Lots of entrepreneurs have had to reinvent themselves, and they’ve managed to do it

When lockdown hit Paris, both Carlos and Sina had to reinvent their work: as a social entrepreneur, Carlos and his colleagues needed to find new sources of income while Sina, who is in charge of the incubator for refugee entrepreneurs in Montreuil worked out how to keep supporting their 26 start-ups even if the incubator was closed.

Carlos: “With the start of lockdown we lost almost 90% of our orders, because our concept is designed around professional clients. We had to think about other sources of income, which is why we started to work on the retail customers. Along with my two colleagues, we started delivering more or less everywhere by bike, and all of this was during lockdown.”

Sina: “Because of lockdown, we had to close our incubator for 2 ½ months. But despite all that, we wanted to keep supporting our 26 start-ups.”

Carlos: “My name is Carlos Arbelaez, I am a social entrepreneur and along with two colleagues, I co-founded Populaire. Populaire is a fair trade brand of coffee, which is roasted by hand in Paris.”

Sina: “Hello, my name is Sina Josheni, I work at La Ruche and I manage the THSN incubator in Montreuil for refugee entrepreneurs. At La Ruche, our mission is to give everybody the chance to start their own business. This incubator offers a program for refugees who want to become entrepreneurs.”

What are your hopes for the near future for the post-COVID period?
Sina: “First of all, our main hope is for the entrepreneurs we support. We hope that what they started to grow prior to the lockdown will continue, that their plans turn into viable projects, and that they remain for the long term. We hope to see everybody see everybody face to face again very soon.”

Carlos: “My hope is that we can all learn some important lessons from this lockdown, and that we can all understand that our way of life has an impact on the whole of society. With our project we set ourselves three goals: 1) To benefit the producers in Colombia 2) To benefit refugees in France, as we want to train them as baristas so they can find work 3) To inform our customers that what they buy can have an impact on the whole of society.

What do you feel are the most important needs now?
Sina: “The lockdown has raised a few problems for some business owners, in terms of digital tools. We think it’s really important to include everybody in using these tools, which are really important in the personal sphere but also for people’s working lives.”

Carlos: “I’ve been a social entrepreneur for 8 years now, and I think I’ve got the keys to go into business, or to start any project. The first thing I learnt when I started receiving support from the incubator was to question myself. I and my team realized very quickly that we weren’t business people.”

What are the challenges for entrepreneurs in a situation like this?
Sina: “We can see that the position of entrepreneur is quite suitable at this time. Like Carlos, lots of entrepreneurs have had to reinvent themselves, and they’ve managed it, which is a really good sign for their projects and our continued support going forward.”

Carlos: “I’ve seen a huge number of entrepreneurs, refugees and French people adapt and reinvent themselves in this incredibly difficult situation. People have also been very keen to give me advice on how to get out of this situation.”