Entrepreneurs

The new breed of migrant entrepreneur changing the face of Australian business

John Nelder /

Niklas Olsson

Balto founder Niklas Olsson. Source: Supplied

Hailing from the hills of Sweden, Niklas Olsson now finds himself in the heart of Sydney at the helm of his own thriving business.

The 28-year-old logistics whiz is one of a growing band of migrant entrepreneurs gracing our shores, with new research this week shedding light on the economic contribution of this group of business owners in Australia.

Olsson puts it down to the hunger and ambition he says comes from being a migrant.

“Migrants have a necessity to succeed because they come from a background where they need to be successful to remain and stay,” he explains.

And Olsson himself proves no exception.

Having moved to Australia in 2011 to do a master’s degree at the University of New South Wales, he soon got a taste for business and launched his own recruitment firm on the side.

Within a year he was poached by online fashion store The Iconic as one of its first employees. And it was there he learned all about the logistics of e-commerce, eventually branching out on his own in 2015.

Today the business he founded — last-mile refrigerated transport company Balto — works with some of Australia’s major e-commerce brands and boasts a projected annual revenue of more than $5 million.

“The logistic experience is paramount to e-commerce. If someones stuffs up your delivery, it’s a bad experience. So I saw an opportunity in the refrigerated goods space to do just that and do a good job for the customer,” he tells SmartCompany.

But for Olsson, leading a growing business in Sydney feels a long way from the peaceful Swedish countryside he grew up in.

“I grew up in a very small country town, with a population of about 200 people. We have a church and that’s about it,” he says.

“But growing up, I always had an appetite to expand my horizons and discover the opportunities that are out there in the world. I’ve always been a curious person.”

And it’s that can-do attitude that is seeing Olsson and so many other migrants like him help buoy the Australian economy.

The CGU Migrant Small Business Report, released this week, estimates migrant employers could create up to 200,000 Aussie jobs in the next five to 10 years.

The report draws on data from the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman that estimates there are just over 2 million small businesses in Australia. According to the report at least 620,000 business in Australia are owned by migrants.

ABS data that estimates one third of small businesses in Australia are owned by migrants. It found migrant business owners employ more than 1.4 million employees across the nation, with a quarter of them providing training to young people.

The research, which is based on surveys with 900 business owners, found eight in 10 of the migrant business owners surveyed started their first business venture after moving to Australia, with 52% of these business owners saying they were motivated to launch their venture to gain “greater independence”. The top reason for moving to Australia was quality of life (47%), followed by family (34%) and career opportunities (32%).

The migrant business owners surveyed were most likely to start a business in the property and business services space (22%), retail and hospitality (15%) and community services and education (14%).

“Through entrepreneurship you can create these opportunities for others,” Olsson says.

“It’s a great vehicle. You have the ability to channel not only your ambitions and dreams, but also to have a positive impact on those around you.”

And he hopes the federal government’s moves to replace 457 visas won’t sap that momentum.

“I think it’s important to encourage businesses to hire the best person suited to the job, whether migrant or Australian,” he says.

“A lot of time when you’re an owner-operator, your next employee is crucial. And that next employee may or may not be someone in Australia, so it needs to be easy and open for owner operators to employee overseas workers.”

Olsson also sees the need for continued support from government in the form of grants and other programs.

“There’s a lot of technical information to absorb — how to you pay your tax, set up contracts, pay GST and handle employee arrangements,” he says.

“As an owner-operator, you just want to work on what’s best for your customers, but there’s so many other things you have to get right.”

But the advice he has for any aspiring entrepreneur looking to get a start is not to overplan.

“You spend lots of time, thinking writing business plans, but that just proves the tip of the iceberg,” he observes.

“Instead of planning for a smaller part of the bigger picture, it’s about getting out there in the field and taking action.”

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John Nelder

John Nelder is a city-dwelling, latte-swilling SmartCompany journalist.

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