April 23, 2015

Cities Help Deliver the Immigrant Entrepreneur Value Proposition

Helping immigrant and immigrant-owned businesses results in better social and economic integration, and international market opportunities for cities.

How do cities re-charge their economic engines and stay competitive in a globalized economy? Embracing immigrant entrepreneurs and immigrant-owned small businesses leads to better outcomes not only for newcomers, but for cities themselves.

Are immigrants natural entrepreneurs? Or, do the labour market barriers that many professionals face lead them to a path of entrepreneurship or small business? Regardless of the reasons, the reality is that thriving newcomer entrepreneurs and businesses create a variety of positive spin-offs for local economies. Ranging from local employment to accelerating settlement all the way to creating international business opportunities, supporting immigrant entrepreneurs leads to success for many others as well.

In the following examples, from our sister site, Cities of Migration, local government and voluntary sector actors have embarked on diverse initiatives to support immigrant entrepreneurs. From starting, managing and growing a business, to ensuring that immigrant-led businesses adhere to legal and regulatory practices, these good ideas involve practices that can be replicated in other regions and cities.

Relying on Immigrant Networks: Business Network Aachen

The city establishes a local immigrant network to develop international economic opportunities. One in twelve companies in Aachen, Germany, is foreign-owned. The city is also seeing the emergence of a significant rise in the number of “transnational entrepreneurs.” The city wanted to tap into networks already in place where immigrant entrepreneurs have access to two or more sets of networks, in Aachen and other cities in Germany and in the country or city of their birth. Immigrant-run companies in knowledge-intensive sectors have an edge in promoting the city to networks in their executives’ country of origin.

Officially launched in April 2011, the Business Network Aachen holds regular networking events as well as workshops to discuss strategies, plans and goals to develop existing and new contacts for building business opportunities. Since the emphasis is on inclusion, not all members need to have an immigrant background. They only need to be interested in strengthening Aachen as an international business location to become a member of the voluntary network. To ensure success, other prominent organizations are also involved, such as the Aachen Chamber of Commerce and the RWTH Aachen University. Learn more.

Better Business: Integrating the Chinese Business Community into the Mainstream

Helping immigrant-owned businesses conform to legal and regulatory practice results in better social and economic integration. According to 2005 data from the Italian Chamber of Commerce, Bologna, Italy, includes 1,100 Chinese-owned craft workshops, representing 20 per cent of the companies in the area. These companies employ approximately 9,000 Chinese migrant workers. Efforts to bring the business practices of the Chinese bosses in line with the Italian labour laws hasn’t been easy and in the interim the perception that Chinese-owned businesses were not complying with Italian laws on working hours, and health and safety conditions have led to allegations of unfair competition that have divided the communities.

In 2000, the Consorzio Spinner, a local consortium of research and economic development groups, was formed to connect with the Chinese community and encourage Chinese entrepreneurs to regularize their businesses by adhering to Italian labour standards. The intervention focused equally on reforming business practices inside the Chinese workshop and the problem of local hostility between the Italian community and Chinese workers. The long term goal of the Spinner intervention was to transform these immigrant workers into active members of a vibrant local economy and to create greater social cohesion. Learn more.

Immigrant Businesses get a Helping Hand

Supporting immigrant entrepreneurs before problems arise. Supporting immigrant entrepreneurs has risen on city agendas around the world as studies show that immigrants start businesses at a higher rate than native-born citizens. EnterpriseHelsinki, a free business counselling service for the city’s entrepreneurs, has the proof. Thirty-five per cent of their clients are immigrants, triple their share of their population. Another reason to support immigrant entrepreneurs? A City of Helsinki report states these businesses have longer ‘lifespans’ than those started by the native-born population.

One of the aims of EnterpriseHelsinki is to help immigrant entrepreneurs before they encounter problems within Finnish business culture which is known for its bureaucratic nature. Although they start more businesses than native-born Finns, immigrants are seen to seek help only once they have encountered problems. And EnterpriseHelsinki is able to cater beyond the aging stereotype of immigrant businesses – the ‘pizza and kebab’ entrepreneurs. “Immigrants just don’t establish restaurants or cleaning companies,” says Elie El-Khouri, Project Manager of Enterprise Helsinki. “Now they start up IT companies just like Finns.” Learn more.

Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Immigrants

What’s good for business is good for new immigrants and entrepreneurs. Immigrants to Barcelona, Spain, already have the entrepreneurial spirit: nearly a third of all participants in the activities of boosting entrepreneurship are immigrants, despite making up only 18 per cent of the overall population. Barcelona Activa was able to respond quickly with programs and an advice centre that could harness this new source of entrepreneurial energy and investment. Training and employment activities that had been established to reach young people and women, as well as the traditionally business-minded, were adapted to meet the needs of new immigrants.

Barcelona Activa operates 30 programs for entrepreneur incubation and has become one of the main motors for employment and innovation in the city of Barcelona, annually coaching upwards of 1,000 business projects, resulting in the consolidation and establishment of more than 300 recently created businesses. Each year more than 40,000 participants pass through its Glories Entrepreneurship Centre, for business plan coaching, training activities for entrepreneurs, e-resources, or for networking and marketing activities. Learn more.

Business Law for Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Improving business outcomes by connecting immigrant entrepreneurs to pro bono legal services. Starting a small business is a challenge anywhere, in any economy, whatever the tax or legal system. It is one thing to come up with the great idea, it is another to navigate the risks and pitfalls of a business start-up. The average immigrant entrepreneur has the initiative, drive and appetite for hard work that’s required for success. But managing risk and understanding the legal structures of a new country? That really is like speaking a new language.

Connect Legal fosters entrepreneurship in the immigrant community by providing legal education workshops and pro bono (free) commercial legal assistance to low-resource immigrant entrepreneurs. Many immigrants are accidental entrepreneurs. A 2010 Statistics Canada study found that 33 per cent of self-employed immigrants became self-employed due to a lack of job opportunities in the paid labour market, compared to just 20 per cent of those self-employed who were non-immigrants. But, they’re not always prepared for the legal and regulatory knowledge needed to be successful. Connect Legal provides a free Lawyer Matching Program, connecting immigrant entrepreneurs with volunteer lawyers from Connect Legal’s well-established professional network. Each lawyer works one-on-one with the client/entrepreneur to address specific legal needs related to the growth of his or her business. This includes drafting contracts, obtaining permits and negotiating agreements that are essential to starting and building their business. Learn more.

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