On The Move: New Fund Backs Europe’s Migrant Founders

“Every migrant is an entrepreneur,” says Ramzi Rafih, founder of No Label Ventures. “Immigrants are entrepreneurs and they create jobs.”

There’s certainly no shortage of statistical evidence to suggest that immigrant entrepreneurs – for whatever reason – tend to outperform when it comes to building businesses. To take just one high-level example, a survey carried out by the Open Political Economy Network (OPEN) in 2021 found that eight out of twenty three British unicorns were co-founded by minority entrepreneurs. These included Deliveroo, Monzo and Darktrace.

In other words, the U.K.’s innovation ecosystem would be poorer and less populated if it wasn’t for the presence of founders from overseas or their children. The same is probably true across Europe and in North America. Rafih sees an investment opportunity.

Looking across Europe as a whole, Rafih plans to invest early in businesses that – statistically speaking – have a better-than-average chance of delivering a return. To support these companies, No Label Ventures aims to provide not only capital but also practical support. I spoke to him last week about the thinking behind the launch of the fund.

Rafih is himself a product of the migrant experience. “I was the son of an immigrant family from Lebanon,” he says. “We went to Saudi Arabia. When we returned, I left for France to study.”

Subsequently, he carved out a career in finance and investing. His resume includes spells at financial services company, JP Morgan, investment firm KKR, and technology investor Silver Lake. In addition, he has made his own angel investments.

Rafih has created No Label Ventures with the backing of former KKR colleague, George Roberts and with half of a $15 million fund closed, the firm is preparing to write checks of between $100,000 and $250,000 at Seed and pre-Seed stages. To qualify for funding, early-stage ventures must have at least one founder who is either a first or second-generation migrant.

Formative Experiences

There are many migrant journeys. Some involve a short hop across a single border from one country to the next. Others entail a migration between continents. So what does No Label Ventures mean when it talks about migrant founders.

“We are focused on migrants from outside the European Union,” says Rafih. “The bigger the journey, the bigger the formative experience.”

And it is that “formative experience” that No Label Ventures sees as crucial to the success of migrant entrepreneurs. Within the European Union, a career-led journey between, say, Estonia and France or Germany will involve a certain amount of upheaval but the geographical and cultural distances are relatively short. Migrants traveling from further afield, arguably, require much more commitment to building new lives for themselves. As Rafih sees it, that’s where much of the entrepreneurial spirit or – to put it another way – the will to succeed comes from.

It’s perhaps not quite as simple as that. In order to establish themselves in Britain or within the European Union migrants have a lot of hurdles to jump in terms of acquiring visas and ultimately securing the right to remain indefinitely. Here in the U.K., the government aims to encourage technologists and entrepreneurial talent to come to Britain, but the visa system will be a barrier to some.

For instance, Britain’s Global Talent Visa – is designed to provide a relatively fast-track route for highly skilled people to enter the country but it is sector specific with a particular focus on tech. “The Global Talent Visa is great, but it is not inclusive,” says Rafih.

Visa Applications

So No Label Ventures provides assistance with visa applications. “We have one of the best lawyers working for us, “ says Rafih. The fund will also employ and essentially sponsor entrepreneurs to enable them to come to the U.K.

Entrepreneurs who take investment are also offered a share in the profits made by the fund, meaning that every founder becomes a partner. Ramzi cites equitable venture fund, Kindred as an example of how this currently works in practice. As things stand, No Label ventures is looking for investment opportunities and in the meantime, Rafih has transferred his portfolio of angel investments into the fund.

So what does a No Label Ventures Portfolio company look like? Rafih says he is sector agnostic but within that overall thesis (or lack of one) he has a personal preference for companies in fintech and healthcare.

Food is also a theme. Rajih cites Oja, an online supermarket selling “cultural foods” and Farmland, a supplier of globally sourced food to supermarkets as examples of businesses within the portfolio.

But is there a need for a VC Fund focused on migrant businesses, given the wealth of finance that is now available?

Well, according to a 2021 OECD study on migration to Europe – titled The Missing Migrants – that could well be the case. The report says:“More support and financing are needed to improve the quality of businesses started by immigrants to increase the chances of becoming sustainable and encourage them away from sectors with an oversupply. Governments also need to pay greater attention to attracting high-potential entrepreneurs by improving outreach and simplifying administrative requirements for those utilizing start-up visas.”

The narratives around migration are not always positive but as the OECD stresses, it makes total sense for governments to provide support for migrant entrepreneurs. NO Label Ventures is setting out to show that focused investors can also play an important role.

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