Getting down to business: MC4E hosts a bootcamp for budding refugee entrepreneurs

On Saturday 24 February, the Maastricht Centre for Entrepreneurship (MC4E) and Zuyd Hogeschool ran a one-day refugee entrepreneurship workshop at LaunchBase. The workshop’s aim was to connect refugee entrepreneurs with Maastricht University students and expert mentors to work collaboratively on developing their business ideas.

The full-day workshop was hosted by Dr Jarrod Ormiston, assistant professor in social entrepreneurship at MC4E. The event was funded through an Alumni Fund Grant from the Limburg University Fund/SWOL [Universiteitsfonds Limburg/SWOL] for research into refugee entrepreneurship. The event was inspired by the work of Refugees Forward, an Amsterdam-based non-profit organisation connecting newcomer entrepreneurs with business students.

The bootcamp provided a fast-paced crash course in entrepreneurship, offering refugee entrepreneurs from Syria, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Bangladesh the chance to gain insights into business models, customer interviews and pitching. The workshop gave the entrepreneurs an opportunity to test their ideas with industry experts and UM students, as well as a chance to build longer-term mentoring relationships.

The refugees who participated in the workshop are currently undertaking a 14-week entrepreneurship training programme run by Zuyd Hogeschool. The Zuyd programme is coordinated by Martine Prins, project leader for internationalisation, and Fouad de Vries, business developer, from Zuyd Hogeschool’s Faculty of International Business and Communication. The programme is part of the broader European Commission-funded Fresh Start initiative, with partner programmes operating at London South Bank University and UC Leuven Limburg. The Zuyd program in Maastricht is being run in collaboration with VluchtelingenWerk, Qredits, Stichting Jong Ondernemen and ROC Leeuwenborgh.

The refugee entrepreneurs are currently developing business ideas in a broad range of areas, including renewable energy, hospitality, textiles and platform cooperatives. As an additional insight into the skills the participants had to offer, participants at the bootcamp were treated to Syrian delicacies provided by three of the budding entrepreneurs.

Fifteen students collaborated with the entrepreneurs throughout the day. The diverse student cohort included members of Refugee Project Maastricht, LaunchBase, Enactus and Maastricht Student Consulting. The workshop gave students a chance to share and enhance their own entrepreneurial skills, connect with ambitious entrepreneurs, develop networks with industry professionals, and have a positive impact in the local community.

In the afternoon, 10 industry mentors joined the students and refugees to share expert insights and explore links with the local entrepreneurship ecosystem. Mentors included Dutch entrepreneurs and consultants from Maastricht (Marta Giralt, Consense Data Exchange; Nando Ngandu, Starters Valley; André Zandee, APG Asset Management) and Amsterdam (Diederick van der Wijk & David Hwan, Refugee Forward), as well as entrepreneurial academics (Dr Serdar Turkeli, UNU-Merit; Dr Deniz Iren, BISS Institute; Dr Michael Leyer, University of Rostock) and expert educator Ben de Bree.

Energy levels and engagement were high throughout the day and the organisers were pleased to see a spirit of camaraderie among the attendees, who came from more than 15 countries of origin.

For further information on this event, or future activities related to refugee entrepreneurship, please contact Dr Jarrod Ormiston