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

A new report by Loughborough University has recommended establishing a national programme to support aspiring entrepreneurial refugees.

Some 112 refugees have received business start-up 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 start-up support to take refugees from the idea stage to the 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 about 2,000 newly granted refugees to integrate in the UK including accessing housing, employment, and entrepreneurship support.

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

Loughborough’s Dr Michelle Richey, who led the evaluation of the pilot, said: “The research team felt very honoured to lead the evaluation of this pilot.

“The report emphasises that enabling refugees to flourish has a positive knock-on effect, particularly in local communities.

“Refugees start businesses not only as a source of income but as a way of living with dignity and solving community problems.

“The report offers suggestions which we hope will help corporate partners and policymakers become more involved with this inspiring group of founders.”

Professor M.N. Ravishankar and Dr Jade Brooks of Loughborough’s School of Business and Economics were also involved in creating the report.

The initiative has been welcomed by the Minister for Immigration Compliance and Justice, Chris Philp.

He 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.

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.”

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 an international level.

To download the full report, click here.


For more information including interview requests and case studies of refugee entrepreneurs please contact Carrie Greene on 07811 282 791.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/104

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2020 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in the Guardian University League Table 2021, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 6th in The UK Complete University Guide 2021.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.