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Scaling up Forward Incubator's impact to other European cities

Forward empowers refugees to achieve economic independence through entrepreneurship and to integrate into host societies

Photo of Diederick van der Wijk

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Forward Incubator supports entrepreneurs with a refugee background in starting a new business, hereby becoming successful in their host country and being able to integrate into the community. We focus on the group of people in Western Europe that have the following characteristics: Residence permit based on asylum or an asylum-seeker awaiting residence permit People that are at the forefront of refugee communities: we focus on highly-educated newcomers that speak English will and that bear a lot of potential for contribution to the local economies. These people can uplift their families and communities through their enterprises, work and established networks We focus on newcomers with a refugee background in urban areas with an ambition to become an entrepreneur Newcomers lack opportunity to be successful in entrepreneurship or to find access to the labour market. This problem consists of several root causes: Newcomers lack access to a social and professional network Newcomers miss a full grasp of local culture, language and expected behaviour in a professional network Newcomers lack access to capital Newcomers lack knowledge of legal and fiscal systems Many newcomers have lost the confidence in their own talents and skills Forward Incubator addresses all of these challenges through a methodology in which we provide: Accredited training Coaching by experienced entrepreneurs Support from university students Access to a network of companies and investors Facilitation of relationship with municipalities We have a 4-month program in which 30 entrepreneurs can enter our introductory period of 3 weeks. Below is described the different phases through which entrepreneurs go.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

We target urban areas; this is where entrepreneurship is key to develop stable livelihoods and self-reliance for refugees. We have identified four European cities(Stockholm, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin) with the right conditions for the implementation of our program: a large and diverse refugee population; a positive context towards refugees; a thriving entrepreneurial community; a solid presence of corporates; and a network of universities. Read our feasibility study -

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

First, we focus on changing the public and personal perception of refugees from a dependent group to active members of the community who have potential, good ideas and experiences that contribute to the local economy and society with their entrepreneurial ventures. Second, we integrate local and refugee populations by putting them to work together; these shared experiences lead to cultural exchanges, empathy development and better understanding of each other’s stories and backgrounds.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

We believe that in the process of pursuing an entrepreneurial endeavor and with every milestone reached, the refugees that we work with strengthen their sense of self-worth and pride (dignity). Furthermore, we view our members as entrepreneurs who have autonomy and ownership over their businesses and lives even if the rest of the world sees them as refugees. Along our program the entrepreneurs are encouraged to envision fulfilling lives for themselves and their families, to work towards challenging and rewarding goals, and to pursue their aspirations or develop new ones (hope). Moreover, we aim to create joy within our entrepreneurs by giving them a place to belong to, nurturing their potential, making their work fun, and welcoming their diverse perspectives; all with the goal to enable their wellbeing.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Forward Incubator is strongly committed to achieve a tangible and measurable impact for the people it supports. We are measuring a variety of indicators that show that we make impact on the level of the individual, our community and society. For the individual participants, we expect to achieve: 60% of participants start a business 75% is full-time employed or full-time entrepreneur after graduation For our community, we achieve: More than 50 professionals involved in a single program More than 30 university students involved per program For society, we achieve: Recurring savings on social benefits of 170.000 euros per program for 15 participants 1.8 million in economic value added through created jobs

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Our inspiration comes from the entrepreneurs we have been working with for the past 2 years, in them we have witnessed a strong desire to succeed, a relentless commitment to their goals, and a great deal of personal development and growth as they emerge from our program with confidence and tools to take ownership of their lives in the new cities where they find themselves. We aspire to bring the same effect to refugees in the the other geographies that we have identified with high potential. Furthermore, we find inspiration in the community that supports our work - the corporate partners that share their knowledge and increase the capacity of our entrepreneurs; the coaches who guide the development of our members and help them avoid pitfalls; the volunteers who are heavily involved and help our entrepreneurs to navigate the local context; and the local governments that enable our impact by integrating us into their local ecosystems and by offering access to other services.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Our program community to support 15 entrepreneurs consists of several trainers, 15 business coaches, 30 university students and a network of companies, investors and advisors. Further, we work with incubator networks such as university incubators and the major co-working spaces in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Our trainers come from top entrepreneurship institutes such as the Amsterdam Center for Entrepreneurship, Innoleaps and Firmhouse. These trainers also train and coach startups at accelerators such as Startupbootcamp and Rockstart. Our coaches are mostly experienced entrepreneurs. They are matched 1-on-1 with the entrepreneurs and coach them on average 2 hours a week. Each entrepreneur is matched with 2 university students that support on average 10 hours in writing a business plan and all elements of the business operations. We expose entrepreneurs to a network of corporate companies including Uber, Mazars, Deloitte, Linklaters, DLA Piper, SThree, Dentons, McKinsey &

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Our community is successful because of the extreme diversity in terms of nationalities, educational background and profession. The focus of programs is on that what unites all these people, which is a belief in entrepreneurship as a force for self-reliance, innovation and integration.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Current: Strategic partners ACE Incubator Cambridge Innovation Center Municipality Rotterdam Municipality Amsterdam Funding partners: Oranje Fonds Instituut Gak Dioraphte Goldschmeding Foundation Stichting Doen Corporate partners: Uber Deloitte Mazars Linklaters Sthree McKinsey & Company DVME Future partners: EU Incubators in target locations Stockholm, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin Municipalities in target locations Universities in target locations RSM Free University

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Majority Adoption: We have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base (i.e. 50% to 83% of the target population or 50,000 to 1,000,000 users).

