Diversity promotes innovation and the implementation of new business ideas at SINGA

The SINGA Factory supports people with a refugee or migrant background who want to set up a company in Switzerland. Seraina Soldner, co-founder and co-director, explains in the video what their motivation is and how they go about it. People with a refugee or migration background often find it difficult to find employment in Switzerland. This, even if they bring a lot of experience and skills. In addition to the legal status, reasons for this often include non-recognition of foreign diplomas, language barriers or a lack of networking opportunities. Social capital, in particular, is crucial to finding employment in many places.

In order to be able to pursue employment that matches personal core competencies and experience, for many the step into self-employment represents the best option. However, starting a business is not that easy. There are quite a few hurdles to overcome.

In order to master this, SINGA Factory accompanies motivated people in the implementation of their business ideas.

The participants, also called SINGApreneurs, pursue business ideas in a wide variety of fields such as tourism, logistics, gastronomy, sports or tech. One example is Elie Khudari, who is developing a revolutionary and human online platform with his business idea Seeveez. Using the latest AI technology and state-of-the-art algorithms, it connects jobseekers with employers.

Which solution approach was chosen?

In June 2018, the SINGA Factory start-up program entered its second round. During six months, it accompanies the participants, the “SINGApreneurs”, intensively. The Factory’s overriding principle is to work with participants at eye level. In this way, mutual learning can be advanced. This takes the form of coworking, workshops or consulting sessions, for example in the areas of law and financing. The SINGApreneurs learn about different business models and receive individual feedback on their ideas from the experts. Furthermore, they have the opportunity to exchange ideas and network locally. The diversity of the participants is used as an innovation-promoting tool.

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In addition to the Factory, SINGA also organizes a weekly language café and a SINGA Living Room, where entrepreneurs and other interested parties are invited to their homes. All of this is designed to provide SINGApreneurs with a networking opportunity to help get their business off the ground successfully.

What are the challenges for the SINGA Factory?

The SINGA Factory is itself a start-up and thus knows first-hand many of the start-up difficulties faced by SINGApreneurs. Accordingly, she can share her own experiences directly with SINGApreneurs, while learning from their challenges herself. In order for the SINGApreneurs to benefit from the knowledge and experience of longer-established companies and a wide variety of fields, the Factory employs mentors and experts who support the SINGApreneurs on a voluntary basis. The mentors accompany the participants on a personal level for six months. Currently, the Factory works with over 100 people.

Seraina Soldner says that she was extremely surprised by the commitment of these mentors and experts. Among them are CEOs, entrepreneurs, but also employees from a wide variety of fields. Many of them work at large firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers or Google and seem to welcome the contrast they encounter at SINGA Factory. According to their feedback, they mainly appreciate the exchange at eye level with the participants, who are really motivated. Another important factor is the space for diversity, creativity and trial-and-error that the SINGA Factory offers. Accordingly, she continuously receives requests from mentors and coaches who would like to get involved. What the Factory lacks, however, are additional people who are also available for a longer period of time, i.e., beyond the six-month duration of the intensive program. During this time, startups are in a critical phase that often still requires startup support.

What are the effects (impact)?

SINGA is not only available in Switzerland, but also in France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, England and Canada. SINGA has been offering entrepreneurship programs in Germany and France for two years, four years to be precise. These show that the model can work reliably: 55 participants and their teams have already founded companies in France and Germany that still exist today. In the SINGA Factory in Zurich, five SINGApreneurs have so far launched ventures together with their teams.

However, finding start-up capital or investors is often a major hurdle for many participants. Thus, most work in parallel with their own business to generate additional income or find support through relatives and friends. However, through increased confidence and networking, many participants are highly motivated to continue building their ventures despite these difficulties. Should this still fail, the self-confidence and network gained enables many to find an apprenticeship or a job on the labor market, which did not seem possible before the program.

What vision is SINGA striving for?

SINGA’s vision is that everyone in our society – regardless of origin or legal status – can actively participate in society and help shape it. To this end, SINGA networks people with a refugee or migration background with people who have lived here for a longer period of time and supports them in founding start-ups in an innovative environment. The aim is that they can thus generate their own income and develop their professional and social potential.

How to multiply the solution set?

According to Seraina Soldner, SINGA’s success factors – bringing people together to learn as equals and promoting innovation through diversity – are nothing new as such. These can also be used elsewhere, i.e. not just in start-up programs such as the SINGA Factory. For example, the concepts are also well suited for existing companies that want to identify new solutions for today’s challenges.

How can the solution approach be further scaled?

The SINGA Factory is supported by Engagement Migros, the development fund of the Migros Group. The goal in the future is to also be able to generate independent revenue. SINGA Factory’s consulting activities for the private sector are also conceivable.

Other SINGA start-up programs also exist in France and Germany, and soon in Italy. At the moment, an additional SINGA Factory is being set up in Geneva.