Kajal and I met back in April 2017 and after instantly bonding over shared interests and work experiences, went on to create our Go Global workshop series last fall. As she's at the end of her year-long fellowship research into immigration and entrepreneurship around the world, I wanted to learn more about her findings.
Tell us about the Churchill Fellowship. What were you doing prior to starting on your fellowship and what made you decide to apply?
I support European entrepreneurs as they expand globally so naturally immigration is top of mind. About 18 months ago I was greatly discouraged by the negative narrative on immigration on both the UK and US. Growing up in London, I have experienced racism or barriers to progression, yet Brexit called everything into question. So I wanted to find a way to start changing that narrative with solution-driven conversations. I won the Churchill Fellowship grant last year and traveled to 7 countries and 12 cities to look at best practices in immigrant entrepreneurship.
I would still say that the UK is of the most inclusive and open societies in the world - its something that should be celebrated. Entrepreneurship can unite immigrants and native populations if we put the right initiatives and policies in place.
I see Brexit as an opportunity for us to do better.
What were the biggest initial hurdles you faced while on travels and how did you overcome them?
There are an abundance of rankings on startup ecosystems based on numbers and statistics but I was more interested in grassroot observations and sentiment from immigrant entrepreneurs and various stakeholders in each city's ecosystem.
I needed to cut to the heart of a city's culture within a matter of days. Usually I had about 30 conversations and talked to everyone I could from the Uber drivers to more formal interviews with government organizations and investors. It was often a challenge to get this done within the time constraints and around my daily work with Growth Hub. But I began developing a clearer methodology and learnt more with each city I visited to get to the key insights faster.
What has been your biggest success?
Being able to highlight the work of incredible immigrant entrepreneurs and people working hard to make their cities more open despite negative national narratives on immigration. Some of the findings have already had an impact on economic policy abroad. I will be presenting my research this week at the London School of Economics with a panel of international entrepreneurs. I'd like to keep pushing solution-driven rather than fear-based dialogues around immigration, starting with entrepreneurs.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
To get an air miles credit card. Life-changing.
Much of what you do requires remote work - how do you manage that effectively and build relationships globally?
I was going to say technology but actually it's writing. Every month, I wrote up my findings in The Transatlantic Post, and sent a monthly letter with an insider perspective of each city's entrepreneurial ecosystem to everyone I had met through the journey and my networks. I've had a lot of positive feedback from this and so far built an incredible global community of over 2,000 people from more than 20 countries.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known before starting your first company?
Make more decisions sooner - that it's okay to sacrifice precision for speed.
What inspires you to keep going?
My parents are immigrants and entrepreneurs - they were given a second chance in the UK after being forced to flee Uganda. Gratitude for the opportunities I have been given growing up in London keeps me motivated.
What three books do you recommend every entrepreneur read?
The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin who was previously a child chess prodigy (from the film Searching for Bobby Fischer) and later transitioned to being a martial arts champion. Beautifully written insights into the power of learning and a habit of excellence.
Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney. Chanel's brand endures today because of many things she did right in building her brand. Transferable learnings from her business acumen to any industry.
The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer - a good reminder that you cannot control and contrive outcomes and sometimes the best answer is to do your best through the process and let go.
Kajal will share her findings Wednesday, May 30th at the London School of Economics. Learn more here: Immigrant Entrepreneurship post Brexit - Changing the narrative on immigration one conversation at a time.