Accelerating Multicultural Entrepreneurship: Cultivating Connected Communities


On June 10th, Impact Boom hosted the Multicultural Impact Entrepreneurship Experience, bringing together our community for a workshop, networking and informative discussion on multicultural business in Queensland and more broadly in Australia.

The panel conversation and audience Q&A focussed on Accelerating Multicultural Entrepreneurship, with the aim of advancing the conversation forward.

Mary Juria, Santiago Mejia Acosta, Kim Rollason-Nokes, Etienne Roux and Carolina Villaça Parker shared key insights and experience during a lively panel discussion moderated by Tom Allen whilst the audience participated with some strong comments. Listen to the podcast or find the article below.

Impact Boom would like to thank Brisbane City Council for their support, the Yunus Social Business Centre (Griffith University) for providing a great venue and catering, and the speakers, participants and guests which represented over 15 different nationalities.


The Panelists

Mary Juria
Founder, SpringUp

Mary Juria is the Founder at SpringUp, a club for micro businesses, startups and budding entrepreneurs.

Mary believes that migrants deserve a good start and so she wants to make startup education, services and a network accessible to all. Being a migrant, an extreme introvert and a mother to three, Mary faced many challenges when starting springup with zero contact, zero entrepreneurial background and very limited resources. She wants mentoring, programs and resources to be made accessible to all, so more and more people can be empowered to do greater things.


Santiago Mejia Acosta
Co-Founder, Yaku Latin Goods

Santiago is the co-founder of Yaku Latin Goods, a Brisbane-based social enterprise that supports health and education projects from a global community perspective.

Alongside his co-founder Gabriela Gallardo, they have strategically combined their professional skills in marketing management, business and project management with their personal belief and commitment to help reduce social inequality.

Through their business model, Yaku imports organic and ethical products from Latin America, trade at organic markets in Brisbane, and part of their profits goes out to supporting two community projects, creating a positive social impact in the lives of 500 children.


Kim Rollason-Nokes
Founder, Ethni & Co-Founder, Mantua Sewing Studio

Kim is a social entrepreneur, passionate about the role of education, training and employment in driving social change. After 12 years in the non-profit and community services sectors, Kim left her role working in refugee and migrant settlement in 2017 to start her social enterprise Ethni.

In 2019, she has gone on to also co-found Mantua Sewing Studio. Both social enterprises are dedicated to providing innovative and meaningful training and employment opportunities for women from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds.

Kim believes strongly in the role social enterprise can play in promoting cultural diversity and addressing some of the most pressing social issues facing women from CALD backgrounds, particularly those that arrive in Australia as refugees and asylum seekers.


Etienne Roux
Business Architect, Access Community Services

Etienne has experience across a number of senior management, advocacy and consultancy positions across the social services industry in Australia. He has been working at Access Community Services Ltd for over 9 years and currently leads the Business Disruption and Innovation team - responsible for business development, research, grants and tendering activities for the Access Group, he also leads a CALD specialist Domestic and Family Violence program for South-East Queensland, and is the General Manager of Harmony Place (Centre for Multicultural Mental Health and Wellbeing) a specialist mental health and disability service provider in Queensland.

Etienne has a focus on working closely with key stakeholders to transform the way community services are delivered under the guiding principles of human-centred design, agile, lean start-up, business disruption, and innovation.

Throughout his career Etienne has worked in a variety of industries which contributed towards his personal and professional development. Etienne believes in maintaining sound relationships and delivering quality results.


Carolina Villaça Parker
Founder, Amora Creative

Carolina is a Brazilian designer, marketer and entrepreneur passionate about sustainable design and social change.

She's the founder and Creative Director of Brisbane-based branding studio Amora Creative, where she collaborates with non-profits and social enterprises to bring a contemporary approach to marketing and design for mission-driven brands.

Navigating the overlap between purpose and profit, Carolina also facilitates Business Visioning workshops and develops creative content for startups looking to develop a meaningful brand that translates impact from the inside out.


Tom Allen (Moderator)
Founder & CEO, Impact Boom.

Tom Allen is Founder and CEO of Impact Boom and is passionate about working with purpose-driven organisations, entrepreneurs, individuals and regions to deliver strong, lasting social and environmental impact. Tom works to help social entrepreneurs and their regions to thrive, building critical skills and design-led mindsets capable of tackling complex challenges. 

