Startup Refugees

Connecting people.

CLUSTER: Innovative services and organisations focusing on migrants’ employability and work integration

START DATE: September 2015



Camilla Nurmi Toiminnanjohtaja:;

Ilkka Peura Operatiivinen johtaja:;

business, learning, social inclusion, startup

whereHelsinki, Finland.


Riku Rantala and Tunna Milonoff, two small business owners.

Refugees and asylum seekers.


Opportunities for social inclusion, learning, immersion into the workforce and support for their business or ideas.

Startup Refugees is a community of 350 companies and organisations that want to support entrepreneurial ideas from asylum seekers. This project takes place in a reception centre, Startup Refugees is able to connect people in the centre with investors and mentors in order to help refugees develop their ideas or business and give them the foundations to succeed. The professional skills of all asylum seekers are
surveyed at the reception centre and they are given information, tools and training,according to their skills. They are also presented with volunteering or internship opportunities in Finnish companies so they can later become employed in their areas of expertise.

why it is

They have developed a model for employment integration and entrepreneurship by combining the asylum seekers’ skills with the job opportunities offered by their network. It consists of competence surveys, work and education opportunities, and entrepreneurship support.

To date, the network has provided at least 983 employment or training opportunities for the 1000 asylum seekers surveyed in the reception centre.


Team and competences:
Camilla Naatus – Executive Director, Elisa Vepsäläinen – Project Manager, Satu Heikinheimo – Head of Business Program, Hani Tarabichi – Business Coach, Ikea Peura – COO, Startup Refugees, Veera Pitkänen – Community Coordinator, Mustafa Abdulameer – Business Program Manager.
Legal Form:
Non-profit voluntary organization

Service Description

Main Problem Addressed / Activity Sector:
help the asylum seekers located in Finland in developing their business ideas. This perspective on immigration takes into consideration the aspect that there’s a significant amount of expertise and talent among the people forced to leave their home country which can be a brain gain instead of just a social and financial challenge.
refugees and asylum seekers.
Solution (Project/Service):
Startup Refugees gives refugees the skills to enter the workforce and set up businesses. The work starts in the reception centres. As days in the centres can be long and boring, the programme aims at making this time more constructive by giving the people the means to start their own micro businesses in the centre, or working towards getting their hygiene passport to work in the centre’s kitchen. Essentially the programme is designed to give refugees the essential tools to allow them to work towards bigger goals. Once a refugee has filled out a profile, his or her needs are matched with what the program’s partners have offered.
Thanks to its widespread network, Startup Networks can respond to almost all the needs an aspiring refugee entrepreneurs has: work and education opportunities, professional connections, funding, mentoring, support in skills development and useful information. The Startup Refugees has been profiling the skills and professional goals of refugees since 2015 and they are launching Match Made in Startup Refugees service in Finland together with their partner and network member Futurice in September 2017. Match Made in Startup Refugees is an online open source application, developed together with career coaches, working life experts, employers, researchers, translators and volunteers. This low-cost digital solution will help to identify and support the skills of refugees but also benefit other newcomers in Europe. After filling out the professional profile in Match Made in Startup Refugees, a person gets a cv designed for the European labour market sent as a PDF in their personal email to support them with successful job search. Match Made in Startup Refugees is also a tool to search for job, education or entrepreneurship opportunities. It also enables Startup Refugees of other possible users to find people in different cities with specific skills or goals and to send the C.Vs of the best candidates straight to employers or supporters.


Main Milestones:
Scaling up and spreading throughout the country – Up to August 2017 they have profiled the skills and professional goals of 1800 newcomers in 11 cities, offered 125 jobs, 42 traineeships, 70 business workshops for 589 participants, 379 courses and education opportunities, 16 profession specific networking events for 151 participants and supported 35 businesses of newcomers. So far Startup Refugees has collected 1800 profiles and offered more than 3000 work and education opportunities by our network members. All opportunities are carefully matched according to the skills and motivation of refugees in order to create impact and sustainability. The opportunities have included jobs, internships, tailored skills workshops and education programs, different kind of vocational passes (security, hygiene passes etc.), training in European working culture and job seeking and entrepreneurship support.
Main difficulties/challenges:
One of the main challenges they face is managing Finland’s clogged circle of bureaucracy as regards documents and procedures for migrants and refugees. Main challenges are the they are working with asylum seekers and they cannot foresee the asylum process. Sometimes the person who has been actively takin apart in our activities has to leave a country.


Sustainability is provided by the network itself. Startup Refugees receives the necessary resources by getting sponsorship from companies and people who want to help. The companies and people all help in different ways: the large companies donate money, the small businesses training and equipment, and experienced business coaches their time. Startup Refugees has developed an involving corporate social responsibility model for companies and they are finding it very successful. Instead of only donating money, companies are increasingly interested in how to donate their time, skills, networks and even jobs to make an impact to the cause they believe in and we also have found many ways to support them towards their goal. This cooperation model is something they could offer for other European states as well and based on their experience they believe that this kind of involving corporate social responsibility is a growing trend.
Camilla Naatus – Executive Director, Elisa Vepsäläinen – Project Manager, Satu Heikinheimo – Head of Business Program, Hani Tarabichi – Business Coach, Ikea Peura – COO, Startup Refugees, Veera Pitkänen – Community Coordinator, Mustafa Abdulameer – Business Program Manager.
Stakeholders and Partners:
Startup Refugees in Finland consists of 500 parties, including companies, government officials, NGOs, universities, congregations, research institutes, communities and individuals who support newcomers with starting businesses and entering the Finnish labour market. The Startup Refugees website lists more than 70 partners. They are developing and sustaining their relationships over time with their partners network. Their network members are actively taking apart in creating employment and education opportunities.


Main Goals/challenges:
Spread this model for rapid integration into society as much as they can. The earlier the integration process starts the better one will understand the new place of residence and will be able to mingle between different cultural notions. In today’s world, it is vital to provide help to asylum seekers transitioning into society. Their skills cannot be left to fade, on the contrary, they need to be supported and encouraged as part of integration into countries’ economic future. Participating refugees are becoming taxpayers, entrepreneurs and active members of society. By supporting the newcomers, Startup Refugees aims at also helping Finland’s economic future. Startup Refugees is also currently working on an educational video and open source manual with guidelines for reception centers on how to involve and empower refugees in the running of their centers, the NGO aspires for these guidelines to incite other reception centers across Europe to bring out the best in refugees reaching their shores.