New report highlights huge potential of refugee entrepreneurs and calls for national roll-out of tailored business support programmes

112 refugees have received business startup training through a pilot jointly funded by the Home Office and The National Lottery Community Fund.

The one-year pilot, overseen by the Centre for Entrepreneurs, funded four local business support organisations to deliver tailored startup support to take refugees from idea stage to business launch.

The success of the pilot has helped three of the four delivery bodies to secure a collective £1.7m to expand support beyond the pilot locations. Over the next 18 months, they will support a further 585 refugees into entrepreneurship.

The pilot findings have also shaped the self-employment element of the £14m refugee transitions outcome fund (RTOF), announced in March 2021. The RTOF, a joint initiative between the Home Office, DWP and DCMS, will support circa 2,000 newly granted refugees to integrate in the UK including accessing housing, employment, and entrepreneurship support.

Minister for Immigration Compliance and Justice Chris Philp said:
“The excellent results from this pilot show just how much drive and ambition refugees have to succeed, and I’m thrilled that the pilot has helped reveal such desire for entrepreneurship.

“As part of our New Plan for Immigration, we will be enhancing the support provided to refugees to help them integrate and thrive in their local communities.

“I started several businesses myself before entering parliament so I’m really pleased with this. Entrepreneurship creates jobs and prosperity and I’m pleased these refugees are making a real contribution to society.”

Despite operating during a global pandemic, 25% of the 112 refugees who took part in the pilot went on to register their business or had begun trading by the end of it in industries as diverse as IT, hospitality, agriculture and marketing. A further 40% were preparing to launch a business within 12 months.

The pilot shone a spotlight on the huge potential for refugee entrepreneurs in the UK to create jobs, contribute to the economy, reduce public spending and facilitate greater social integration, if given the right support to start up and grow their businesses.

A comprehensive evaluation of the pilot was led by Loughborough University. As well as evidencing the economic benefits of providing tailored business support for refugee entrepreneurs, the evaluation highlighted a range of other positive outcomes for participants. These included access to education, employment opportunities and increased personal confidence and wellbeing – all of which can bring benefits to wider society as well helping the individual on their path towards business start-up.

In addition, anecdotal findings from the four pilot programmes suggest that a high number of refugee entrepreneurs were keen to tackle social issues at the heart of their communities as part of their business, whether this is by improving employment opportunities for marginalised groups or facilitating new relationships between business contacts and their local communities. These findings support previous data from The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN) suggesting that up to 80%
of refugee businesses state that their business has a focus on making the world a better place.

Elly De Decker, England Director at The National Lottery Community Fund said:
“This report confirms the significant potential that can be harnessed by supporting entrepreneurs from refugee communities to develop their business ideas. Participants in the programme were clearly passionate about contributing to their communities through their business ideas and this report provides a valuable insight into how a collaborative approach to supporting idea and business development
could be achieved.

“Thanks to National Lottery players for helping to make this work possible.”

The key recommendations from the report include:

  • The establishment of a national programme of targeted business support for aspiring refugee founders
  • Greater commitment from and coordination with banks to address the persistent barrier of inadequate funding and access to finance
  • Adopting a broader range of outcomes to measure and evaluate business support
    programmes for refugees – including education, work experience and access to finance
  • Greater collaboration between local businesses and business support programmes to improve engagement with the refugee community
  • The utilisation of refugee business owners as potential partners in addressing community issues

Matt Smith, CFE’s director of policy & research commented:
“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.”

It is hoped that the report will inform similar programmes of tailored business support for refugee entrepreneurs at a UK and international level.

Learn more about the pilot and read the evaluation report