LaunchVic awards $1.4 million in funding to startups supporting migrants and refugee entrepreneurs

Free to feed LaunchVic

Ishani Chattopadhyay, enterprise consultant, Free to Feed (left), Loretta Bolotin, co-founder, Free to Feed (right). Source: Supplied

From supporting food-focused entrepreneurs to facilitating hackathons and running workshops for startups helping the disadvantaged, five projects supporting refugees and first-generation migrants have received $1.4 million in funding from LaunchVic.

This is the third round of grants awarded from the Victorian government’s $60 million innovation fund, which has previously supported the Victorian startup ecosystem through funding co-working spaces like Inspire 9, accelerator programs like Startmate, and female-first startup organisations like Girl Geek Academy.

This round of grants will be used to support organisations delivering a range of programs that encourage first-generation migrants and refugees in Victoria to develop their startup skills and entrepreneurial ideas, according to LaunchVic.

The winning programs include Free to Feed and its Now to Launch incubator program, which offers food-focused entrepreneurs across Victoria the support to expand their concepts from idea to launch, as well as YGAP and its First Gens program, which is designed to support 36 startups led by new migrants and refugees through an early-stage accelerator and incubator program.

Free to Feed co-founder and chief executive Loretta Bolotin says the social enterprise aims to empower refugees to leverage their experiences working in the food industry in their home country “by using Free to Feed as a vehicle” for employment or to start their own enterprise.

LaunchVic has invested $245,770 in the organisation over two years to deliver its Now to Launch incubator, which Bolotin says will “allow us to engage and highlight the food entrepreneurism of refugees and new migrants”. The nine-month incubator will be launched later this year, and its participants will benefit from the use of a commercial kitchen and events space, as well as mentoring from experts within the Victorian startup ecosystem, according to Bolotin. 

“We found that Victoria is definitely a food and lifestyle and culture-orientated economy — it’s a cultural capital,” Bolotin tells StartupSmart.

“In terms of a way to access culture, we [Free to Feed] have really focused on food — it bridges the gap between new migrants and local Victorians.”

Bolotin says food-oriented enterprises are “very much in line with what consumers in the [Victorian] community are looking for”, adding that food-based startups include more than typical cafes or restaurants. Instead, they can be “an international spice company, or the next Intrepid Travel running food tours connecting Australians with [migrant’s] cultural capitals”.

These grants won’t just be for the benefit of migrants and refugees in Melbourne: of the five grants awarded, three will be funding programs to be rolled out in regional and rural Victoria to benefit migrants and refugees with entrepreneurial ambitions in these areas too.

LaunchVic chief executive Dr Kate Cornick said in a statement promoting diversity and inclusion is “a core focus” for the organisation, and the latest grant recipients were selected for their ability to “encourage and enable more migrant and refugee entrepreneurs to engage in the Victorian startup ecosystem”.

This continued focus on diversity and inclusion comes after LaunchVic recently terminated its deal with 500 Startups to run the 500 Melbourne accelerator program, amid harassment allegations levelled at its then-chief Dave McClure. At the time of this cancellation, LaunchVic said it would be retaining the funds previously allotted to the program.

Meet the grant winners

Enterprising Partnerships ($452,000) — The funds will be used to deliver the Cultov8 program, which will run 10 hackathons across Victoria in Geelong, Shepparton, Ballarat, Broadmeadows and Dandenong. The funds will also go towards a 12-week preaccelerator to help migrants and refugees validate their startup ideas and consolidate their teams; learn entrepreneurial skills; and access free mentoring, business coaching, online learning tools and peer education, according to LaunchVic.

Laika Academy ($322,500) — Laika Academy will be using these funds to deliver a program called The Generation Launch, which includes knowledge-building workshops designed to support startups to launch their product and build practical entrepreneurial skills. The Generation Launch will run education programs in collaboration with a range of institutions to embed startup skills, according to LaunchVic, while also facilitating networking events to encourage entrepreneurs to become involved in the community.  

YGAP ($304,000) — This funding will be used to expand the YGAP program to deliver YGAP First Gens, which will support 36 refugee or new-migrant led startups, according to LaunchVic. The program includes a series or workshops held in Melbourne and rural centres in Victoria, designed to help build startups that address problems affecting at risk or disadvantaged refugees and migrants, as well as an early-stage accelerator program and incubator designed to provide additional support for new-migrant and refugee-led startup ventures.

Free to Feed ($245,770) Free to Feed will use these funds to deliver its Now to Launch incubator, according to LaunchVic. The two-year program will offer 60 startups the chance to develop their high-growth food startup concepts from idea to launch.

Hatch Quarter ($71,500) — Hatch Quarter is a co-working space based in Melbourne’s Docklands precinct. With this funding, it will create a playbook designed to help first-generation migrants and refugees deliver meet-ups that will contribute to building a supportive startup community for international entrepreneurs.

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