Empowering refugee entrepreneurs

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Hackathon

Blog from Berrbizne Urzelai, Team coach- Senior Lecturer, UWE Bristol and Scarlett Hagger, Project Support Officer, West of England Combined Authority.

On 16 March UWE Bristol hosted a Social Impact Hackathon – a start-up brainstorming event where UWE students from Team Entrepreneurship, Law, and Business and Management (some of them Enactus members too) worked with refugee and migrant entrepreneurs associated with the West of England Growth Hub and ACH to solve the problems they are facing in their entrepreneurial journey.

The day started with a social breakfast where all participants got to know a bit about each other. The event officially kicked off with an inspirational speech from Fuad Mahamed, the CEO of ACH and an International Ambassador for Bristol. Fuad came to the UK as a refugee from Somalia with no English, and went on to obtain a first-class degree in Engineering from Bath University followed by an MSc in Management from Lancaster Business School.

Setting up ACH in 2008 in order to support the resettlement of refugees like himself, he has built the organisation into one of the leading providers of integration support for excluded and marginalised people. It now spans across 3 cities, employs 65 people and works with 2500 individuals a year.

The Migrant Business Support (MBS) project started in January 2021 and offers enterprise support to third-country nationals through one-to-one sessions, workshops, mentoring and online training. As of April 2022, the project has supported over 200 refugees and migrants in the West Midlands and Southwest.

The MBS project differs from other mainstream business support as it has cross-culturally competent Business Advisers, training and workshops that are translated into different languages for different nationalities and has a ground-up approach from listening to their clients and tailoring the service to their needs, which in turn leads to a constantly evolving service.

The West of England Growth Hub provides tailored support, expert guidance and access to finance and support programmes to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the West of England. The Growth Hub offers a free and impartial service open to all businesses, from all sectors, helping businesses throughout Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

In the morning the teams worked together in understanding the background of the refugees and what kind of problems they were facing, and then in deciding which issue they wanted to focus on. Having the client inside the team was an interesting experience.

The students supported a variety of projects and ventures, from a carwash business to graphic design or craft art… all at different stages of development.

The teams pitched their solutions to a panel that was formed by:
• Shuai Qin: CRÈME, Aston Business School
• Nigel Stone: TE UWE Mentor in Residence
• Sebastian Crawshaw: TE UWE Mentor in Residence

They were all great and the panellists gave them very valuable feedback to guide them into the next steps of their projects. They really enjoyed the experience:

“So humbled to support such talented refugee in the ACH refugee Hackathon last week! It was an awesome experience, well done everyone! If only we could recognise and embrace immigrants’ skills and embrace them into our culture more. What a difference that would make to all of us.”

Nigel Stone

The event helped the participants develop skills and competencies such as team working, problem-solving, leadership, innovation, networking or building rapport and empathy. It was great to feel that energy in the room and how motivated everyone was on the task.

“It was such an insightful day. It was lovely to meet the refugees and to learn about their businesses and their talents and passions. They were truly inspirational with so much to offer and I learnt a lot from them too. I have kept in touch with M. and S. I am aiming to ask S. for some advice on graphic designs and calligraphy for one of my projects. I would like to go to the craft sale to see more of M’s beautiful work and to get to know M. and S. better and what goes on in their community. I look forward to getting to know everyone who took part and I am excited about the next steps. It was a really amazing day and we should definitely do more of these. Thank you for making it all run so smoothly.”

L.J.

“I thought the event was excellent, was great to speak to people from different backgrounds and hear their experiences. It was also fun working with other students from other subjects. It was massively out of my normal comfort zone but I soon got on with everyone really well and enjoyed the day. I learnt that there are many barriers that refugees can face, the language barrier seemed to be a difficult one at times, but refugees have a lot to offer in a range of skills. I will be emailing M. what I created for her and follow up with further advice for her business. The contacts I made in the team will be useful in the future for further projects and ventures.”

T.A.


Refugee entrepreneurs also found it useful and are taking some steps forward within their businesses:


“I learnt not to waste my time on things that will not develop my future… from here I began to reconsider my situation. I have enjoyed speaking with people with experience, from different fields. This is the first time that I feel that I have taken real advice from someone who does not know me… a good advice. My plan is to contact these suggested people and engage in 1:1 support.”

S.


“It was a great event for me. I learned that I need to make a business plan first and know better my audience. The panel members gave us great advice. I learned a lot from them, it was very helpful as they have experience. I am not sure yet how I will carry on with all that feedback, but I am now working to reopen my Etsy shop.”

M.


The event had a fantastic celebratory feel. It was not a competition but a celebration of what we can do together. Participants also got some certificates and a UWE digital badge thanks to Lynda Williams, Associate Director of Stakeholder Engagement. We are looking forward to continuing this partnership and supporting them during their journey.

We just planted the sheet and the magic happened! We have now shared the material created during the day and created a communication channel for the participants to continue to work together on these and other projects. We are looking forward to continuing this partnership and supporting them during their journey.

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