Migrant entrepreneurship on the European level: CREME at the first annual EMEN conference in Munich

Conference day 1: Q&A session with the entrepreneurs

On April 23 and 24, the EMEN's (European Migrant Entrepreneurship Network) first annual conference took place in Munich.

The 3-year project (2017-2020) is funded by the EU's COSME programme for small and mid-sized companies and unites twelve project partners in different European countries. The network operates through three Communities of Practice (CoPs), each addressing a key component of a comprehensive ecosystem to support migrant entrepreneurship. Its goal is to develop, share and promote support schemes for individual migrant entrepreneurs, but also to promote social and inclusive enterprises.

The emergence of networks like the EMEN clearly show that migrant entrepreneurship has found a place on the European agenda. But what does the agenda look like? How does it transfer to the national, regional and, eventually, to the local level of national goverments? Who is involved in it and who are its beneficiaries? Where does it lead to? And finally, as Prof. Monder Ram of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship put it during one of the workshops, "who owns the agenda"?

The first EMEN conference began to address these. Hosted in the modern-cosy facilities of the Social Impact Lab München in the heart of the Bavarian capital, about 70 network members, entrepreneurs, academics and business support practitioners from European countries gathered to exchange ideas and experiences, and plan collective action. The lab, which usually hosts up to 50 entrepreneurs who participate in the programme "The Human Safety Net for Refugee Start-ups", met all the requirements for a fruitful event to discuss the migrant entrepreneurship agenda.

The public part of day 1, headlined “Why Migrant Entrepreneurship matters!”, was all about the different faces and facets that characterize the field. Six different workshops served as platforms for discussion and covered topics from access to financing to business mentoring schemes. Yet another question popped up during this first day: Who are we talking about when we are talking about 'migrant entrepreneurs'? Five recently established migrant entrepreneurs from Germany made clear that there is no easy answer to this question.

Syrian entrepreneur Beslan Kabertay presented his nascent cheesemaking business that he is about to launch. Experienced business owner Ali Karim recalled the initial struggles and 90-hour working weeks that lead to a now successful business.

Sara and Lale represented their social enterprise WoW e.V. (With or Without), a human rights non-profit, non-governmental organization that seeks to enhance the access and success of women with Muslim migration background in the German employment sector. And finally, The Human Safety Net participant Robert Seko presented his plans to establish a car part trading company in Germany and Nigeria.

While equipped with an unbreakable motivation and passion, the entrepreneurs experienced challenges that go beyond the struggles of funding and risk-taking, like uncertainties and restrictions related to their legal status or the particularities (and pitfalls) of German administration.

The second day was dedicated to workshops on the network's three core topics: Coaching and mentoring, micro-finance, and professionalization of migrant entrepreneurs' associations and diversity management in chambers of commerce. The intense discussions and brainstorming sessions throughout the day culminated in colourful final presentations, which also marked the end of the 2-day conference. Just like the wide range of conference participants, the outcomes that derived from these workshops made clear that migrant entrepreneurship means diversity and that its agenda involves a large variety of actors and approaches. Naturally, the entrepreneurs themselves are a part of the process. Local chambers can play a role in it. Migrant business associations have their voice. Banks can contribute to the agenda, as well as civil associations and scholars. The challenge for all of these actors is to find their role and to get the best out of cooperating with each other.

Maybe the universal "agenda" for migrant entrepreneurship does not exist and in the end, it's up to the local actors to create their version of a more inclusive business ecosystem and to shape their very own strategy. But projects like EMEN and gatherings like the network's annual conference are important to lay the foundation for a European discussion about migrant entrepreneurship. And there is no question that this discussion deserves a place on the European agenda, in policy and in practice. Simply because the entrepreneurs we are talking about are an important part of our societies' and economies' backbone, but yet face additional barriers.

Most importantly, during the event it became clear that the different players present at the EMEN conference are eager to push their migrant entrepreneurship agenda forward and to improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem for migrant entrepreneurs in Europe. One means to achieve these goals - besides supporting policies - is to share experiences and to learn from each other. The EMEN's Communities of Practice might be a wide-reaching and important way to do so. Projects like the CREME's Business Leaders Project can serve as a primary example on the local level.

Kristina Stoewe is a postgraduate researcher (PhD) at the Centre for Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship. The article represents her point of view on the event.