Every Monday Refugees Forward will profile a Newcomer Entrepreneur.

Manar Aburshaid launched Hoooop after participating with the Refugees Forward Startup Incubation Program in 2018. This mobile application is a voice-based job search platform for newcomers in the Netherlands.

At Refugees Forward, Manar Aburshaid worked with Stephan Stergiou as a business coach.

 

Manar Aburshaid earned a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and Management from the University of Toledo in 1993 and then established a thriving and successful textile business in Syria that had him travel across Europe for contracts. However, the civil war forced him to move in 2015, and he chose the Netherlands to begin his new life. Within eight months he was given a residency permit. Enterprising from the start, Manar refused state aid and was able to capitalise on his skills and experience to get a job in the social sector upon arriving in the country. He acknowledges that his western education and his extensive travels around the continent for business ensured that he was able to jump over barriers other newcomers found daunting. The fact that his degree was recognised as was his experience and skills, allowed him to establish himself quicker than his compatriots.

“I am proud to say I was a tax paying resident from early on,” he notes during the conversation.

While working, Manar was introduced to Refugees Forward by a friend who could not attend an information session. After some internet research, Manar sent an application to the organisation. Diederick, the co-founder of Refugees Forward, interviewed him and was impressed by his background and multiple business ideas, inviting him to join the incubator.

“I was able to get through over 80 applicants I guess,” Manar laughs, a sense of satisfaction in his voice. “I also came with several business ideas to Refugees Forward.”

Despite having a full-time job, Manar actively participated in the business courses that Refugees Forward conducted in the first few weeks. During these weeks, Manar worked to widen his network, look for opportunities, meet new people and learn about the regulations to create and run a business in the Netherlands.

“The courses taught me how to understand the tax situation in the country and create contacts. But with a full-time job, I could not meet as many people as the others in the incubator did,” Manar confesses. “But at Refugees Forward, we received fantastic care, love, and time, and effort. The team gave us everything that was promised and supported us well after the course was over. They looked beyond their situation to help us. It meant a lot to me.”

Despite having a treasure trove of knowledge about the textile business, Manar was well aware that the industry was flooded with well-established players. Instead, he began working on an ambitious project titled the Randstad Bazaar, a weekend getaway for families combining entertainment, shopping, and multicultural cuisine.

At the incubator, Manar was introduced to Stephan Stergiou who coached him through the entire period and beyond. Manar recalls the association with fondness stating the generosity of Stephan was incredible.

 

“Stephan was very liberal with his time, effort, and ideas.”

 

Manar further mentioned how Stephan brought knowledge on the table that was not available in books particularly about regulations and laws. Manar was the beneficiary of practical experiences that Stephan shared from his own entrepreneurial journey. Together, the duo were able to work on multiple ideas that helped take the Randstad Bazaar towards conception. Along with surveying the market, studying the product, chiselling the ‘Most Viable Product’, Manar and Stephan worked on testing the idea and its viability to strengthen the process of establishing the bazaar.

It is in this moment that the idea of Hoooop walked into Manar’s life. In his time in the Netherlands, having encountered the challenges newcomers faced, Manar had worked with more than 1000 newcomers to help them navigate their new lives in the country. He recognised that most of the newcomers had somewhat settled in their new lives, were taking language classes, and had progressed towards being job ready for the Dutch market. Partnering with a Dutch IT company, Intelligence Group, Manar began creating a voice-driven mobile application in multiple languages for newcomers in the Netherlands. After a discussion with Stephan, Manar decided that the idea for the Randstad Bazaar could wait and dived headfirst into the world of Hoooop.

With self-investment, success was around the corner. The beta version of the application was recently nominated by the Dutch Recruitment Tech Awards where it came second and won the popular vote. Today, Manar is looking to begin trial runs and forge partnerships with government and municipalities for subsidies or bring an investing partner to take the mobile application forward. In the pipeline are plans to develop the extensive algorithm and database platforms for the application, create an operations team, and collate a well-trained translation squad.

“We have pan Europe and global aspirations. This application is the need of the hour in such a mobile world with borders that are quite porous,” Manar says with confidence.

This success and the path ahead have come with several cultural challenges. Despite his travels and western education, the Dutch style of working was challenging for Manar. While he was aware of European ethics, he learnt soon that the Netherlands functioned differently from neighbouring countries.

“The culture wasn’t a shock, but it took some time to get used to the Dutch sense of focus where the established idea required no diversions. Also, Dutch professionals are direct and do not waste time.”

As the conversation begins winding down, Manar is introspective about the policy changes that need to take place in the country to assist newcomers, particularly within the realm of entrepreneurship.

“The Dutch have been very generous with housing, assimilation, and language courses. But the time has come to think how we can help newcomers in a very strategic manner to get into the formal economy via jobs or businesses. We need to recognise the experiences newcomers bring on the table. They have a lot to offer,” Manar says having experienced dislocation across borders personally.

He further says how Syrians are enterprising, entrepreneurial, and successful business professionals who had lost everything in the war and were looking at second chances in their host country. He feels the language barrier forces many to remain on welfare despite being good workers who are keen to contribute the economy of the Netherlands. He also states passionately that newcomers, particularly Syrians, who come with a sense of belief in themselves and their history.

“They mean business and aim to add value to the Dutch society” he says passionately.

As the conversation ends, he mentions the mission of Hoooop to be an inclusive job search portal where integration occurs with full economic independence. It is a sentiment Refugees Forward shares with Manar, one of the organisation’s leading lights and successes in the past year.