Learning from failure

It seems that there has been a high rate of business failure amongst self-employed African migrants in the United Kingdom following the 2008 financial crisis, enough to warrant specific observation and research to see what set this group out from the norm. The authors note a perception of disadvantaged, possibly discriminatory factors that affect ‘black and minority ethnic businesses’ and seek to examine the claims.
While perceived and/or actual reasons that may inhibit business creation can be evidenced and noted, data supporting that this group is more represented in failure statistics appears muted, meaning it is difficult to appreciate the intended effect and merit of this article thoroughly. The research and concept is otherwise valid, using in-depth interviews to get participant responses and experiences. It may be questioned whether one can draw sufficient assistance from the reactions to sustain a cause-and-effect relationship since the authors believe that the findings ‘indicate the impact that place, people and poverty have on business failure and identify reasons for Africa business failure compared to other minorities.’ Without discounting the possibility, it must be noted that any failed business-operator may have their judgement clouded by their experiences, ascribing ‘blame’ to quarters where it may not necessarily exist, or at least not exist to the levels presupposed. As somebody who has been there and ran businesses (plural), with some mistakes along the way, I can see reasons for failures now that I didn’t necessarily admit to at-the-time and after the failure.
The research may be original, but other relevant factors are not considered, such as the location, knowledge of the participants, their business behaviours, market conditions and more. If you consider a modern-day business of mobile telephone sales, for example, there can be tremendous competition and having the right location may not be sufficient (within a city) and failure or lack of success can occur for many reasons other than the colour of the principal’s skin, their heritage or culture. It may be a factor in some cases, but also it may be a reason for increased success too if you have a product one’s fellow countrymen may especially gravitate towards.
The authors believe that their research ‘highlights the significant socio-economic and situational barriers that they navigate in a quest for recognition and cultural integration through business endeavours’ (sic), which again does not necessarily, I submit, prove their claim either. It may be somewhat obvious and not a suggestion of discriminatory behaviour. For every person who may be less likely to go to shop X because it is owned by a man from Nigeria, it is more probable that there will be significantly more people who won’t go to that shop because it doesn’t have the products they want/the service is not what they desire/the prices are not what they are prepared to pay or other valid reasons. This also presupposes that the store never has any co-workers who are not from the self-same background, and unless the store is called ‘Nigerian Mobile Phones’ or presented as a family name that appears to be ‘foreign’, how might the typical customer even know the owner’s origin and background. Add to this, shock horror, that many foreign-looking or foreign-sounding people can be born in the country and are not recent arrivals, and maybe there is an element of pejorative thinking even at the heart of the research?
To conclude, conceptually interesting, worthy of some consideration, but it does not appear to paint the dire picture it seeks justifiably. With further work, it may well do, but so far the jury has to be out. Some of the cited disadvantages may be valid but created by the community in which the operator comes from, rather than the host nation’s. Greater clarity, distinction and validity testing is needed, the authors have opened the door, but so far the outlook is fuzzy, less-defined and uncertain.
Mendy, J. and Hack-Polay, D., 2018. Learning from failure: A study of failed enterprises of self-employed African migrants in the UK. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development. DOI:10.1108/JSBED-11-2017-0332

A post-publication review of this article that appears on Publons.