Interview with Abou Tagourla

We had the opportunity to talk to Abou Tagourla, a refugee from Mauritania who developed and manage KINGZ, a successful web portal that put  people in touch with art and culture and gives them the opportunity to discover new artist and trends.  A platform characterised by two guidelines for producing reliable information and offering you interesting discoveries: fieldwork and research.

On the website, you can find the latest news about Art and Design, Culture, Music and Lifestyles from artists and art exhibitions from all around the world. Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to talk with you.

When was that? Was it your first time in France or maybe in Europe? 

I arrived in February 2011, it is 8 years already since I am in Europe.

 How were you welcomed by the authorities?                                                   

I was really well received, but it wasn’t easy. Integration in a new country it is a long and difficult path. We often hear complains in the beginning because when we arrive we thing it will be easy, but it is really demanding, we have to push hard. We have to be brave and perseverant. I was personally very well received and I have nothing to complain about.

 What piece of advice would you give others in that respect? And what important things did you learn yourself?

As I was saying, it is a long and difficult path. You have to be cautious, to be humble and do not believe that everything will fall from the sky… As a new life begins, you have to make your new path step by step, you have to start from zero. There will be support, as Authorities and associations are available to provide with support. Patience, Perseverance, humbleness, and willingness! The good state of mind is essential…

How did you get on to learning new skills? Was it computer science from the start or did you hesitate or were offered other options?

I had a basic education in IT, I was already an IT technician. In Mauritania I was officially working for a news agency. However, here in Europe technology is more advanced, so I searched for ways to improve my skills and knowledge. I was looking for a training to improve my skills and I found an interesting training programme on the web. It was a training opened to anyone and financed by the Ile de France Region. To access it, you need to have a minimum level of competences, so I made a test and it went very well. I had the competences required to be accepted, so I got in.  I was capable of capitalise on my education, but you have also to be curious and look for opportunities. Training is extremely important. Without this training my path would have been very difficult. I have seen people like me with competences but that do not validate them or look for improvements, and that go directly working in sectors like security or as waiters where their competences are of no use. They even forget that they have competences that can be of use. We don’t have to abandon our path and forget our skills.

How long did this training last? Where you working at the same time, or not?

My training lasted one year. It was intense, every day (except Sunday) from 9 to 19… it is a training that last normally 2 years but it was condensed in 1 year for our programme. It was organised and supported by Ile de France Region, who paid it for all the participants: it usually costs 8500€ but we only had to pay a 150€ registration fee. The Region supports this programme because there are many companies in its territory that need IT. In this way the region can respond to this demand. Two months after my training programme I found a job as IT expert in a company where I stayed for  a year. Then I changed for another company that offered better working and financial conditions, always in the IT environment.

What inspired you to start your own company? Did you do it by yourself or with others? Who were they?

The passion for art (I have been always a user and a consumer of art and design). I was happy to write articles about art and to talk about it. I frequented a lot the artistic environment, and I realised that people around me lacked information, they didn’t know what was happening in the artistic field. Then, I realised that there was a demand for it! It took me 4 years to develop my project, it wasn’t immediate. A lot of considerations and questions, but may passions won over the doubts. I started developing my project with a friend I met during my training who is an expert in the development of applications. My expertise however, is systems. Therefore, together we were able to work on the development of the project… Everything started from my training. However during this period, I have always worked, mainly as an IT in the banking sector.

Did you receive external support, such as from entrepreneurship associations, chamber of commerce, NGOs, or others?

Just before launching my project I contacted an incubator (SINGA) for refugees. SINGA is a company that offers a working space and coaching services for refugees, supporting them in launching their projects. I presented my project to SINGA and it was accepted. I spent 6 months with them  doing training, presentation of projects, coaching on how to manage an enterprise, etc.  This was a crucial step for my entrepreneurial project. I also had an important support from Esprit d’Ebene, an association that invited me to work in their offices.

Did it occur to you that your enterprise might not be successful? Where you in any way concerned or even afraid about obstacles? And how did you overcome them?

Yes of course, I had some difficult moments, when you are assaulted by doubts… even now I have some doubts, as there are many obstacles. KINGZ is a young start-up, it has less than a year. It is the desire and willingness to make it real that helps you overcome your doubts. You have to persist, never stop… As for all enterprises, there are obstacles but they help us to grow and improve.

Did you receive any financial support from family or friends?

No, nothing. But family and friends always encouraged me.

Did you receive any other financial support? From which organisations? At what conditions?

No nothing, for the moment it is only myself and my savings. However, I am preparing a request for a funding opportunity to the French Ministry for Culture and Education, and I hope to get it as it would help my company to grow more rapidly and increase its size.

What could you tell us about the early stages of the setting up of your company? And afterwards?

Emotions: motivations and worries at the same time…

Have you considered starting other companies? If yes, which ones? And with what purpose?

At the moment I am very concentrated on the development of my project. But I am also working on a parallel long term project with a friend in Mauritania. A very important project for me: to build a real library in my hometown, with a lot of books, old and new ones. There isn’t a library there, this is also something that push people to leave.  There is nothing to improve their knowledge… A real library similar to those we can find here in Europe.

 Are you aware of special lending schemes for migrant entrepreneurs?

The only programme that I am aware of is SINGA in Paris, where I did my company incubation. However, I receive support from the Chamber of commerce of Paris. The Chamber has a supporting programme for enterprises but it is a general programme opened to anyone. I had no problem to access it.

Are you involved in any (migrant) groups? If yes can you provide us with some information about the group(s) and the activities carried out?

Around me there are many migrants, we spend a lot of time together. But they are just occasional encounters (in bars or elsewhere), not meetings organised by a specific organisation

 Can tell us what are the most important things and most relevant obstacles in your experience?

To sum up, we can say that training programs are essentials, but also to create and foster your network As I said before, I started developing my project with a friend I met during my training  thanks to which we were able to complement each other and develop my idea. The two most difficult things for migrants are the networks and the access to financial resources. The network of friends and family,  but also  those networks that give you opportunities to develop your ideas. As for the access to finance, when you present a business plan to a financial institution, there is a fundamental line, the “love money” line. It refers to the possibility to receive support from family and friends. When this line is empty investors are sceptics. Unfortunately, migrants rarely have the “love money” …   Therefore, to have somebody able to assist them to develop and integrate it as part of their business plan is essential for the success of a migrant entrepreneur.

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