Lyubov Guk is a founding partner at Blue Lake VC. She supports early-stage international founders working in the U.K.
Robyn Klingler-Vidra is associate dean of global engagement and associate professor in entrepreneurship and sustainability at King’s Business School.
All three of us are immigrants to the U.K. We were each greeted with the classic “catch-22” of trying to open a bank account and finding a place to live: To get a bank account, you need an address, but to rent a flat, you need a bank account.
This is just one of the (very minor) points of friction immigrants face when moving to a new country. Entrepreneurs who set up a business in a new country encounter more challenges. Lyubov’s own experiences as a Ukrainian immigrant in the U.K. gave her both great empathy for the trials immigrant founders face, and the belief that immigrants often make and build world-leading businesses.
Beyond personal experiences, academic research seems to point to an almost inverse relationship between the contributions immigrant founders make and early acceptance by the ecosystem.
Designing an international founders open office hours pilot
With personal experience as her motivation, Lyubov piloted a program that would offer a softer landing for immigrant entrepreneurs in the U.K. The pilot was an “International Founders Open Office Hours” program that would help immigrant founders boost their social networks and local know-how by meeting with VCs in the U.K.
Instead of the usual pitch format, the meetings were informal conversations that aimed to help founders build up this essential — and for immigrants, missing — social capital. The program was inspired by Playfair Capital and its Female Founders Office Hours.
The initial start was rocky, as it coincided with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Lyubov and her Blue Lake partner, David Gilgur, were helping families and friends in Ukraine by day and drafting the program plan by night. Early on, there was the challenge of bringing VCs and partners on board. Blue Lake had been active for a few years but was still a new name in the investment ecosystem. Asking for investors’ time meant that we had to prove we could launch something impactful that key players would want to be a part of.