Immigration is not new to human culture. It has always played a crucial role in building societies and in shaping individuals’ identities. In modern societies, immigration can very often be summarised as individuals moving from a low-resource country to a high-resource one, with the prospects of improving their quality of life, earn a better salary and have access to brand new opportunities in terms of personal and professional development and growth. Unfortunately, most societies see migrants as low-skilled people only good at being employed in low-level and low-paid jobs.
The growth of international migration during the last decades of the twentieth century has resulted in significant increases in the number of immigrant SME owners. Today, it is unthinkable to imagine Europe without immigrant entrepreneurs. Empirical research has even proved that migrants who take on entrepreneurship initiatives are more likely to outperform locals’ growth. Migrants seem to be self-reliant, natural entrepreneurs and born risk-takers. But why?
Immigrant entrepreneurship is a dynamic process that demands to overcome challenges that migrants deal with, such as discrimination; the barriers built up on their access to financial support, especially from banks; the lack of information (regarding the measures and special programmes, as well as the opportunities of local markets); and the difficulties in understanding laws and the bureaucratic system.
The mere definition of migration is leaving your country, your culture and language to move to another place and face social, cultural, political and linguistic differences. This decision, with the sole aim of reinventing oneself, is similar to the risks of investing money and energy to turn an idea into a commercial product or service.
Migrants are accustomed to adaptation and to stepping out of their comfort zone, which natives are more reluctant on doing. Entrepreneurship is really about being comfortable with being uncomfortable. After all, what is more uncomfortable than being in a new country where you may not speak the language nor understand the culture, but are trying to blend in anyway? Nowadays, everything is about being comfortable, having that cosy chair and that comfort food. But for somebody who does not have a lot to lose, what is the downside?
It is sad to see that today’s society seems to be more focused on the safest and quickest shortcut to success, zeitgeist and idleness inherent to most developed countries that now seem to rely solely on their past achievements. Luckily enough, migrants, moved by their strong will to uproot themselves, do not suffer from that lazy mindset.
The outsider’s advantage
Immigrant entrepreneurial success is largely a result of being able to look at things from the outside. They have not spent their lives growing up in formatted school systems, predetermining them to an inside-the-box kind of lifestyle. They are more likely to solely focus on business and job creation because of their being outside of their comfort zone. This experience of being far away from any kind of support –family, friends, community… – is a wonderful opportunity to create something, out of nothing. They make great use of their outsider’s point of view. Migrants bring with them a fresh perspective and (fore)see opportunities left behind or ignored by natives, and start new businesses to take advantage of these opportunities. Fostering their new country’s economic growth through new markets (called niches) dedicated to meet the needs of locals and customers with the same ethnic origin or immigrant network.
A gold-mine for theoretical prospects
The experiences of immigrant entrepreneurs can benefit existing research and theory in entrepreneurship by allowing a realistic view of what it means to start up a new business in a constantly changing and challenging global market.
Immigrant entrepreneurship represents a dynamic process of entrepreneurial learning that can widen the knowledge base of culturally-sensitive entrepreneurial experiences. Migrant entrepreneurs can be seen as crucial components of a reshuffling of the higher education. Some scholars even argue that their unique experience and knowledge of entrepreneurship should be introduced into higher education curricula so as to develop amongst students the skills needed to develop international and cross-cultural competencies; thus reversing the traditional flow of knowledge between academia and SMEs (theory before practice).
Migrants are the living proof that in order to be successful and stand out from the crowd, it is a matter of guts, patience, hard work and fearlessness. So instead of pointing them out negatively, why not pointing them out as the way forward towards thriving societies, innovation, economic growth and job creation? All it takes is a bit of risk-taking and putting one foot forward…