Thursday 11 July 2019 6:10 am

Immigrants are building Britain's fastest-growing businesses

Philip Salter is founder of The Entrepreneurs Network.

Too often, immigrants get a bad press. But we’re trying to change the narrative in today’s report Job Creators: The Immigrant Founders of Britain’s Fastest Growing Businesses. 

It reveals that – despite just 14 per cent of UK residents being foreign-born – 49 per cent of the UK’s fastest-growing businesses have at least one immigrant co-founder.

The report uses SyndicateRoom’s Top 100 list and Beauhurst data to identify the startups, scaleups, and fast-growing firms that have seen the largest increase in value over the last three years. The list includes seven unicorns – startups with a valuation of $1bn or more – of which five have at least one immigrant co-founder, including Monzo and Deliveroo.

No single country or region dominates: the immigrant co-founders hailed from 29 different countries. And smart money is backing these equally smart individuals: the immigrants on the list have so far attracted a total of £3.7bn in investment.

Change your mind

So the next time you hear negative blanket descriptions of immigrants, we want you to think about the Finnish serial entrepreneur Mats Stigzelius, who is on the list. He is a founding partner of Rainmaking, which over the last decade has helped to build and scale over 720 startups through Startupbootcamp, as well as building 27 of its own startups (with nine exits to date).

Or perhaps your model immigrant could be the German-born entrepreneur Timo Boldt? He founded the popular recipe box company Gousto, which has created over 500 jobs. 

Read more: Immigrants add £83bn of economic value to London

Or maybe Virginie Charles-Dear, co-founder of toucanBox is more your style? Originally from France, she came to the UK for an international masters programme, before transitioning to working in banking, then founding and raising millions for her craft subscription service while on maternity leave with her second child.

But the report also raises an important concern. If Brexit happens and freedom of movement ends, some of the next generation of Europe’s elite founders will be deterred from starting their business in the UK. Joshua Wohle, co-founder of SuperAwesome which has raised over £33m and employs over 70 people in the UK, is not alone in saying that he wouldn’t have come to the UK without freedom of movement. 

However, there are things that we can do to limit the self harm.

Bring back the visa

Many of the entrepreneurs on the list stayed in the UK after studying at a British university, benefiting from the Tier 1 Post-Study Work Visa. 

Theresa May scrapped it in 2012, and ever since we’ve been turfing out many of the world’s best and brightest while making the UK less attractive for international students. As Miguel Martinez, co-founder of Signal, says: “We are basically training the best people in the world, paying for part of their PhD with taxpayers’ money, and then telling them that they have to leave the country the moment they finish.”

Following Jo Johnson MP – who backs the report in its foreword – and other MPs across the House of Commons, we call for the return of the post-study visa, which would allow international students to work in the UK for up to two years after graduation before moving onto another visa.

We also call for reform to the investor visa by lowering the minimum qualifying threshold for investment in UK startups, scaleups and venture capital funds, and for the government to clear up confusion in the startup and innovator visas. Both are languishing due to a failure to consult with potential sponsors, law firms, and business groups on its implementation.

The history of Britain’s best businesses can’t be told without the story of immigrants – there would be no Marks & Spencer without Belarusian refugee Michael Marks, for instance. 

Today’s report shows the profound impact that immigrant founders are still having on Britain. Not shutting the door on them isn’t enough, let’s embrace them with open arms.

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