“Dragons’ Den for migrants” scheme wants to help refugees become entrepreneurs

A team of five technologically forward-thinking young men has won an initiative that brands itself as the ‘Dragons’ Den’ for migrants. The winners comprised a group who had recently undergone the migration from Syria and Yemen to the Netherlands. The group’s brainchild, Ngage Virtual Reality (no, not that N-Gage), a company that creates VR content for education, will be brought to fruition with the help of R Ventures Capital, the company behind the competition.

Twenty-six year old Mohammad Alkhateeb, a member of the winning team, believes the hardships he has endured means he will fare well in high-risk, high-reward startup ecosystem. “The journey has changed me more than I could imagine,” he said. “Now I know that I have nothing to lose, I just need to go for it and to jump into this project.”

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The successful applicants will be sponsored through a six-month technology qualification, thereafter receiving $200,000 (£180,000) to help lift Ngage Virtual Reality off the ground. The duo behind the benevolent initiative are education technology entrepreneur Shantanu Prakash, and social entrepreneur Archish Mittal.

Their aim for the endeavour is no mean feat – to change the perceptions of migrants and refugees entering Europe. “We hope this changes the narrative around migrants and refugees and reminds people that they have skills which they want to use to help their new countries,” said Mittal. “If the business is successful, it will generate many jobs for local people in the Netherlands.”

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If R Ventures Capital – whose tagline is ‘Marginalisation to Capitalisation’ – sounds like a thinly veiled corporate PR scheme, it’s not. The ‘R’ stands for refugee, and the drive genuinely aims to harness resilience and adaptability that refugees necessarily have to cultivate, and to introduce these qualities with aplomb to the European jobs market.

As well as being a graduate from the University of Damascus, Mohammad endured great hardship in fleeing war-torn Syria in 2013, undertaking a three-day boat trip from Libya with 40 other migrants. “Mohammad has adapted to changing and very difficult circumstances, and this resilience and will to survive is one of the most important qualities an entrepreneur needs,” says Mittal.

Technology, for all of its diversity problems, has and continues to have a rich seam of first- and second-generation migrants in its upper echelons. The most famous example is, of course, Steve Jobs, whose biological father was born in Homs, Syria. But Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, and eBay’s Pierre Omidyar all have external roots outside the US. Even Reddit, self-professed ‘front page of the internet’, has a founder, Alexis Ohanian, whose father was an undocumented German immigrant.

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R Ventures Capital’s new initiative, then, comes as a beacon of hope during a time when millions of people are being displaced; you have an influx of enterprising and dynamic people joining the workforce, rejuvenating industry and putting their skills to good, practical, job-creating use. It’s a symbiotic, bountiful relationship of give-and-receive. More power to them.

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