This year, SPARK’s 6th annual IGNITE conference on ‘Rebuilding Futures’ in Amsterdam brought together almost 400 entrepreneurs, policymakers, NGOs and other stakeholders, offering the unique chance to discuss new solutions to the issues of higher education and entrepreneurship development in fragile states. Among the various discussion topics, refugee empowerment and integration was central. M-UP contributed to the conference with a workshop on how migrant business-owners in Europe can access equal opportunities to scale up their companies, employ more people and increase their profits.


Initially, presentations from the private and public sector led the group to start a discussion. Leen, a Syrian entrepreneur from France, highlighted that the post start-up phases are challenging for migrants because many newcomers lack training in managerial skills and knowledge of how to access sustainable sources of finance in their new, host countries. Sabina Kekic, from the City of Amsterdam, presented the opportunities offered by the City in micro-financing for migrant entrepreneurs and improving access to information and supporting documentation. Finally, Savitri Groag, from Accenture, a consultancy company, shed light on the barrier of gender equality that they face when recruiting female programmers and other talents.

The presentations sparked discussions about the barriers that migrant enterprises are faced with. The detailed considerations of the interventions were greatly beneficial for recognising the practical problems and realistic solutions. For instance, how to guide migrants through the rules, regulations and information of local economies? Mentoring from local professionals was proposed as a solution and the need for post-startup programmes was highlighted..

Small groups were formed to analyse the interventions that can and do succeed. Across the various inputs of the attendees, a digital and physical platform for bringing different stakeholders together and providing access to information to migrant entrepreneurs was seen as important, feasible and appropriate approach for supporting migrant business-owners in their integration into the local entrepreneurship environment.

©2018 Tom Nicholson. 28/11/2018. Amsterdam, Netherlands. Spark host the Ignite 2018 conference at Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam. Photo credit : Tom Nicholson

Overall, rules and regulations, information and financing were found to be key areas of need. When analysing these problems, a localised approach should be taken and cities should have the freedom to implement programmes, allocate resources and provide information. Nevertheless, it was pointed out that more evidence is needed to understand what works. Moreover, local administrations should direct their efforts towards decreasing the separation of migrants from the local socio-economic system and allow them more time to try new things, rather than quickly ushering them into whatever employment they can find.

The M-UP workshop was a great opportunity for engaging with and conveying the views and experiences of migrant entrepreneurs and professionals from the public and private spheres. A practical and interactive approach uncovered constructive solutions which have the potential to bring change and support the integration and development of refugees through entrepreneurship.

©2018 Tom Nicholson. 28/11/2018. Amsterdam, Netherlands. Spark host the Ignite 2018 conference at Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam. Photo credit : Tom Nicholson

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