Pride and prejudice
Many guest workers become guest entrepreneurs
To the consternation of Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, much of the couple’s coverage in the German press focused on their Turkish roots. “Our world can be saved. From Mainz. By children of migrants,” was a headline in Bild, Germany’s best-selling tabloid. Their story certainly defies the cliche of owners of doner-kebab stands and fruit-and-vegetable shops— even if Mr Sahin and Ms Tureci, chief executive and chief medical officer, respectively, of BioNTech, would have preferred to read about the details of their firm’s discovery, in partnership with Pfizer, an American drugmaker, of a highly effective vaccine against covid-19.
“There are other BioNTechs,” says Rosemarie Kay of the IfM, a think-tank in Bonn. Migrants are much likelier than the average German to start a business. According to a recent survey by KFW, a state-owned development bank, one in four of the 605,000 founders of firms last year had foreign origins. They are not limited to groceries and gastronomy. Spotted, established by Nik Myftari, a refugee from Kosovo, is a dating website. Novum, created in 1988 by Nader Etmenan, who fled Iran, has become one of Germany’s biggest chains of hotels.
Immigrants to Germany (like Mr Sahin) or those with at least one parent who was born abroad (like Ms Türeci) number 19.6m, representing 24% of the population. A study from the Bertelsmann Foundation, another think-tank, found that members of this group own 773,000 businesses. Of these, 469,000 are sole traders. The rest are employers, mostly in construction, retail and services. Their numbers are growing. By comparison, the number of other Germans who own businesses declined by 275,000 in the period, to 3.2m.