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Immigrant Entrepreneurship – Conference Report

posted 28 Sep 2012, 06:30 by
Delegates from several European countries met at the Portucalense University, Porto, on 13 September to discuss the lessons of Best Form, a project focusing on immigrant entrepreneurship and inspired in the community based business support model developed in the UK by ACBBA and other support organisations. This article summarises some of the key issues discussed at the conference. 

More case studies are needed - The lack of references to micro businesses in the business literature, including detailed case studies on popular types of enterprise and business situations was highlighted at the conference. A call was made to academics, advisers and small entrepreneurs to work closer together to address this issue. 

Micro businesses are proper businesses - Although micro businesses represent 95% of all European businesses and in 2009 accounted for 30% of total employment in the EU, they do not seem to attract as much interest as other enterprises. Best Form recognises migrant entrepreneurs as businesspeople; it acknowledges their contribution in terms of creating both economic and social capital and is rescuing their stories to promote a broader understanding of enterprise.
Micro and Immigrant Entrepreneurship should be placed at the centre of Business Development Policy - Launching and sustaining a business of any size is a major undertaking at the best of times and now is even tougher given the global drop in demand, bleak economic outlook and intense competitive pressures. Therefore, it’s not a surprise to se that although the rate of business formation amongst immigrant entrepreneurs is relatively high, levels of business failure are also high. A new, fresher and more open minded way of looking at immigrant entrepreneurship should lead to more effective action to ensure that more and more immigrants that move into business by necessity have access to the right information, guidance and skills development support to get their enterprises to take off and succeed. There is a need to put micro business development, including immigrant entrepreneurship, at the centre and not the margins of Business Development Policy.
Enterprise is increasingly popular - The training programmes in Italy and Portugal showed there is a huge appetite for learning about enterprise. The community workers, welfare advisers and cultural mediators who participated in the training wanted to spend more time developing their business and advisory skills. They also confirmed more and more clients were enquiring about self-employment. 

Community oriented professionals are good candidates to train as business advisers - In the UK community based business advisers were drawn from immigrant-led organisations, sector which is relatively strong compared to other European countries. This meant that a new type of candidates had to be identified in Italy and Portugal. The Italian partners worked with Cultural and Linguistic Mediators, solution which proved to be a resounding success, as these mediators work in close contact with immigrant communities, speak their language and share other aspects of their cultural background and experiences in the host countries. The involvement of cultural mediators clearly shows that social models like the one developed in the UK cannot be transplanted into other realities without modifications to make the models work.

The future – There was optimism that the ideas behind Best Form will continue to be developed in Europe, applied not just to migrants but also other disadvantaged groups. It was concluded we have the ideas and the people to make an impact and that is now up to all of us to mobilise these resources to enhance our understanding of enterprise, to bring together academics and practitioners and to develop capacity at community level to increase the job and wealth creation importance of the micro business sector.