Group or Organization Name

Forward Incubator programs are organized by the Refugees Forward Foundation, registered in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Our organization is solely focused on refugee entrepreneurship. In the past 2 years we have built up substantial knowledge in the area of training, coaching and supporting refugee entrepreneurs. We understand the challenges and are considerate with the personal circumstances. However, we hold the entrepreneurs in our program to the same standard as other businesses out there. As an organization, we provide a young and spirited team that takes on challenges of nowadays and is not afraid to be bold and take risks. Further, we are supported by expert professionals in our advisory board in all relevant areas of businesses. We have a deep reach in the target community through Word of Mouth, connections with refugee organizations, online marketing campaigns and connections with municipalities. We have the capacity to grow and currently have 5fte and 3 interns working alongside us.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State


In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

1. How can we validate the data gathered in our in initial feasibility study to ensure that the contextual components needed for expansion are available in each potential city for expansion? You can find our initial report at 2. How to better understand the local landscape of donor and philanthropic organizations that could help us to secure funding in each city? 3. What are the main considerations when adapting or replicating an existing model into a new context?

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

We had a great call with our coach. She evaluated our initiative from her perspective of a newcomer and during our conversation Maisara determined that our initiative covers well several of the needs of newcomers: legal navigation, empowerment, livelihood generation and breaking social stigmas. Her comments were largely positive and allowed us to validate that our initiative has strong elements of desirability for our target group.

At the same time, it became clear to us that to improve the desirability of our program we must strengthen our capabilities to support our program participants with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, lack of confidence, trauma, etc. 

Although we are not mental health experts, some of our team members are now being trained on mental health topics to allow us to determine when someone could benefit from professional interventions, and at the same time, we are working to build partnerships with mental health organizations that can support newcomers, in order to offer the possibility to our program participants of getting mental health support. 

We also had the chance to have a very productive conversation with another organization participating in this challenge; Five One Labs. They are a business incubator in Kurdistan Region of Iraq with a very similar mission to ours, but with a different approach. Therefore this conversation was a great exchange of best practices, a positive validation about our model from an expert in the same field, and a source of inspiration to adopt new mechanisms that could create great value for our entrepreneurs, such as a peer-to-peer support system for program graduates and potentially developing a new program that would seek an even stronger connection between starting local and newcomer entrepreneurs (currently we only work with newcomers with experienced local entrepreneurs as coaches).

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

Since OpenIDEO and the GHR Foundation are organizations that support social innovation internationally, we are expecting these funds to give us the necessary financial resources to scale up Forward Incubator’s impact by reaching more newcomer populations in other European cities. Our current funding partners support us with the intention of financing our activities and impact in the Netherlands, which has enabled us greatly but at the same time restricts our possibilities to have an international presence.

In the next sections we outline the areas in which the funds would support our initiative; but in summary these financial resources would be used for the following purposes: 

-Piloting program and and building networks in new european cities.

-Building a team and running the first full incubation program in one new location

-Partially funding the second full program in the new location.

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

There are 3 stages in the expansion process of Forward Incubator towards new cities. For each of these we will outline the activities, budget and expenses and expected sourcing of funds. See attached excel file in application for more detail. 

1. Preparation, testing and building the network (38K USD financed by BB): until June 20

Focus of the first stage is on validating assumptions. In this phase we organize a Startup Day to test these assumptions.


-30K management

- 2K travel

- 6K event

2. First Incubator program (120K USD financed by BB): sept 20 - jan 21


- 30K management

- 5K international travel

- 68K program

- 12K rent

- 5K business development

3. 2nd program + onwards: Feb 21 - onwards

120K budget financed by:

- 42K BridgeBuilders

- 58K Local Grants

- 20K Companies

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

1. Piloting (until June 2020)

Our first goal is to organize a Startup Day (June 2020) in which we test locally. This Startup Day brings together 10 local entrepreneurs, 10 students and 10 business coaches for 1 day. They undergo 2 trainings and have multiple coaching moments. At night they present their idea. 

2. Learnings and adaptations to new context (July-August 2020)

In this phase we assess local contexts (rules and regulation, economic factors, difference in target group) and tweak our program to fit the local context. 

3. First full program (Sept 2020 - January 2021)

First 4 month incubator program for 15 newcomers 

4. Achieving sustainability: running 2 full programs per year (Feb 2021 -onwards)

- Strong team

- Strong local partners

- Financial health

- Network rooted in community (end-user)

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

I: By 2022 we aim to: reach 800 newcomers in Europe, serve 350 entrepreneurs yearly, have 400 incubated businesses with paying customers and have 10+ business with €100K in revenue. 