He also works with leading universities, governments and clients locally & internationally to develop and deliver world-class programs across social entrepreneurship and innovation. Tom is highly active in building the social enterprise ecosystem and is a Board Member of the Queensland Social Enterprise Council and Social Enterprise Network Logan, a Fellow at Yunus Social Business Centre (Griffith University) and an Advisory Panel Member of ImpaQt (QUT Bluebox).


Highlights from the Event

(listen to the podcast for full details)

[Tom Allen] - What are some of the key challenges refugees, migrants and asylum seekers face in starting a business?

[Carolina Villaça Parker] - That's an interesting question, but I think I would separate the experience of refugees and asylum seekers to migrants. I'm a migrant, I chose to come to Australia. I got here, I already spoke the language, I already had a permanent residency, so I didn't really face the same challenges that I know asylum seekers for example do. I think I was really privileged in my experience because I felt like I was prepared to connect the minute that I got here. I had a desire to build a network of friends, so that was my immediate motivator.

My drive was, if there's a workshop, I'll go, if there's coffee with someone, I'll go, if there's Pilates or Yoga, I'll go and I'll connect with that group of women. And that's how I started to talk about what I do and what I'm passionate about. And then these connections became business connections down the track. So I feel like I would firstly make that mark that is very different. I felt excited about being here, and I felt I had the support network of my husband who is Australian, so that also made a huge difference that I had an immediate connection that a lot of migrants and new arrivals don't have.

In terms of starting a business, I felt like there was a lot of hard work even to learn how to speak my message and how to communicate what I was about, and my values and my vision without hesitation or without feeling like, am I making a mistake? Is this going to be relatable for the people I'm connecting with?

I guess another interesting, kind of different experience that I had was I made friends with Australians first. For whatever reason, I don't really have many Brazilian and Latin American friends here, so it was an interesting way to assimilate because I fell in this group of Australians and just basically I was the only foreigner in my group, and I could see it as a positive thing, or at least they received me as with that mentality of ‘we want to hear your perspective, we want to hear what you have to say.’ So I felt really welcomed, and I know that this is not the experience that a lot of people have.


[Kim Rollason-Nokes] - From a refugee and asylum seeker perspective, some of the challenges can very much be as you mentioned, Carolina about already speaking the language. We've talked a lot today in the workshop about arriving in a new country and not speaking the language. Not just necessarily the language, like being able to speak English, which is a massive one, but also wanting to start a new business, speaking the business language.

We have discussed today business jargon, understanding the compliance issues, how to set up a business, expectations of you. And I think every country is different, from some people who may have been head of businesses in their home countries, where they could set up and start trading and hustle, to coming here and wanting to do the same but having a lot of barriers around the compliance, getting an ABN, what does that mean? Marketing to a whole new community.

So I think those are some of the challenges to understand. I work in an employment based social enterprise, so understanding the Australian work environment, understanding what's expected of you in that environment and family and cultural expectations of what's happening at home, to being also maybe be employed, [on the side], to start a business as well, so these are some of the challenges that we have discussed today.

[Etienne Roux] - Just building on Kim's background from working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. I think specifically for a lot of asylum seekers that come over here, there are a lot of difficulties, and depending on what Visa type you are on, are you allowed to work in the country? Are you allowed to start a new business? What is the expectations of actually sending back money to your family or even to the people that smuggled you to come to Australia as a possibility? What does that pressure look like? What's that expectation?

I guess more broadly for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, one of the difficulties we see at Access, is that broader support network. People might not have their own family, might be extradited from their own community at times and then working with some of those hardships, trying to navigate starting a business as well. And that's not even limiting the support of the broader Australian network, which is the power of innovation and starting a business, is actually being entrenched in culture, like Carolina explained in her experience, has been really an interesting point of view of differentiating what startups and social enterprise look like in people from different cultures settling in Australia.

[Santiago Mejia Acosta] - Well, I guess that starting a business, even in your own country, is already a big challenge. There's a huge amount of things that you wish you knew, but if you add all those challenges here in a different culture, in a different country, with a different language, that is even more challenging of course. There's a big difference from a refugee or asylum seeker to a migrant.

