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Home > Life Stories > The Ethnic Food Entrepreneur - Finland - 2

The Ethnic Food Entrepreneur - Finland - 2

The family of Mr H came to Finland as refugees 18 years ago. Mr H was still a small boy at that time. His family came from Iraq. In Finland Mr H went straight to school, starting the school at the age of seven without proper language skills was quite difficult for him. He first entered the one-year preparatory education offered for immigrant children by the municipality and then to the normal school. Although the start of the school was not easy, he has succeeded in his studies and got a vocational qualification in business and administration at the age of 19.

Mr H was already selling all sorts of things at an early age to earn some pocket money, and he thinks that entrepreneurship is “in his blood”. This is now his third company, even though he is no older than 26. The first one was a restaurant. In fact it was never even opened, since it turned out that the premises were not suitable for setting up a restaurant. That he did not know and he had even already invested some money in the furnishing and other equipment before finding that out. The next one was a sweet shop in a new shopping centre. That was something a bit extraordinary since there are not that many immigrant entrepreneurs in new shopping centres due to high rents. At that time he was even chosen to be the head of the business owners’ association in that shopping center. This third one – which he is running now – is a grocery shop which is also subletting premises to other immigrant entrepreneurs. The shop sells food from many countries from all over the world, so the clientele is very mixed. They come from the Balkan Peninsula, Russian, Estonian, Finland, Arab countries, Asia etc.

Mr H is a very active person, and involved in many things, like associations, politics and charity. That way he has got a lot of positive publicity for his business in the media. But the best advert is when good experiences of customers are spread by word of mouth. However everything has not always to plan. Even if he made precise calculations, things didn’t always turn out in reality like they did on paper. He also feels that the authorities have not always treated him fairly. They have done everything “by the book”, but the problem is that they have not been equally strict with other business owners. One structural obstacle has been also Finnish legislation. Mr H thinks that Finnish external trade legislation is quite protectionist and restricts the import of some food stuffs directly from the country of origin even if it those products would not be otherwise available in Finland. These are then often imported via Sweden. These adversities have forced him to fight even harder and made him stronger, he thinks. He has gained most support from his family, the local start-up agency and his accountant.

Mr H thinks that it is important to emphasize more to the public that one cannot succeed without hard work. For starting a business one needs a good business plan. One should be willing to ask for help as many times as necessary as well. It’s good to have a professional bookkeeper right from the start, he says. He has noticed that some immigrant entrepreneurs have got into trouble because they have not understood the language well enough, and have signed some contracts without reading or understanding them properly. 

Education and Culture Lifelong Learning Programme
© 2011 ELIE Project
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.