Entrepreneur of the Week: Rafael dos Santos

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Rafael dos Santos is a Brazilian entrepreneur in his mid-thirties. Moving to the UK fifteen years ago, to study English, he left behind his studies of IT and support analysis gig at Microsoft to fully realise his entrepreneurial aspirations.

Now Rafael is launching an exciting co-working space for migrant entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses in the UK’s capital. The model places an emphasis on fostering business growth, knowledge and cultural integration through relationships with entrepreneurs, knowledge and international migrant business communities. It’s a very, very exciting prospect.

Naturally, the founder shares a similar sense of enthusiasm for the project. Within 5 years Rafael is hoping his brand will boast four ‘mi-HUBS’ in London and a further one in both Manchester and Liverpool.

Speaking to The Budding Entrepreneur Magazine, Rafael outlined his ambitions for the company.

“My vision is to become the world’s largest co-working space, in terms of social vision there is no one who is helping migrant entrepreneurs like we do. There is also no other co-working space that will help entrepreneurs with finance – so I want to become the reference for migrant entrepreneurship”

He has continuously been perfectly upfront and clear as to the extent of his goals, publically setting the goal of encouraging at least one million migrant entrepreneurs. It sounds ambitious – but don’t misjudge it an unfounded goal.

Rafael said: “I will work in partnership with others that share the same values and ethos that my company does. We’ll help people in different ways, giving them skills, training and financial guidance, so they can create jobs. It isn’t only beneficial for the entrepreneurs, as it’s not only about wealth creation, it’s about the economy and society in general.”

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It would be easy to presume that being an entrepreneur was something that Rafeal dos Santos had always planned. But he says otherwise. “I originally didn’t want to be an entrepreneur. My very first business was placing students in English family houses, so they could have the experience. It was a lot of work and didn’t make much money, so I only did that for 6 months.”

“[I then] grabbed an opportunity when my flatmates moved out in 2003; I decided to start subletting the rooms of the house where I was living. Then I started saving and thought this could be a way to make money; so I rented a 2nd house and started subletting the rooms. Eventually, I grew the business between 2003 and 2014 from 1 house to 50 and I employed 15 members of staff with a £1.2m turnover and that’s how I bought and sold properties and how my entrepreneurial journey started.”

Rafael’s ventures have consistently placed an emphasis on facilitating access to resources and circumstances for those who may not have the same opportunities as others. He champions migrants as having the potential to be our greatest entrepreneurs.

“I think migrants are very resilient, if you don’t have this trait you end up going back to your home country – that’s reality. You have to develop a network. I think the Number 1 rule for any entrepreneur is growing your network outside of your community. Resilience, hard work and networking. Meet a lot of people, don’t be scared to talk to people because of your accent or the way you speak. That should not stop you from starting and growing your own business.”

Something which may have a more profound effect on migrant’s abilities to grow their businesses and resides outside of Rafael’s control is Brexit.

He had mixed feelings. “I think it’s a curse and a blessing. It’s bad if they decided that Europeans needed visas to come to Britain and vice-versa, but I think it will be great if corporation tax goes down to 10%, as I believe it will attract more businesses to move to the UK. Also those who are living here already and are established, will start more business so will need offices and that’s where mi-Hub will be here to help.”

“I think it depends how the government changes its laws on how they will help migrant entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs that I help are mainly established and most of them have held a British passport for so long that once they decided to make the jump from employment to entrepreneurship, they have some source of income or have saved enough to launch their business. We don’t help people to move to the UK to start their business it takes 2-3 years for this process to happen, so it isn’t something that can happen overnight.”

Final advice for entrepreneurs? “If you’re a migrant entrepreneur, invest in education, make sure that you learn the language and learn local laws. Rule Number 2 is for all entrepreneurs: network as much as you can, meet people exchange business cards and follow up. Connect on LinkedIn – you never know if that person will become a client, a supplier or even a business partner.”

“Rule Number 3 is if you are a migrant entrepreneur in London, it’s important to attend the Migrant Business Show.”

Smooth.

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