communities. I absolutely echo when you talk about purpose. And a lot of people when I look at their job, when they look at their business, when they look at their prospects. Purpose is coming up more and more often as a reason why, you know, it’s not just salary, it’s not just membership and perks and benefits and things. It’s what gives me the ability to make a difference every day and so working with different underrepresented groups, there is so many valuable relationships that can be built. There’s so many things that people can do to help and support different groups. So I’d absolutely just urge people to be a sponge, go out and find a group that you’re most passionate about and see what you can do to help. There’s tonnes of skills based volunteering schemes. There’s tonnes of community led organisations who need trustees or a need speakers to come in and mentor or they need a workshop run about different subjects and topics. So there’s always ways that you can help so it gives that purpose and I think most people will recognise that in order to attract and retain talent, particularly younger people in any organisation today, there has to be that purpose. And for me, working and representing those underrepresented groups is absolutely a golden opportunity. Ethically, it’s the right thing from an economic point of view. It’s absolutely the right thing. But also, I think, from a business point of view, it really does stack up as well.

Graham  16:02

Amazing. That’s fantastic. And it’s a message that I think everybody can kind of grab onto and run with. And I think that’s an incredibly valuable tips there for people that are thinking about taking the steps into starting a business. Thank you so much for your time, Nick. It’s been invaluable to us and to the listeners.

Nick  16:19

Thank you for having me.

Graham  16:20

That was Nick Howe, Enterprise and Climate Partnership Manager at NatWest. Understanding the difference between equality and equity is vital to ensure that the support that is being offered is delivered in a way that will have the biggest impact when looking to support groups take the time to listen to the challenges before dropping in with solutions. As business owners are those looking to get started in their journey. Set goals and drive forward to achieve them but understand that there might be smaller steps that need to be taken before they can be reached. validate your market before getting too far down the road. Get comfortable being uncomfortable, and fall in love with your customers problems, not your solution to it. Thanks for joining us on this episode of 15 Minutes With and we look forward to having you along on the next one.