To achieve this we must run the first full program in a new location in 2020 (validate scale up model), and then expand to 4 more locations by 2022. 

M: We measure the number of newcomers reached and businesses launched, and also evaluate their improvements on human, social and financial capital. These are a mix of business metrics (revenue, profit, etc)  and human indicators (self-confidence, community integration, wealth, etc.)

Q: How to understand the local landscape of donor and philanthropic organizations to secure funding in each city? Although we aim to be 40% self-reliant by 2022, we will require external funding to achieve our impact.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

Our management team consists of Laura Di Santolo (program director) and Diederick van der Wijk (managing director). 

For a new program, we will need a program manager and support from interns as a program team. The local team further needs to create capacity for business development and needs support from our program director. We expect 2 FTE + support of interns will suffice to open up a new location. 

Our team is supported by a strong advisory board of investment fund managers and incubator and accelerator founders, among which Floris van Alkemade, Erik Boer, Don Ritzen, Mirjam van Praag, Megha Mittal. Find out more on our website about their involvement

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

The expert brought to our attention that we must make some program elements more explicit and work on others.

For our approach to be successful, the legal frameworks must enable newcomers to pursue entrepreneurship by providing freedom of mobility, financial stability and allowing their long-term stay in the host countries (residence, citizenship, etc). 

We must understand the potential contextual limitations in each target city. To bridge our knowledge gaps we are in contact with local organizations and municipalities that have broad perspectives on legal frameworks, service availability and business ecosystems. We will meet some of them at the Refugee Entrepreneurship Summit 2019 in London this month.  We will also use this opportunity to validate the feasibility of our program with the same organizations; hopefully they will have relevant and constructive feedback to ensure the implementation of our initiative.

Attachments (1)

Budget BridgeBuilders.xlsx

Here is attached a basic outline of the budget of Forward Incubator for international expansion. Deeper insight into the budget and sourcing is available upon request.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Isaac Jumba

Dear Diederick van der Wijk ,

Great to read through your final submission after integrating feedback from the mentor and expert. I like the clarity of the program, and what you are thinking as the next steps for the incubator. Maybe you have mentioned but,
1. Is the program fully funded for entrepreneurs until the stage they start having a revenue of 100,000 Euros?
2. What specific regions have you mapped out for your replication/expansion?
3. Are there any successes from the past cohorts? Could you hughlight some?


Photo of Diederick van der Wijk

Dear Isaac Jumba ,

Thanks for your questions!

1. I think you are asking whether entrepreneurs need to pay for the program. No, the program is free of charge and we will also keep it like this. We also cover travel costs for entrepreneurs that live outside the immediate area of the program. For example, in Amsterdam we have people traveling up to 3 hours a day in order to participate in our program. So indeed, the entrepreneurs only pay our foundation a small fee once exceeding 100.000 euros in revenue.

2. We aim to use the BridgeBuilder grant for expansion towards the following possible cities:
- Stockholm
- Hamburg
- Berlin
- Frankfurt

We have come to these cities based on a detailed market report conducted in Spring, in which we have analysed all Western European cities of a certain size for their potential, based on target group, ecosystem support, legal and political framework and funding opportunities. I will send the final report to you via e-mail, but the main conclusion of these prospective cities is that they are all a very good fit for our program.

We will make the decision of our first location based on the initial response within these cities and the connections we can make. This means we will travel to each to test the environment, speak to the target group and speak to relevant players in the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

After our initial expansion to Germany and Sweden we want to explore other areas, such as Belgium, France, Canada but also those countries more close to large populations of displaced people. Here you can think of countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey but also Colombia.

3. Yes! I will highlight a few of them:

- (2018 cohort) is a training and coaching company founded by Syrian Anas Ragheb. Mpowerment has created a coaching and certificitation track for truck drivers with a refugee background. Mpowerment now has partnerships with big Dutch logistics companies that so far have employed 5 truck drivers. Mpowerment raised 30.000 euros in grant funding to get started.

- (2018 cohort) is an online platform for freelance nurses and healthcare organizations. It allows freelance nurses to work when they want and to reduce their administrative burden, while helping healthcare institutions to fill in shifts for nurses. Elanza has raised now 580.000 euros in seed money and works with big hospitals in the Netherlands.

- AskPro (2018 cohort) is a construction and renovation company that currently employs 6 craftsmen with a refugee background

- GreenWheel Tech is a company in solar-powered irrigation systems, founded by Sudanese Engineer Mohammed al Fakee (Spring Cohort '19). Currently, Mohammed is prototyping his solar pump together with his coach Ernst Peter Hovinga, in order to launch into the Sudanese Market early 2020.
For more startups see the link above!

If you have any further questions or something is not clear, I am happy to provide further insight.

All the best,

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