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Aryana Vashisht: NatWest's Local Business Growth Enabler

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Stef Nienaltowski caught up with Aryana Vashisht after Shaping Portsmout's recent Business Leaders meeting to discuss a number of different topics in her role as NatWest's Local Business Growth Enabler.

Aryana had worked with Shaping last year, when we ran the Entrepreneurial Spark programme which was funded by NatWest, our own PCC, and the University of Portsmouth. That programme was a great success, and Stef was interested to see what the rest of Aryana's role involved.

From the Business Boost event she is running in May at Lakeside North Harbour to her own radio show, this is a lady with many activities in play.

Stef Nienaltowski: I'm sat with Aryana Vashisht, the Business Growth Enabler Manager at NatWest Bank. Good morning Aryana.

Aryana Vashisht: Good morning Stef.

SN: So, Business Growth Enabler, how did you end up here?

AV: Right, so, I was born in Southampton, and I used to be in banking law, and then I ended up coming over to NatWest and being a Business Growth Enabler. So, I cover Portsmouth, Chichester, and Petersfield, and what my role, and the aim of it, is to be local in the present market, to make sure I'm visible and accessible to people, being in business banking, helping businesses, local growth, and putting on good events for people with industry experts so we can give something back to the businesses out there.

SN: So, I know we're going to talk later about the Asian Women focus that you've got, but for now, NatWest are quite prominent in business support, so can you tell me some of the activities NatWest get up to, and you therefore execute on their behalf in the surrounding area?

AV: Yes, so, in Portsmouth we've just run our Portsmouth Virtual Programme with Entrepreneurial Spark, and we have that within NatWest which helps start-ups and newly formed businesses, it's a good accelerator for businesses, and giving them contacts, helping them with pitching any ideas they have, and also looking for investment. That's something that we do. I will put on local events around the City, and in the area that I cover, and we have 73 of us across the Country, so it's everywhere in the UK, and we do have them in Ireland as well. The main point of this is so we can give something back to the businesses, and also just give a bit of knowledge, and also make a networking group for different businesses so everyone can keep in contact and make relationships with people that are going through similar struggles and experiences that they're having.

SN: So, I was lucky enough to be one of the partners working with you on Entrepreneurial Spark last year, and I thought it was a great programme. Before we talk maybe about that, let's talk about what do NatWest get out of it?

AV: So, we wanted to obviously give something back to the community, and also really promote new business, and I think a lot of the economy and everything is coming from new business, and we want to support that, and we want to be one of the banks that are really pushing new business. Yes, we do open new bank accounts, and we love to have new people opening new business accounts with us. We give a good icloud accountancy package for free to our business accounts, and obviously it gives a good track record to any future lending that we might do. NatWest are here to lend to businesses, we really want to help. Whether that's through us, if we couldn't help for any reason, then we do have partners that can help as well, but we really do want to help push businesses to grow and expand, whether that's new staff, cashflow, vehicles, whatever it may be, we really do want to help businesses grow.

SN: The Entrepreneurial Spark programme that we mentioned earlier, we're now a couple of months after the end of it. From Shaping Portsmouth's point of view, we found it very positive for the City. NatWest in reflection, how did NatWest review that? Because it was the first virtual Entrepreneurial Spark programme as well I think, wasn't it?

AV: Yes, it was the first virtual one. Obviously, there's a lot of learning curves and things like that and a lot of things we can get from it, and things we can tweak. I think the feedback from all the E-Spark people that come on board, they were really pleased with the programme, and they got a lot out of it. I think if we were going to do it again, or we were going to bring something down to Portsmouth that was a bit more permanent, if we were going to do that, obviously it would be a little bit different. But, I think it was really useful, engaged with a lot of the local businesses, and really helped push them in the right direction to where they want to go.

SN: That's certainly my impression too, and I think if I remember rightly, you've got a Business Boost event coming up soon. What's that about, and when is that?

AV: Yeah, so, Business Boost is to help again, businesses be in contact with say the Councils, local Growth Hubs that can help with investments, or sponsors or grants, and also just to network within the area. So, the next one is in Lakeside in Portsmouth, and that's on the 10th May starting at 8.30am. It's a half-day event. Any start-ups or current businesses that would like to exhibit can do that for free. So, it's great to have people there, creating a buzz. We'll be hearing from the Council, obviously Shaping Portsmouth, and various other people that will help with funding and things like that. So, initially if people don't have a contribution and they need a little bit of funding, there are companies and Growth Hubs that can do that. NatWest would like to help in any ways that they can, and we will always sit down with people, and I'm open to speaking to businesses to make sure we can help point them in the right direction.

SN: Great, and that's 10th May you say?

AV: 10th May.

SN: At Lakeside

AV: At Lakeside

SN: North Harbour. And is it free to the attendees?

AV: It's a completely free event, you will get lunch, and there is a break, but it's a really good place to network with local contacts, and to meet good people.

SN: Fantastic about the support you give, and I'm certainly as you know, both on a personal and on a professional level, the work that Shaping and you guys are doing together is fantastic. If we now move to, with your other hat on, Asian Women in Business Network. Tell me a bit more about that, and what are the objectives of that particular network?

AV: Okay, so, I think through working with NatWest, I've been here since 2016, and I think the main focus of it is to create a platform to celebrate Asian female business owners, and their successes. And I felt that there are various different diversity groups across the UK. There is an Asian Chamber, which is up North and onwards, and London have a little presence but not very much, but there was nothing on the South Coast, and I really felt that it was important to celebrate and shout about these women. So, we have a lot of local businesses in Southampton and Portsmouth that we are in contact with, and we want to, we will be, putting on an event later in the Summer, probably end of August / beginning of September time, hopefully at a local business run by an Asian female, and it is really to promote these women, and to showcase what they're doing. I think certain cultural barriers that happen, and I've experienced myself, sometimes males are more forefront in the businesses, and more prevalent than the Asian females, so what I wanted to do was create a group and a network where alike females can support each other, network with each other, and also just celebrate each other really. So, that's my main aim.

SN: Because again, I guess that culture sometimes is quite broad in terms of its orthodox methods they follow? Some follow it religiously, if you'll pardon the pun, some obviously are a bit more Western in their approach to their religion, so it's finding that sort of happy meeting. But, ultimately, giving them a voice in a still, a relatively male dominated world.

AV: Yes, I think it is, in certain aspects, and we're working closely with the Chamber [of Commerce - Ed] and Shaping, and various other people that want to support this. And I think the main thing is to bring these females in the forefront, shout about them, celebrate them, and also give an inspiration to the young ethnic females that are around. And where I do radio for an ethnic community radio station in Southampton, the young girls that you do meet I think it's good to have someone, and a group which they can follow, and they can find successful business owners there, and then they can be entrepreneurs, and they can look up to someone that they relate to.

SN: Indeed. Thank you for your time today, really looking forward to Business Boost and working with you in May, and obviously when the Asian Women in Business Network gets off the ground, we're here to support and work with you on that. So, for today...

AV: Thank you very much Stef

SN: ...thank you.

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