Refugees are often more likely to start new businesses but they face more barriers to success than the average entrepreneur. It's not a question of talent or potential. Yet, there is an undeniable need to bridge the gap between refugees and host societies when it comes to giving these business hopefuls a fighting chance.
How can we make sure that these entrepreneurial aspirations get fulfilled and these men and women get the opportunities they deserve in their host societies in order to make their own way?
For the last three years, PLACE has been leading Ice Academy, a 4-month pre-incubation program for refugee entrepreneurs in France to accelerate their innovative projects from an idea to a soft launch. In partnership with Ben & Jerry’s Europe and run in collaboration with TERN and Delite Labs, this program gives the participants, known as Catalysts, the opportunity to develop their projects through weekly training sessions. Their ideas are challenged, tested and thus strengthened through feedback from real potential users. Throughout the program, they are connected with key players in the field to receive their coaching. Thanks to the program, some are offered part-time employment with one of the program's employment partners.
With this multifaceted approach to learning, Ice Academy seeks to solve key issues often unaddressed by entrepreneurship programs not specifically tailored to refugee or newcomer entrepreneurs.
The first is the ongoing employment disparities faced by newcomers. Linguistic or cultural obstacles and increased scrutiny in their host societies makes their professional integration more challenging. Though many come to Europe with diplomas in tow, their skills are often perceived as less legitimate. According to a study by the EU and the OECD*, the employment rate for refugee men is 62% and a mere 45% for refugee women. And when refugees find employment, almost 60% of employed tertiary-educated refugees in the EU are overqualified for the jobs they occupy, more than twice the level of the native-born and also well above the levels for other migrant groups.
These difficulties are part of the reason why refugees turn to entrepreneurship, as it gives them the opportunity to create their own employment. It is thus essential that they receive the needed resources and skills to get acquainted with the rules of the entrepreneurship game in their host societies.
Furthermore, refugee-led businesses are, in time, a great source of employment for other refugees as refugee leaders attract those from their community around them. These successes help combat discrimination and negative perceptions toward refugees, thus increasing the capacity of host societies to continue to welcome refugees.
Ice Academy also gives refugee entrepreneurs the knowledge and resources they need to succeed. Starting a business requires a capital of resources, including savings, assets, and networks - none of which refugees have easy access to. Institutions, like banks for example, are also ill-equipped to assist them as they lack the tools that would allow them to properly assess the risks. As such, refugees require a lot of time to adjust to the basics of how their host societies function and operate. Ice Academy introduces them to these requirements, gives them access to people that can help. For example, the Ice Academy Catalysts have access to part-time jobs with our employment partners such as the Jardin d’Acclimatation and Park Astérix, in order to build their financial autonomy and give them professional experience in France that can help in building their profile and confidence.
Finally, the program’s partnership with Ben & Jerry's Europe is a vote of confidence in the skills acquired during the 4-month program. Thanks to the alliance of the program's four main partners, PLACE in Paris, Ben & Jerry's Europe, TERN in London and Delite Labs in Amsterdam, the Catalysts get access to an international network of entrepreneurs-to-be and experts with whom they can share and grow.
All these assets become actionable levers to their integration into the professional scene, making it faster and more efficient. Through this pre-incubation program, refugees acquire transferable skills that will help them whether they ultimately seek to start a business and aim to take part in a full-scale incubation program or if they choose to aim for more traditional employment.
If you want to learn more about the Ice Academy program :
* Report from the European Commission and the OECD, "How are refugees faring on the labour market in Europe? A first evaluation based on the 2014 EU Labour Force Survey", 2016