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Women with immigrant backgrounds increasingly becoming entrepreneurs

Nearly 13,000 women with immigrant backgrounds were unemployed in Helsinki in 2020, but starting a business is becoming increasingly common.

Intialaistaustainen vaatealan yrittäjä Pukhraj Ranjan työskentelee Helsingissä Lapinlahden sairaalassa. Hänellä on Moi Namaste -niminen firma.
Pukhraj Ranjan's business Moi Helsinki recycles Indian clothing. Image: Vesa Marttinen / Yle
Yle News

In Helsinki's old hospital area of Lapinlahti lies Pukhraj Ranjan's Moi Namaste — an Indian clothing shop which collaborates with artisans, becoming part of the circular economy.

Even though she has faced challenges in getting the business up-and-running, Ranjan thinks every country needs more entrepreneurs.

"A person from another country does not automatically understand the wants and needs of customers or how things work and where to get help. It takes a lot of time to dig up this information," Ranjan told Yle.

She added that there is a fundamental structural issue with immigrants starting their own businesses — entrepreneurship is not an option for everyone.

Number of immigrant entrepreneurs growing

On the ground floor of Helsinki City Hall, more than a hundred female entrepreneurs — or are planning to become business owners — gathered for the Entrepreneurship Day for Women.

Among the keynote speakers for the event was Fadumo Ali, who founded and grew her social and healthcare firm Hoiwa to reach a turnover of 4.2 million euros over the course of two years.

Business adviser Pia Partanen of NewCo Helsinki — an organisation offering free counselling to entrepreneurs — said that Ali's success story is an important example for those that want to pursue entrepreneurship.

"Barriers are slowly starting to break even in cultures where female entrepreneurship may not be an obvious option. When there are visible examples, more and more women dare to become entrepreneurs," Partanen told Yle.

NewCo Helsinki helped to establish 1,200 new companies last year and 43 percent of its clientele had an immigrant background.

The city is now particularly targeting more women entrepreneurs with immigrant backgrounds, and statistics are already showing steady growth. Last year, 42.5 percent of NewCo Helsinki's customers with such backgrounds were women. In 2020, the corresponding figure was 39 percent, and a year earlier the proportion was 36 percent.

For many, entrepreneurship is the only option

According to Ranjan, business services for immigrants in the Helsinki metropolitan area are mostly good and fill important needs, but there is still room for improvement. One consideration is the focus on technology.

"There seems to be a lot of support available for technology startups, but companies with a social impact like mine are in a different position," Ranjan told Yle.

For Ranjan, rapid growth and high turnover are not her primary goals. Rather, her business strives to provide a stable livelihood for Indian artisans and wants to encourage sustainable development, responsible consumption and green values.

Ranjan's second criticism is behind the phenomenon of growth in entrepreneurship for women from immigrant backgrounds. On paper it is a positive development, however, the reasons for that growth may reveal some issues.

"It is important to think about why this is happening and to recognise that for many, entrepreneurship is the only option. It is difficult to work in Finland and expensive to live in Helsinki. While raising the issue and highlighting the growing figures, it is important to look at the underlying causes," Ranjan explained.

Partanen recognised the phenomenon too, but approached the problem from a different angle. She said that finding employment for people with a migrant background can sometimes be a challenge, and entrepreneurship was a way around that obstacle.

In 2020, there were roughly 12,700 women with immigrant backgrounds who were jobless in the Helsinki metropolitan area. According to Partanen, there is a need and demand for new companies, especially in the IT sector, healthcare sector and in the startup field in general.

11.6: Corrected name and description of Moi Namaste

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