Startup Refugees is a network of professionals, support organisations, firms and government officials that support refugees in entrepreneurship and finding employment. There are more than 1 000 members in the network.


The initiative was launched by two entrepreneurs who believed that refugees and asylum seekers have untapped skills and talents, representing a “brain gain” rather than a social challenge. International migration is increasing and there are a record number of refugees due to climate change and conflict. Startup Refugees aims to facilitate the integration of refugees into the Finnish labour market through their network and become active in their new community.

Key activities

The two primary activities are: 1) an employment programme that help refugees build a CV and identify job opportunities using a job matching service, and 2) a business creation programme. It operates out of refugee reception centres in Helsinki, Oulu, and Turku. All applicants are contacted for an interview that assesses their motivation and background to ensure that they are suitable for the programme. There is no cost to apply or participate in the programme.

The business creation programme includes workshops, company visits and practical assignments. The course covers idea development, protyping and pitching for funding, and those who complete it receive a certificate. Overall, the programme takes about 50 hours to complete and most participants complete it in two to three months. Most activities are scheduled on evenings and on weekends so that participants can also work or study full-time at the same time. 

Participants are also offered volunteer and internship opportunities to help them upskill and expand their networks. Those starting a business can also apply for a grant of EUR 1 000, which is paid as a daily allowance of EUR 32.80 over one month.


In 2020, Startup Refugees has worked with 4 000 new refugees in 18 cities. Of these, 40 new companies were successfully started and 900 people were placed into jobs. Since it was launched in 2015, more than 200 new businesses have been created.

This case study was adapted and updated from material published in: OECD (2019), "Policy brief on refugee entrepreneurship", OECD SME and Entrepreneurship Papers, No. 14, OECD Publishing, Paris