“Learn about the culture of a new country, region, and city first. Learn from your mistakes. Know yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses.”
Mohamed Alshartah travelled from Syria to Belgium as a refugee in 2014. As he began to live in a completely new and different culture, he sought to incorporate his background into his new life in Belgium. Creating a business in food has allowed Mohamed to bridge his personal culture with the lifestyle and culture of his new home.
In Syria, Mohamed obtained a secondary school degree in economic specialisation with a focus in accounting and book keeping. Once he moved to Belgium, he received employment through the government and began studying Dutch. In 2016 Mohamed joined microStart, Youth Business International member in Belgium, and attended their information sessions created for aspiring entrepreneurs and two training courses on business management.
As a refugee, Mohamed wished to bring Syrian culture to Belgium by opening a Syrian restaurant in Ghent. Due to high costs and difficult logistics, he decided to open a catering business instead. To begin with, Mohamed met with accountants at microStart to discuss business logistics and, in the meantime, he also worked in several restaurants to gain experience in the food and gastronomy sector.
microStart provided Mohamed with helpful information, guidance, and training regarding start-up businesses, taxes, regulations, and administration. He was also paired with a local business mentor with whom he discusses everything from business models to financial planning, with a goal to develop and move the business forward. His personal advisor is also from Syria, and they speak Arabic together.
In May of 2019, Mohamed officially started his business. Mohamed has already catered for a few events, where he proactively introduced himself and brought samples of his food to share. This approach proved to be successful: Mohammed has secured contracts for larger events and connected with new high-profile clients.
“For me always my mission is to be up-to-date with information to always grow my business.”
Mohamed’s goal is to target anyone who wants to try tasty Syrian food, and he is specifically interested in catering wedding parties. In addition, he hopes to purchase a truck so that he can expand his network to include different cities both in and out of Belgium.
This business has taught Mohamed the importance of language and communication between businesses and their clients. He also realised that receiving relevant information and guidance from microStart was key: for example, they advised him to choose catering over starting a restaurant right away. Had he not had this advice, Mohamed may have pursued a business model that was less attainable than catering. Mohamed’s personal mentor has also helped him become aware of risks to avoid so that he can run the business sustainably and create a repayment plan for his loan.
Mohamed’s advice for entrepreneurs is:
“Preparation is very important. Make a plan and business model canvas, analyse competitors, decide who the product is aimed at, and determine if it serves their needs. Have both a long-term and short-term strategy for the business."
microStart is a leading Belgian microfinance institution, which provides loans and business advice to entrepreneurs who want to develop their activities. microStart is part of the Youth Business Europe programme, a regional initiative supported by the Citi Foundation to help young entrepreneurs to start or grow a business.