We, as migrants, have chosen to come here to Australia by our own means, and we were somehow ready with that mentality of, ‘okay, that's my goal, I want to do it and I need to find the best way on how to overcome all these challenges that I'm going to be facing.’ Some of the challenges I knew previous to coming here, many other challenges I found out as I have walked this road.

In my personal enterprise, one of the big challenges is exactly where to start. So do you go right, do you go left? Where do you start finding all that information, and how do you adapt to a new culture? That product in one country does not necessarily adapt to another country, so trying to understand the local culture is definitely a challenge that needs to be targeted right from the beginning in order for you to have a nice success. And of course, [defining your] ‘why’; why you are attempting to follow that enterprise now, what is your main purpose?

[Mary Juria] - It's hard to be the last, but there are three more things I could add. As a mother, what I've experienced myself is being able to juggle between pick up, drop off and pickup and your many different activities and trying to do as many things as you can and be flexible to do it anywhere you can. So yes, juggling your time and managing between your home duties and caring for your children and trying to start a business is one challenge. In the Philippines, where I came from, we have other people we can rely on, families and nannies who can look after the kids; we don't have that here.

Second is the transportation, especially for other migrants who have come here and they don't have any experience driving, really it's a very basic thing, but being able to get around and have your own licence, being able to drive, that makes a lot more things accessible to you, and not being able to drive, just limits your opportunities. So driving is very important and is a big challenge to some migrants that I've known.

The third one is building contacts from zero, especially in my case, knowing who to trust, where to go to build that connection and establish that trust, it takes time. So more than anything, I think it's important that you allocate time to build those relationships and build contacts.

[Tom] - Would the audience like to add anything?

[Seble Tadesse] - My name is Seble Tadesse from South Community Hub. I think another thing, myself being here from settling, from working, having experience, speaking the language and having the right connections in the beginning… it's easy to live life, but [for] the people I work with in the community, the biggest problem is cultural; the business culture itself. Language has been talked about, but mostly the set of frame, for example, people can start a business, as they want similar businesses to continue doing similar things, but sometimes the limitation of that here and shifting that culture thinking is also one of the things which not been spoken about. Especially, I talk to refugee and asylum seekers, mostly from refugee backgrounds, humanitarian entrants. They are really enthusiastic to do something, to start a good life, to support themselves, to support their family and the biggest responsibilities back home where they left them in a refugee camp or their own homeland. That is a pressure, and some of them were able to do some business in the refugee camp in the second country.

And then when they come here, the whole culture is different and the hopelessness, the feeling of that entrepreneur is actually killed in the beginning if [they don’t] get the right support, which [they don’t] often get in the settlement service. There's nothing; toolkits to how to start up and go from there. I think that is the biggest challenge, and I think it's really important to have a toolkit at the beginning on how you can start business and get a lead in that space.

Thanks very much for all those really interesting insights. I'm curious to hear how entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds may best collaborate and be supported to help further their ideas and turn them into impact? Where does support currently exist and where are there gaps in the support that exists?

[Etienne] - Events like these are fundamental towards supporting the communities. One of the most difficulties that we've had, is the knowledge is out there. We've heard from representatives from different government authorities today from the different types of incentives available for starting a business, the information's on the website. I guess the things that we've really found in supporting some of these areas is creating some of those unique partnerships with local councils in saying, ‘how can we streamline some of the support and provide some targeted community education in relation to how to start a business, and do that ongoing?’

We definitely advocate for additional support and services from local councils and from other government representations to run these types of initiatives sustainably in partnerships with organisations like Impact Boom to go, how do we not just run a once off workshop or once a quarter saying, how to start a business. We're in a growing market and globalisation and opportunities are vast. Like one of our members said from the audience, people have the energy to do it, so really finding those opportunities so that we can continue to expand on community education and capacity building initiatives.

Some of the programs that we run at Access Community Services, we've got a similar program called Ignite, which we run in New South Wales as well, which is helping startups. And the fundamentals around that is supporting a range of businesses to start. Unfortunately, the investment for supporting those community education programs is lacking considerably, and even more so when we go to regional communities who have a lot of passion. We require additional investment to really see how can we facilitate the education coming through.

