Eight new companies have been launched in Staffordshire as a result of a pilot programme aimed at encouraging refugees to start their own business.
The initiative – which was overseen by the Centre for Entrepreneurs (CFE) and jointly funded by the Home Office and The National Lottery Community Fund – was launched in four pilot areas, including Staffordshire.
Its aim was to provide tailored, start-up support to take refugees from idea stage to business launch – and so far, 112 participants have received the training.
In Staffordshire, the scheme – called Positive Pathways and run by Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce – had 18 participants ranging from different backgrounds.
Out of those 18, eight went on to start their own businesses and three more are well on the way to launch.
Head of business services and project, Tom Nadin, said: “Working with refugees in Staffordshire has reinforced our awareness of the skills within the refugee community.
“The intense and tailored support that we have been able to deliver, through the funding provided, has enabled new businesses to flourish during a tough economic climate.
“By utilising the experience, creativity and talent of this new community, we have able to build upon their skills to introduce new diverse businesses to Staffordshire and help our region to prosper.”
Now the support provided through the pilot scheme looks set to continue, after Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce secured £531,000 of funding to help it reach a further 150 refugee entrepreneurs in the region over the next two years.
Thirty seven-year-old Facinet Keita is one of the entrepreneurs from the scheme.
Keita – who is originally from Guinea – came to the UK in July 2012 to take part in the London Olympic Games as a Judo competitor.
After the Games he applied for asylum and was granted leave to remain in 2018.
Since then, he has settled in Stoke-on-Trent and started his own business – called Keita High Tech Repairs – offering tech repair services for phones, laptops gaming devices and accessories.
Previously a director of marketing and events in Guinea, Keita took part in the Positive Pathways programme where he received targeted business support and advice to help him take his business idea to reality, as well as helping him with access to start-up funding.
He is currently running his business from home due to the pandemic but hopes to expand his service once he is able to.
Keita said: “I’ve been working with Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce since the end of 2019, and the business start-up courses I’ve attended with them have helped me gain more business knowledge and experience which, along with financial support, has led to me opening my own business. I want to thank them for all their support and will be forever grateful.”
The results of the pilot programme have been highlighted in a new report from the CFE.
The report – which has been carried out by Loughborough University – shows that more than half of participants went on to either register their business or start trading before the end of the programme.
The CFE is now is calling for the establishment of a national programme of targeted business support for aspiring refugee founders – and greater commitment from banks to address the barrier of inadequate funding and access to finance.
Matt Smith, CFE’s director of policy and research, said: “This report shows that tailored business support for refugee entrepreneurs works, but that many still face significant and common barriers in turning their plans into successful businesses.
“What we now need is commitment and collaboration at a national level from businesses, banks, local authorities and the third sector to ensure that every interested refugee can access this vital support and start to rebuild their lives through entrepreneurship.
“The Centre for Entrepreneurs is committed to making the UK more entrepreneurial and supporting refugees via targeted business support programmes will play a critical role in helping to achieve this.”