Can an immigrant be an entrepreneur in Finland?

Published in Kauppalehti/Debatti on 30th November 2015      

Guest writer: Mikko Ilves

I think I am able to answer the question. A few years ago, we launched a specific service concept for entrepreneurs with foreign backgrounds in Finland. The language of service and reporting is so called “Globish” which means understandable English in different accents.

The only contacts you will be getting are from Turkish kebab stalls, or do they even have bookkeeping at all?” warned some of my prejudiced acquaintances, when I mentioned about the idea of expanding my business to foreign entrepreneurs.

Even though I dislike the mocking of pizza or kebab entrepreneurs of any nationality, I was curious to see if the prejudice would turn out correct. I would not know, since we did not really get that kind of contacts. But instead, the whole host of entrepreneurs with different nationalities have contacted us. At least French, African, Italian, Romanian, Indian, Australian, Polish, Dutch, Japanese, Bangladeshi, Chinese, British, Pakistani, Russian, Portuguese, Swiss and Philippine entrepreneurs have sat down at the negotiating table and most of the negotiations have turned out great customerships. And let’s not forget the aforementioned Turkish entrepreneur, who might even be the most hard-working of them all! Also the diversity of the lines of businesses has been incredible. We have had customers from importing, coding, owning a gym to architect services, just to name a few.

It is hard to say what these entrepreneurs have in common, however two things come to mind: One; they have not come to Finland because they love Finland, and two; they really want to work. The most common reasons for immigration seem to be moving to a safer life environment, and love. A lot of the immigrants have moved to Finland, because they have fallen in love with a Finnish woman or even a Finnish man!

The immigrants’ businesses are mostly small one-person companies and only few are employing outside their own family. If we talk about localization, entrepreneurship is a quite effective way. Having your own business prevents social exclusion and decreases unemployment. It is also a great way to make contacts with local people. I cannot really tell if it has effects on learning the local language, since the foreign entrepreneurs I know tend to prefer English as their main language in business. Also the locals are very eager to switch the language in English when they assume that the other person is not fluent in Finnish.

In my work, I have observed that when I meet people who are starting their new business, they are almost more often immigrant backgrounded than Finnish. We can conclude that at least in Helsinki area, an increasing number of the starting entrepreneurs do not speak Finnish as their mother tongue.

To answer the question in the title: Yes. Immigrants can integrate to Finland, for example as entrepreneurs. They perform their duties and pay their taxes like other entrepreneurs. Acting by their situation and personality, not by their nationality.

In conclusion, entrepreneurship can play a meaningful role to employment, but it also has a humane and socializing factor.

Article about immigrants as entrepreneurs by Mikko Ilves. Published in Kauppalehti on November 30th 2015

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