But also, one of the things we found worked really well is events like this, that can be sustainable networking with existing social enterprises and really getting ongoing facilitation of that happening in your city can really address a lot of the issues that we've discussed as a starting point.


[Kim] - I think going on further on from what Etienne was saying…

the education can't just be one off workshops. I think that's where there's a really big gap at the moment in small business, where government authorities or councils will go, ‘great, here's a one off small business workshop and in those two hours you should know everything you need to know to start your business.’

But of course, just before we were talking about all of the challenges, which that workshop doesn't really provide the longterm meaningful support and full holistic view of what it takes to start a business in a two hour or one day workshop.

I was lucky enough to be part of the Impact Boom Elevate+ Accelerator Program, and that went over a period of four months. And even at the end of that we're still going, ‘okay, we're still hungry for knowledge.’ And being then a part of, I guess broader social enterprise ecosystem here in Queensland has been massive for their ongoing support.

I think that there's a really big gap for longterm, meaningful, tailored programs to support multicultural communities to starting businesses.

The second point I want to make is the understanding of what a social enterprise is, and I think there's a lot of people that have this passion of starting a business, and I think also a big passion I've found from working with young people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds who are very, very passionate about making change in their communities and contributing to their new communities here in Australia. And I think there is a lack of understanding about what social enterprise is and the ability to bring both that understanding and that drive for starting a business, with the passion for making a difference in the community together and how to do that.

There are people wanting to start businesses in these communities are uniquely placed to address the needs in the communities also.

So I think a broader understanding of what social enterprise is and how they can build those meaningful outcomes and a meaningful impact into their businesses is really important as well.

[Santiago] - Continuing with social enterprise, it's quite new, however, it should be the norm, right?

With social enterprise, you are contributing to your community, to the environment, to culture. That should be the norm.

We know here in Australia, especially here in Queensland, there's a big trend, there's a huge boom in social enterprise and all the support that is becoming available, which is really good, and each day and month, there's more and more information available. However, it should really be the norm, that would be an optimal scenario.

Going back to collaboration, which is really felt in this environment, as opposed to let's say normal corporations or academia or another sector, in the social enterprise environment, there's a lot of collaboration which is very positive. And if you are on the right time and you have the right attitude to make the most out of that collaboration, it could get you really far.

I had the great opportunity and privilege to be part of the Elevate+ Program, which is a social enterprise accelerator program, and one of the best things about all the networking and all these opportunities that we have been provided with, is finding where you're going, and how you are going to do it becomes a consequence. How you want to get to point A or point B, so that's your north star.

How are you going to do it? Well, there's this way or that way, but the ‘why’ I think is key in that sense. Personally for our business and for the some of the businesses that were part of the program last year was the exposure at the end. Once you have overcome many challenges, you then have a [tested] product or a service. One of the gaps that I would find or identify is points of sale, so how to put your word out there to be able to make a profit out of your business?


[Mary] - We know there is a lot of education and services around. There's so many to the point that it can become overwhelming. But I really like to focus on making these things accessible to more and more people. So when we speak, for instance, of events for education, I think we need to talk more about how we can make this accessible to more and more people. So let's say mothers, refugee mums with caring duties; they're not as flexible in terms of hours and accessibility, they are not as accessible... I mean, they're not as flexible in terms of getting into venues like this.

We'd like to hear more conversations on how we can all collaborate to make these events like this more accessible. And there are events where they make an effort to make it so welcoming to people from different cultures, from the food, to the set of panelists, and the speakers and in the setup of the room and the music, all of these things, the venue, the location. Again, it's all about making it accessible and that's really, really good, because if you don't make an effort, that kind of an effort, then we will continue to talk to the same group of people.

The second thing, in terms of services and the gaps, Kim mentioned tailored support. Each and every one of us, we're all different and the way we live our lives are very different, and I guess to make it more inclusive, it's good if we have that personalised support, access to that personalised assistance and tailored support that's also accessible and affordable.


[Carolina] - I'll just add, I guess my experience is a bit different arriving with a good level of English and being keen to make friendships, but I would add to everything that you guys said that to also step outside of the multicultural community space, and that happened to me quite naturally, but I felt like I was able to build a network of friends that became business connections and networks that expanded my reach. So that happened in a broader Australian community, and I feel like we have global, fresh creativity and perspective that we can offer.

