Refugee Entrepreneurs Working at the UT Campus

| Michaela Nesvarova

DesignLab at the University of Twente is currently a home base for aspiring refugee entrepreneurs. Fourteen young Syrian refugees from a pre-startup school Delitelabs will be at the UT until Friday, working on their business ideas. ‘We encourage local students to come to the DesignLab. You will be surprised at the magic that happens when you put together people of different background,’ says Christof Hawle, Director of Delitelabs.

Delitelabs is a non-profit foundation offering free of charge intensive courses for aspiring entrepreneurs. The initiative is based in Amsterdam and focuses on teaching refugees and young unemployed people, who wish to explore entrepreneurship and develop their professional ideas. ‘Many people have a lot of creative energy and want to make something for themselves. We offer five week courses to help them define their ideas, themes, business plans and prototypes. It’s the first step in setting up their own enterprise,’ describes Hawle. ‘The courses are also a lot about personal development, because your business is only as strong as your backbone.’

Bringing the concept to Twente

Why did Delitelabs move their course to the UT campus this week? ‘We want to bring this concept to Twente,’ answers Juan Jauregui Becker, a researcher from the University of Twente. ‘We plan to start ‘Enschede Refugees Entrepreneurial Iniative’, a joint initiative combining our PC3 program and the expertise of Delitelabs. The refugee students are here now, because we want to showcase how this could work at the UT and create contact with the local community.’

‘We encourage the students to interact with the local UT students. I think a lot of people will be surprised. There are often misconceptions about refugees. If you come and meet them, you really feel their energy and motivation,’ thinks Juan Jauregui Becker. ‘So come and be surprised.’ If you don’t get the chance to drop by and meet the Syrian students, you can also read about their experiences on Delitelabs blog.

‘It’s the next level of integration’

At the end of each Delitelabs course, one winning project is chosen to receive crowdfunded money, which the prospective entrepreneur uses to startup their business. One such project was created by Jana Alhob Shalgheen, one of the Delitelabs students currently visiting the UT. Jana has participated in the entrepreneurial course, which helped her start her project ‘fashionize.me’, dealing with recycling clothes and sustainable fashion. ‘I’m from Syria and I came to the Netherlands eleven months ago,’ says Jana Shalgheen. ‘I used to work as a freelancer for a lot of entrepreneurs and I knew this was the path I wanted to take. Signing up for the Delitelabs was my best decision yet.’

Jana has also recently applied for studies at Leiden University and is currently doing an internship at Delitelabs. ‘Through the course, you get to know a lot of people, you build a massive network. Also, you get introduced to the country on a completely new level. It’s the next level of integration and it’s a very important one – the economic integration,’ thinks Jana.

Enschede Refugees Entrepreneurial Iniative starting soon

As mentioned, Delitelabs and UT-based initiative PC3 (Product Co-Created Centers) are joining forces. Their integrated project ‘Enschede Refugees Entrepreneurial Iniative’ (EREI) will start at the beginning of 2017. ‘It will be based in Twente. The initiative will be integrated into the local startup ecosystem and linked to the University of Twente,’ explains Becker. Delitelabs should serve as the first stepping stone, where students can define their business ideas before entering PC3 program and really getting their projects off the ground.

EREI initiative is, in fact, organizing an event tomorrow, the 12th of October, 2016. It will take place at 17:30 in the DesignLab and explain how different stakeholders can be involved. Any possible shareholders are welcome to join the event.