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Harnessing Immigrants Entrepreneurial Talents

Although immigrants are responsible for starting one in seven of all UK companies, they face unique challenges that can prevent them from fulfilling their entrepreneurial potential.

Two years ago, I read a 2014 report by the Centre for Entrepreneurs which stated that, although immigrants are responsible for starting one in seven of all UK companies, they face unique challenges that can prevent them from fulfilling their entrepreneurial potential.

There are several reasons for this. Foreign skills may not be duly recognised in the host country, leading to labour market exclusion and barriers to starting a business. For high skilled entrepreneurs, visa restrictions can be a significant barrier. In addition, immigrants often have a knowledge gap on the resources and operating practices in their destination country. I know this from my own experience, having faced a steeped learning curve when starting my own business in the USA, where the legal and commercial norms are quite different to the UK.

Such barriers represent a major missed opportunity. Growing up in an enterprising immigrant family in the UK, and having moved abroad to start my own business, the topic of immigrant entrepreneurship is close to my heart.

Harnessing immigrants’ entrepreneurial talents
I’ve also found myself motivated to help shift the negative narrative on immigration from one of destructive myths to one rooted in reality, starting with a fact-based discussion around immigrant entrepreneurs. I didn’t know what steps to take, until in 2016 I came across the Churchill Fellowships just two days before the application deadline, after a chance visit to Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.

Fortunately, through winning a Fellowship, I was given the opportunity to travel to 12 cities and eight countries in Europe and North America, to observe projects aiming to attract and integrate diverse entrepreneurial talent. The journey took me from global accelerators near the Berlin Wall to Crypto Valley with Blockchain enthusiasts in Switzerland, from the Ministry of Economic Affairs in Helsinki to a chatbot meetup in the heart of Vienna.

Every city I visited has devoted resources to attracting global entrepreneurs and providing tools to launch their businesses. This is often through a combination of accelerators, grants and entrepreneurial visas. The differences are in the ways those entrepreneurial ecosystems were built. Some are a very cohesive unit between local government and successful entrepreneurs, others operate in silos, which limits progress. If successful immigrant entrepreneurs are part of the political process, this builds more robust policies. Berlin is one of the best examples of a very cohesive system between business, government and academia.

Harnessing immigrants’ entrepreneurial talents
I have gained unique global insights into how cities are attracting immigrant entrepreneurs. There is much more we could be doing in the UK, including accelerating labour market participation of spouses through improved integration and matching their experience and skills with young start-ups who lack these, and leveraging the UK’s international student talent and their networks in their home countries to support British businesses to expand abroad. These are just a few of my policy recommendations detailed further in the report.

This October, I will be sharing my policy findings to MPs in a talk at the House of Commons as part of the All Party Parliamentry Group on Jainism’s Ahimsa Day celebrations. I will talk about this issue whenever I can, as I believe that harnessing the talent of immigrant entrepreneurs will be critical to driving economic and social progress in the UK post-Brexit.