Do you want to Catalyse change?

New Year, New Beginnings!

Long Phan, (Alex) Qingshuai Han and (Jessica) Thi Le at Catalysr community building workshop

Last year was less than ideal. I take it back — it was terrifying! The world went through some major shocks and all the progress we have made as humans is at risk by a new wave of populism which seeks to divide us and resurrect evils of the past.

It is crucial, now more than ever, to stand up and unite behind the values of: justice, fairness and equality - if we want peace and harmony in this world.

When we think of crisis and enormous systemic challenges that we are facing, they are often paralysing, rendering us hopeless. I don’t want to pander to your fears and anxieties — but offer you an opportunity to be actual agents of good in the world. We talk about changing the world these days, but people are unwilling to give up their assumptions and biases — experiment, and try to truly collaborate with others to have go at being the change.

Here’s my story and a sincere invitation to you, to join hands in creating a lasting positive difference.

I was born in Pakistan and come from an educated, middle-class family. After finishing my Bachelor degree from the best engineering school in Pakistan (GIK Institute of Engineering Sciences & Technology) — I moved to Australia in 2013 to do a Master in Engineering Management. After finishing a Masters Degree with Distinction at University of Wollongong, I had high hopes and big ambitions for my career. I had all the right ingredients on my resume — volunteer and community work in 4 different countries through AIESEC, leadership positions in student organisations, two local internships in Australia, stellar academic performance and references — yet, faced a major roadblock to finding any meaningful work in Australia.

On a Management Traineeship in Krasnoyarsk, Russia (2011)— courtesy AIESEC

I thought it was just a passing phase that everyone went through, maybe it was my name that was hard to pronounce, maybe all I had to do was apply to more jobs, attend more networking events , do more volunteer work — but was unable to determine an ingredient ‘X’ that stood between me and success.

After a couple of years of trial and tribulations — I realised that this problem was systemic and bigger than my personal experience. Every year, over 190,000 people migrate to Australia, according to DIBP 2015. Looking at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census 2011 data, on average, more than 65% of refugees & new migrants are either unemployed or underemployed in Australia. So just in this last five years — over 600,000 people have moved to Australia who are not utilising their skills and potential. I wanted to change those statistics, but knew that the traditional approaches aren’t really working. The Australian economy is slowing down and even locals are facing the brunt of job cuts everyday — and we are in desperate need of innovation.

There is a lot of research which shows that immigrants are highly enterprising and with the right conditions to succeed, are capable of great success stories — as demonstrated by successful examples of Elon Musk, Sergy Brin and Steve Jobs internationally, and Frank Lowy in Australia to name a few.

Keeping this in mind, I started a fellowship at the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) Australia last year, met my co-founder Jake and founded Catalysr.

At the Graduation of School for Social Enterprise (SSE) Australia — courtesy SSE.

Catalysr is the first startup incubator for refugees and migrants in Australia, enabling them to start their own business, create jobs for themselves and others and be in control of their own destiny.

Our approach is to provide an alternate pathway to people and unleash their untapped potential to help change the landscape not just for them but also their communities. We aim to provide the right conditions to accelerate that chain reaction in their life.

What have we done so far?

We partnered with Community Migrant Resource Centre (CMRC) and got funded by Office of Small Business Commissioner (OSBC) NSW to run a 9-week pilot at Collaboratory co-working space in Parramatta.

Catalysr Pilot Cohort, Lucy Klippan (UTS) and Ghassan (CMRC)

During the course of the pilot program we worked with 10 immigrants with the aim of helping them understand the entrepreneurial landscape and make a plan to start their own business. Surpassing our expectations, 2 out of those 10 launched their business and are trading now. First one is Waleed Elsabbagh — a marine engineer from Egypt who also had trouble finding work in Australia and launched Koshari Korner — bringing a famous Egyptian street food, Koshari, to Australia. Secondly, Long Phan who came to Australia as an international student from Vietnam, launched Tien Thinh International (TTI) Migration & Investment Consulting — a migration and advisory consultancy which provides end-to-end migration support for high net-worth Vietnamese entrepreneurs.

Walid Elsabbagh covered by SBS News — courtesy SBS News

We used the pilot program to gather deeper insights and are implementing those learnings to develop a more effective program to help Migrants and Refugees start SMEs. Since then, we have won a $10k social impact grant from Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) — Young Social Pioneers Program, $10k grant from Macquarie Foundation Kickstarter program and have raised over $13k through a crowd-funding campaign jointly organised by Startsomegood and City of Parramatta.

At Ahlan Wasahlan with Mansour Flaihan (Sydney Alliance) — Courtesy Sydney Alliance

We partnered with Sydney Alliance to setup Refugee Welcome Committee in Bankstown and welcomed over 100 Refugees to Australia.

TechFugee 2016 — Winning Team ArtCrew: Courtesy Anne-Marie Elias

We got an opportunity to partner with Techfugees Australia, and are taking their winning team ArtCrew to join us in our next incubator program and further develop solutions for refugee settlement in Australia.

After looking at the great work Refugees have done in making Australia great and through the work of a consortium of different organisations, City of Parramatta became a Refugee Welcome Zone, and I had the privilege to be a Keynote speaker at this historic event. We also got an opportunity to exhibit the work of Catalysr at the Investing for Good conference and marketplace and got nominated for Service Innovation Award 2016 by Service Science Society.

What’s next?

After our pilot program, we are entering our second year with a new zeal for growth and success, we have world-class advisors on board and we have got a plan:

We are launching a 4-month Intensive Incubator program for Refugees and Migrants, starting on 14th January and have already received 50 applications. It will consists of three phases.

  1. Entrepreneurship Bootcamp (14 — 15 January): 2 Day Bootcamp where the top 20 Entreprenuers are joining us. Our focus will be to build a strong community, learn the barriers facing our cohort and Co-Design an effective program with them.
  2. Take-Off Stage (23 January — 5th March): These 6 weeks will act as a stage where entrepreneurs will play, experiment, test and validate their ideas through a guided experiential learning and mentoring process. This stage will culminate in a 2 day Makeathon, and we will select the top 10 entrepreneurs/teams for the Acceleration stage.
  3. Acceleration Stage (6 March — 14 May): These 10 weeks are pure hustle to help our entrepreneurs from the startup stage to acquiring and selling to real customers. Entrepreneurs will have access to our co-working space full time, workshops and strategic mentoring sessions, accounting and legal support, funding opportunities and anything else they need to get off to a great start!
  4. Showcase and Demo Day (7 June): We will be showcasing the work of our cohort — and more details will be released in due course.

What is our vision?

Our vision is to create an entrepreneurial revolution in Australia and beyond.

There are many problems plaguing our world and we think entrepreneurs will be at heart of creating solutions and a better world for all of us to live in.

Catalysr Launch Party & Showcase Event — September 2016

How are we going to do that?

We will firstly become experts at incubating refugee & migrant-led businesses at a local scale — focusing on driving outcomes and distilling the entrepreneurial process in a way that is easily applied in other locations. We will then focus on scale, using global partnerships and technology to co-design and implement contextual entrepreneurship in other parts of the world.

We are looking forward to investors, mentors, advisors, partners and entreprenuers. The ball is in your court and the question is:

“Will you join us to Catalyse change?”

Usman Iftikhar is the Co-Founder at Catalysr and can be reached on

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