Migrant women’s ‘determination and grit’ find form in start-ups

Graduates of DCU’s first migrant course for women show off skills with new businesses

Migrant businesswomen: Lidiane Martins, The Alternut Food Co; Ana Tereza Rodrigues, ‘So You Cake Toppers’; Mariana Cruz, Mariana’s Cakes; Sancha Moran, Sancha’s Parties; Gabriela Szeplaki and Ling Lee, The Alternut Food Co. Photograph:  Nick Bradshaw

Migrant businesswomen: Lidiane Martins, The Alternut Food Co; Ana Tereza Rodrigues, ‘So You Cake Toppers’; Mariana Cruz, Mariana’s Cakes; Sancha Moran, Sancha’s Parties; Gabriela Szeplaki and Ling Lee, The Alternut Food Co. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Ana Tereza Rodrigues came to Ireland in 2008 to learn English. She worked as a childminder until a friend encouraged her to turn her love of art and crafts into a business.

“Why don’t you do it if you love it so much?” her friend told her.

Since then, her business – making personalised cake toppings for weddings, Christenings and other important occasions – has expanded outside the Brazilian community to a much wider market.

“I started as a hobby; I just made for friends. Now I make four a week,” she said.

Ms Rodrigues was one of 22 women, all migrant entrepreneurs, showcasing their business products and services at an event in Dublin city centre on Thursday night.

The start-up founders are all graduates of an entrepreneur programme designed especially for migrant women. The course is the first of its kind in Ireland and is run by the Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurs at Dublin City University in partnership with Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.

‘Language barrier’

“It was not very easy because the language barrier is the first difficulty,” said Ms Rodrigues. “We need to search for everything and we don’t know the terminology for everything.”

The course taught the 36-year-old Brazilian woman how to start by registering a business. She still encounters barriers such as when she applied for a €10,000 loan for materials.

“I tried once but it wasn’t approved and I never tried again,” she said.

She hopes one day to have her own premises where she can both work and show off her products.

“I would love a little shop in Temple Bar. That would be my dream,” she said.

Businesswoman and broadcaster Norah Casey, a guest speaker at the event, praised the role of migrants in business, pointing out that the best cities in the world were most multicultural so it was “no surprise as to why they are so entrepreneurial”.

“People who have had to battle, face fear, determination, grit, everything they had to do to get here, means they already have those entrepreneurial traits,” she told The Irish Times.

Mira Garvin (38), who lives in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, but is originally from Mauritius, turned a passion for food in her adopted home into a business as a health and nutrition coach.

Building confidence

A bout of depression led Ms Garvin to start a food blog and to train as a nutritionist. She runs a 10-week programme called Project Me for mothers with newborns to help them make easy, healthy meals.

“Before the programme, I was coaching people but didn’t think I was in business because I was working for two hours after putting the kids to bed. I didn’t think I was a business person,” she said.

“Week by week, it built confidence to be able to say: ‘I am a entrepreneur.’”

Mariana Cruz (46), who is from Venezuela, bakes cookies and cakes in her business, Mariana’s Cakes. Her dream is to have her own coffee shop and eventually her own bakery like the cookie factory she ran in her South American home town where she employed 20 people.

In the age of Trump and Brexit, when countries are building barriers to overseas migrants and trade, Ms Cruz said new arrivals have much to offer.

“I have a lot of knowledge and I can give a lot,” she said. “If you put up a wall, I can’t give you anything.”

Among her most popular recipes are some from home adapted for Irish taste buds: a chocolate biscuit cake and a pina colada cake infused with Irish whiskey.

The programme helped guide her and teach her about Irish regulations, building her confidence.

“They took my hand and said, ‘Mariana, I really trust you, I really believe in your job, I really believe in you, I can help you’,” she said.

“That is very nice. I can receive a lot, but I can give a lot as well.”