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Oct 6, 2016

Interview: Rafael dos Santos discusses mi-HUB, migrant entrepreneurship, and Brexit

When it comes to coworking spaces, Office Genie features the best and brighest. One such cowoking space is mi-HUB in East London: designed specifically for migrant entrepeneurs, mi-HUB acts as a working environment, a community, and a business accelerator. To find out more, we spoke to its dynamic founder Rafael dos Santos.

What was it that first prompted you to set up a co-working hub?

The idea came to life during the Migrant Business Accelerator - a part of a programme that I ran between September and December 2015, where I selected 10 migrants to go through the programme and helped them to launch and grow their business.

During the programme we realised the momentum: the ideas really came to life when people were together. I thought by putting a co-working hub together, I would get people to start working then we could provide the knowledge they needed by running free workshops. We’d also help them with funding by running the Migrant Business Accelerator, focusing on raising finance.

Can you tell me more about how the Migrant Business Accelerator works?

The Migrant Business Accelerator, or as we call it MBA program, is a business-training programme for migrants who want to start or grow their businesses. Over the course of six months we support the migrant entrepreneurs and provide them with a network of fantastic entrepreneurs who are ambitious and keen to help each other grow their businesses.

The course goes over three main subjects essential to every business: finance, marketing, and operations. Our workshops are designed to challenge the entrepreneurs to help them grow personally so they can apply their knowledge in their business.

What is an average working day like at mi-HUB?

We have our marketing team who drive traffic to the website by optimizing our videos, finding other websites, exchanging blogs, and creating content that drives traffic to the site; we have our sales team, the people who contact companies to see if they want to move to mi-HUB; then we have the events team that also organise and bring events to mi-HUB.

Why did you choose to set up in London? And East London specifically? 

I’ve been in London for 15 years so I know the market really well, and I was in the residential property market before. East London because it’s an area that is happening, it’s upcoming and is where most people want to be. It’s not in the city so it doesn’t have “city prices” but is close enough for people to have an office there and to be proud to bring their customers to it.

Do you have plans to expand mi-HUB to further locations in the UK or even internationally?

Yes, in the next 18 months we want to make sure mi-HUB in East London is up and running, fully functional, and is going as planned, and after that we plan to open one in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham and then hopefully after that go to Berlin.

In your TED talk and your book ‘Moving Abroad One Step at a Time’, you discuss some of the difficulties associated with being a migrant. What is your key piece of advice for someone considering moving to a new country?

One, for you to read my book, and I think the planning is essential, but as soon as you move, you need to try to meet people and get out your comfort zone. I know it is difficult when you first move - you feel very vulnerable - but there are several events, even business events like at the Google campus, that are very friendly. You end up meeting people you become friends with, so it’s very important for you to put yourself out there and try to talk to people as much as you can.

Finally, how do you think Brexit will affect migrant entrepreneurship in the UK?

It’s very difficult to say, I think London is an exception because the mayor wants to do something specifically for London, but it is unstable at the moment. We have no idea what is going to happen and people are feeling a little bit afraid - they don’t know if they are going to need a VISA for example. It’s very difficult to say at this stage what is going to happen.

About Rafael

Rafael dos Santos is the founder of mi-HUB: a coworking space and business accelator for migrant entrepeneurs. He recently featured in the 'Top 100 Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs in the UK' list published in the Sunday Times. To find out more, you can watch his TED Talk on what it takes to be a migrant entrepeneur. 


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