I think we all have had experiences of discrimination, if you come from another country, you know that that can happen.

It is an issue, but I think the majority of the community in Brisbane are excited and open to hear what we have to say and to experience our products and services. So it's also stepping outside that immediate, obvious space and remembering that we have a lot to offer.

I think someone said before, we're not taking resources, we're providing, we are resources, so to own that role and to remember that we have that power as well.

Some great advice Carolina.

What advice would you all give to aspiring entrepreneurs no matter where they come from? And are there any fundamental traits that you consistently see in what may be perceived as successful entrepreneurs?

[Kim] -

One of the things that was talked about in the workshop today is the idea of resilience. I think that the startup journey is a long and a tumultuous one at times. It's definitely not a straight path from A to B, there's a lot of stops along the way and changes in the road. So I think being able to stay focused.

We've talked a lot about staying true to your mission and your vision, so setting that really strong purpose when you start, staying true to that and having that in front of you day to day and being able to work through those challenges as they come, celebrate the highs, work through the lows and stay resilient through the process because it's not going to happen overnight.

It will happen one day and you've got to be prepared to canoe with the storms as you go.


[Santiago] - Continuing with the ‘why’, I'm very committed to that because that's your north star. Once you have found that, we all want to change the world and we all want to produce very massive changes and positive impacts in larger communities. Being that not really possible in the immediate term, start little by little. So the way we do it in our social enterprise, we identify high priority needs from a project A or project B. Those high priority needs that require urgent support from anyone, in this case us, is what makes a massive difference. So instead of aiming at the moon, even if you miss it, at least you will reach the stars.

So in our case, one of the donations that we were able to provide to girls is isolating mats because they were living in really harsh conditions, very cold weather in this remote town in the north part of Myanmar and they had no isolating mats to sit on during their lunch. We were there volunteering for quite some time, so we knew this was needed urgently. So in that case, it was a matter of about $350 or $400 that we donated through the community leader.

Overnight you are producing a positive change in the quality of life of 400 children because they are sitting more comfortably instead of on the cold floor. So yes, we want to change the world, you need to start somewhere at the end, and in that sense, following your north star, commitment, resilience and passion. Having a great attitude, otherwise nothing will work.

[Mary] - Self care and strong set of values. It was very important to have these things established before anything else. And with resilience, you'll then be guided to enjoy the rest of your journey. After that, just being able to be flexible I guess.

Be flexible and embrace failures, there's going to be plenty of that.


[Etienne] - We are going to fail. I guess the difference of reflecting back on resilience is whether you get back up again and you continue to drive that passion and commitment.

From my perspective, a lot of the people that I've seen that have succeeded are willing to fail time and time again, but also having the notion of a clear why and a clear strategy implemented after the why. So not just having ‘this is why I'm doing it,’ but actually spending time with what is the strategy.

People that have been really successful, and I'm thinking of some social enterprises that we've helped with people selling coal now at Bunnings. Some real innovative thinkers and people with a lot of passion. The key difference was having a strong why he wanted to do it, had a strong strategy in terms of the what and the how, but he really put a date to his dream. And one thing I provide a lot of advice to people that come to me and saying, ‘I've got this dream, I've got this dream’, I say to them,

‘Well, a dream stays a dream unless you've got a date. Because a dream with a date becomes a goal.’

And once you've got a goal, you can start breaking your goal up into steps and that becomes your daily tasks that you need to do to achieve your goal. If you take it then even a step further back and you break it up further, what are the different tasks you need to do, you get to this notion of knowing what you need to do every day to achieve your goal, so you dream with a date. And before you know it, it just becomes habit. And the hardest thing in life to break is a habit.

What if we can build a habit by really putting just a date to a dream?

And it's okay if you fail because then you just change the date and you cry in the corner, it's okay. But you can change your goal, you can change your dream because of experience, but if you don't put a date to something, it just stays a dream. So I guess that was really one of the messages that resonate throughout the years of working really closely with people and saying, "Don't always just dream, but really put a date to it to start implementing some of those things."

[Carolina] - I think one of the things I would like to add, is to try and work with people you like, to build that kind of... I would say it's beyond professionalism, it's to build almost an affectionate common ground with the people you work with, especially if you're doing mission driven business, right? The who we are and what our hearts and our values, it's such an important part of our every day and what's important to us.

