At the symposium of the Hessian Entrepreneurship Day on 1 November 2019, the four experts Amira Bieber (Pro Arbeit – Kreis Offenbach), Manuel Güll (SINGA Business Lab Berlin and Magnet project), Jörg Schoolmann (Young Business International) and Markus Weidner (KIZ GmbH and M-UP project) discussed with 30 workshop participants how start-ups of refugees can be supported in a sustainable way. There was agreement that migrants and refugees have a high affinity of business creation. Many were self-employed with small shops in their country of origin. In addition, companies founded /operated by migrants create disproportionally more jobs for migrants. To support this effectively, the entrepreneurial potential of refugees should be assessed systematically in job centres and voluntary measures to develop a business idea should be offered. The goal would be to exploit and scale the available potential and create a critical mass of individual successful entrepreneurs and businesses, that could help to change the perception of refugees.

Jörg Schoolmann explained that entrepreneurship training programs that focus solely on technical or “hard” skills are, according to recent studies, much less effective than those that teach entrepreneurial skills and essential soft skills. In our everchanging world, it is important to equip young entrepreneurs with transferable skills that provide them with greater resilience. YBI has developed a flexible curriculum that includes twelve soft skills, such as mindfulness, network work, systems thinking, co-design or complex information management. The curriculum should be adapted to local circumstances and enable experiential learning. Especially refugees need higher resilience and could particularly benefit from Soft Skills training. Discussants agreed that it would make sense to include Soft Skills training in apprenticeship programmes of the German chamber of crafts. Manuel Güll presented a train-the-trainer qualification and accreditation model for start-up sponsors of migrant entrepreneurs, which was developed as part of an EU project with the Danube University. The first group of supporters of entrepreneurs with a migration background is going through and testing the developed university-level study program, which consists of the six modules. Amira Bieber and Markus Weidner presented the EU-funded RIAC project that accompanies refugees in the district of Offenbach in employment or self-employment. Despite all acceleration efforts and involvement of future employers with whom the project is experimenting, it will not be possible for all refugees to find a job. A solution could be self-employment. Attention needs to be paid to the extreme lack of resources of refugees. Not only capital, contacts and know-how about markets are missing, but also an understanding of economic practices in Germany. Already the simple registration of trade represents a hurdle. The RIAC entrepreneurship training consists of 4 modules. The “opportunities workshop” started with 30 participants. After two modules of basic and intensive training, 12 participants are still remaining in the concept phase after 28 weeks. Drop-out reasons include insufficient progress in language acquisition (25%), inappropriate expectations (25%), inconsistent participation (13%), or a different perspective (38% – switch to RIAC inclusion programme or find a job). Strikingly, those who complete the program with a concept were either freelancers, entrepreneurs, or academics in their country of origin. They cannot find adequate jobs in Germany and therefore choose self-employment. The most important findings include:

  • Each step into the self-employment takes a lot longer, than anticipated due language, concept/model hurdles but also roles and self-understanding (jobcentre, coach, personal responsibility, …).
  • In the beginning, the business ideas are far behind the potential and do not tie in with the experiences/qualifications.
  • Cultural hurdles must be overcome.
  • The language barrier is extremely high. The formal certificates (B1, B2, …) are not meaningful. While there is little appreciation of participants for formal language exercises, experience shows that there is a great deal of passion for subject-related language exercises (such as “My entrepreneurial idol”). The development of the business idea is extremely well suited for learning the language because it has to do with the founder and his/her own future and requires permanent research and writing. The greatest progress was made by participants who consistently participated in the entrepreneurship programme. Heterogeneity of the group proved to be an advantage, as participants needed to communicate in German among each other.
  • More than half a day of the training programme is not possible. Classroom teaching is suboptimal as of the intensive training, as individual capacities regarding language skills, entrepreneurial experience, development of the business idea and digital skills are very diverse.

The classic business plan must be supplemented/replaced by more modern instruments, such as effectuation principles, business model canvas, short presentations and ‘first business figures’.The start-up support leads to integration on two levels: on the one hand, the always required adaptation of the participants to the system takes place via the qualification. On the other hand, the support system must also be adapted to the participants if it is to be successful. Structures must take into consideration religious conditions, mentalities or networks.

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