Migrant entrepreneurs are boosting our economy by making jobs not taking them according to a recent report by the Institute of Directors (IoD) and mi-HUB. Here we speak to Rafael dos Santos who founded mi-HUB as a co-working space set up specifically for migrant entrepreneurs.
You launched miHUB in 2015. How did the idea come about?
The idea came to life during the migrant business accelerator, which was part of a programme that I ran between September and December 2015, where I selected 10 migrants to go through the process and help them to launch and grow their business.
During the programme we realised momentum was gathering and noticed the ideas really came to life when people were together, so I thought that by putting a co-working opportunity together I would get people to start working. I could then ensure we provided the knowledge they needed by running free workshops and also help them with funding by running the migrant business accelerator focusing on raising finance.
What’s the ideology behind the hub?
The ideology is that we are creating a community of migrant entrepreneurs; we are creating a community that focuses on the type of person not already in the the industry. We have entrepreneurs from all over the world from Brazil to South Africa, to China, Australia and obviously England and we want British entrepreneurs to be part of mi-HUB because otherwise we can’t promote social and cultural integration.
What are the main challenges that face migrant entrepreneurs?
The three main challenges that migrant entrepreneurs face are:
1. Lack of finance, because they don’t have enough credit history so they can raise funds.
2. Lack of network, when you have just moved to a country and you don’t know anyone it takes a few years for you to build a network of people.
3. Lack of local knowledge, it is important for you to know not just about branding or marketing but also about taxes and book keeping and how things work if you are running a business and mi-HUB aims to provide solutions for all of these problems.
How will Brexit have an impact on the work that you do?
At the moment Brexit has no impact whatsoever because we don’t know what is going to happen, it is difficult to say what the fears are. The only problem we have at the moment is instability.
How does mi-HUB help entrepreneurs?
We help entrepreneurs by providing a network of people and we also have a lot of workshops to provide knowledge to help them run their business as well as an accelerator which is a programme that will help entrepreneurs structure their business so they can access finance.
You recently published a report about migrant workers at the Houses of Parliament. What did you find?
I put together the report by having researchers from universities carrying out qualitative and quantitative interviews. We interviewed a hundred entrepreneurs in depth and we carried out an online survey to find out what the key issues are and how people are overcoming these issues. We then put forward recommendations on how we could help more migrants become entrepreneurs so the economy can prosper.
Are attitudes changing towards migrant entrepreneurs?
Well, the attitude towards migrant entrepreneurs has always been very positive, the problem is the attitude towards migrants. The word migrant at the moment has a stigma so even successful migrant entrepreneurs don’t want to be called migrant themselves, so it is positive in the sense of entrepreneurship but it’s a challenge to use the word and help migrants.
What are your future plans for mi-HUB?
We want to get established in London first, in east London, and then we want to open other co-working spaces around London and the UK.
If you had three pieces of advice for migrant entrepreneurs thinking of starting out in business what would they be?
1. Find a business partner, its very important and it really helps if you want to start a business, having someone there to share the burden, the worries and the success.
2. Focus on one industry and one product, don’t try to be a one-stop-shop because then people won’t remember you very clearly, be very focused on one thing.
3. Do a lot of networking, go to the federation of small business networks and events, go to the Institute of Directors events, there is also a Google campus and they have a lot of free events. Meet as many people as you can but also follow up, it is not just about collecting business cards and nothing happens – you need to follow up new contacts.