One of the things that I keep coming back to in these 7 years working with all kinds of people, is that the most meaningful work comes from those relationships that I truly value, and that I feel like I built almost like a friendship and affectionate relationship with those clients.

And it impacts my life, their lives, and then the project becomes more meaningful when in the impact is greater as well.

There's some fantastic insights there. Would anyone from the audience like to add to that?

[Chelsea Baker] - Hi, my name is Chelsea. I'm the Founder and Director of Flexi Flow. We activate creative learning communities. In my experience as an entrepreneur, it's taken me a few years to shift into this mindset, but I call it ‘possibility thinking.’ It comes from really understanding that value.

If you can just reframe failure as feedback, you can actually adapt your actions and your way of doing the business so it's responsive to what's presenting.

And this relates a little bit to Theory U, which talks about emergence practise in business, so this is like not going too far into your dream, but starting with micro steps and seeing what the response is and what emerges from your experience.

But I really think it's important to have little mantras and one of my mantras is, see failure as feedback and possibility thinking.

Wonderful. Anyone else?

[Evelyn Leow] - Hi, it's Evelyn from Lily and Lord. I'm the Founding Creative Director of an ethical and sustainable fashion brand. I'm just thinking about my time when I was a migrant a long time ago. I think starting a business is hard for anyone whether you're a migrant or not, and I remember in the early days I would just try to get a job in industry that you want to start a business in just to get experience, just to learn a system even. Something like tax is complicated in Australia, and the way business is done, how it works, how transactions work… and if you can't get a job, just offer your time for free.

That's what I did. I just volunteered and just learned and made connections that way, and I think if you can prove that you're of value and you learn very quickly too, and there's really no chance of failing. It won't go on your resume and you haven't put any money down to start a business, but you've gained a lot just by volunteering in the industry, and I think that will help. It will be the building block to maybe getting a more permanent job or starting a business eventually, so that's from my own experience.

[Carolina] - I love that you said that, because that's a strategy to get your foot somewhere and do some volunteering.

I think on the other hand, remember that you are allowed to have another job while you start your business.

I worked in retail part-time, my weekends I was working in a retail shop because I didn't want my passion to be compromised because I couldn't afford rent or my bills. So remember that it's absolutely fine for as long as you want to keep that side, solid, stable income coming through.

And when you can do the leap, and move full time into it, it's such a great achievement when you can get to that point. It's very hard financially as well.

We're talking about vision and passion and beautiful outcomes and positively impacting the world, but then, there's that first initial issue that is, how do I support myself when I am running a business?

And I guess the answer is you have a side job or you keep your full time job, is that what you're saying? Yeah, cool.

[Kim] - I think either that side job or exploring the possibility of a business while you're still working full time job. I know from my journey starting my social enterprise is, as much as I would love to have done it earlier in life, I knew that I wasn't ready for it until the time I started it. And I actually have had a great deal of support starting it from the previous organisation I used to work with. [They] have contracted a lot of services from me because I had those networks, I had that support.

So if you've got an idea, it takes a bit of extra work and yes you're going to have some long nights and some big weekends, but if you've got a full time job, it doesn't stop you from exploring it. Use the finances you've got from your full time job to help you get it up and going. You can do either; stay in a full time job, do the side hustle, or you can keep the side job and throw yourself into it.


[Etienne] - Kim used to work for Access Community Services, and having the privilege to have seen Kim grow her social enterprise has been fantastic. It also reminds me of the point which we discussed in the workshop of this whole notion of a minimal viable product. A lot of the barriers that people have discussed; having startup capital and funds and ‘I need to have all this ready before I can start the business,’… I'm sitting next to a person that started a social enterprise right out of her house while doing another job.

Numerous individuals that have worked in this space have really started from nothing. If you're wondering what this term, minimal viable product means, go to Google and ask Google what the first iPhone looked like as a minimal viable product and it might start make to make some sense in saying, you might not have all the gadgets and all the apps that are linked to each other or all the technology, but if you're able to really portray your product like Kim did when she was even working at Access and really testing the market, ‘will this work? Do people care about this as much as I do?’ then you can really get that feedback and say, ‘right, people like this’ before you make all the investment.


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