Launched in late 2016, the Utrecht Refugee Launchpad (U-RLP) was an experiment that ran for two years. The project was a shared housing and learning structure that brought local youth (i.e. living in Utrecht) and asylum seekers together. It offered English training, entrepreneurship training and international business courses. The initiative received support from the European Regional Development Fund.
The project aimed to help refugees build networks and develop skills while their asylum claims were being processed. In addition, the housing centres helped refugees build connections in their new communities.
The programme offered co-housing, English classes, entrepreneurship training and an incubation programme.
Entrepreneurship training was provided in 8-week courses that were open to both youth living in Utrecht and asylum seekers. The training programme was based on the “Lean Launchpad” method, which is a well-known entrepreneurship methodology that is based on testing and developing business ideas and models with customers. The programme also incorporated principles from design thinking and aimed to help participants develop an entrepreneurial mindset rather than necessarily starting a business. Classes were provided in English and Dutch, and one of the instructors also translated learning materials into Arabic.
The business incubation programme was also open to local youth and asylum seekers. Activities included workshops on networking, pitching ideas and leveraging social media. Coaching was also offered to provide individual support and help participants build their networks. The incubator also ran challenges such as creating a pop-up restaurant.
The initiative was managed by multiple partners including the City of Utrecht, non-governmental organisations (the Social Impact Fund and the Dutch Council for Refugees), higher education institutions (Utrecht University, People’s University of Utrecht, Roehampton University, Oxford University), and private sector partners.
Between November 2016 and October 2018, 232 participants were reached through 13 editions of the entrepreneurship training and 258 participants went through the incubator programme. An evaluation found generally positive results but noted that the local youth participants were faster and more effective at turning their business ideas into start-ups than asylum seekers. Nonetheless, the majority of asylum seekers self-reported that they had improved their business skills and had grown their networks.
This case study was adapted and updated from material published in: OECD (2019), "Policy brief on refugee entrepreneurship", OECD SME and Entrepreneurship Papers, No. 14, OECD Publishing, Paris