Make it Possible
The challenge of restarting its business in a new country
Admin | Comune di Milano
In just one night, in 2013, Mohamad Alassar decided to leave its home country, Syria, looking for a place to restart its life again. He and his family lost everything and travelled for almost 2 years across Lebanon and Turkey before reaching Europe. Currently he runs a renovation services company based in Amsterdam. Since he arrived in the Netherlands, he refused the status of refugee seeing instead himself as an immigrant: “being a refugee ties you the past, while being an immigrant connects you with the future!”
Can you please tell us how you had the idea to start your business?
When I reached the Netherlands, I was almost 50 years old, I had 300 euro in my pocket and I was alone, without my family, that joined me after 8 months. In line with my background as an engineer and contractor in Syria, where I had my own company focused on industrial and civil projects, I aspired to restart my business in the maintenance and renovation field. AskPro Renovatie en Onderhoud was founded in 2018 and currently counts 6 employees and co-workers
Can you please tell us about the main obstacles you have encountered and how you managed to overcome them?
The main obstacles for me were the Dutch language and rules. I faced difficulties in understanding the administrative system and get certifications as well as in dealing with the financial system. The Netherlands system is complex and strict. In Syria, I run a big company but I was able to do every financial task by myself. Here it is impossible, you need the support of external professionals. Also, being an entrepreneur in the Netherlands is very challenging because at the moment you decide to start a business you lose all the subsidies and benefits. That’s why most of the people prefer to keep inside the subside system and maintain their refugee status, because they feel “safer”. In addition, running a business in a country that is not your home country entails dealing with a different cultural mind-set and way of thinking, which can make you feel very confused.
Has the recent pandemic affected your business and how did you overcome the challenges?
During the pandemic I have continued my activity without stopping but the logistic costs rose. As an example, usually we used just my van to transport all the employees, but due to the COVID this became impossible. Also, organisational issues emerged. I had to split my work in more days to reduce the hours of contacts with other people and find other “flexible” solutions to keep on working. Also, the market was not growing because people wanted to avoid connections with the others. Nevertheless, we survived thanks to the subsidies of the government, which were not so much but enough to fill the gap. My strategy during the COVID was to be more flexible even if we had fewer results.
How do you see the future of your company?
I still have problems with the administration as well as with the marketing. Until now I am continuing to invest my income to manage and consolidate the company. All this makes me always on the limit. Looking at the future, I am aspiring to become well-known in the Dutch market for our excellent renovation services and social responsibility and work as subcontractor for local companies because it is too complex for me managing everything.
Is there anything you would like to tell to your fellow entrepreneurs? #somethinginspirational
First, they should consider their self as immigrants and not only as refugees. This switch is beneficial because it changes the goals: not only “survive” and “be safe” but also thinking to a second life, a fresh restart. Second, it is essential to ask for help. When you arrive in a new country, you need help and you should be open to asking for it. When I arrived here, I sent a letter to all my neighbours to introduce me and my family and invited them to a party at my house. In one week, I knew everyone in my neighbourhood, and this was very helpful for me and my children. “Knocking the door” is important to learn more and to have connections.