Open for business – but immigrant entrepreneurs struggle during coronavirus pandemic

A barber in Tapiola, originally from Kurdistan, is starting over again in a new location after a tough time for his business during the coronavirus epidemic, like thousands of other immigrant entrepreneurs.

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File picture of Adil Al-Massi in his Tapiola barber shop, 17th October 2020 / Credit: News Now Finland

Business is brisk on a Saturday afternoon in Adil Al-Massi‘s Tapiola barber shop.

Its prime location between Ainoa shopping centre and Sokos Hotel means there’s a good flow of customers dropping in for a haircut or beard trim.

Since Friends Barbershop – Parturi opened at the beginning of October it’s marked a welcome return to work for Al-Massi, after a disastrous spring that saw his previous shop close for two months during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic – due to lack of customers and concerns about the spread of the virus. He also went for two months with no business income while hunting for new premises when his old lease ran out.

“It was a really bad time. Not just for me, but for everyone in business. Corona was very bad” he explains, in between haircuts.

Among immigrant entrepreneurs Adil Al-Massi is not alone to struggle with the impact of coronavirus on his business.

A survey carried out by the Federation of Finnish Enterprises Yrittäjät earlier this year highlighted the challenges faced by this group of entrepreneurs, with 90% saying they were struggling – compared to 76% of native Finnish entrepreneurs.

File photo of young people / Credit: iStock

There’s an estimated 10,000 businesses in Finland owned by entrepreneurs with immigrant backgrounds, but in the survey 20% didn’t think their business would make it through the crisis and just 29% had taken advantage of the entrepreneur’s unemployment benefit – or planned to do so.

“Coronavirus has been difficult for almost all entrepreneurs, but especially for those who do not speak Finnish or Swedish fluently and work in sectors hit particularly hard by the crisis” says Aicha Manai from Yrittäjät.

Foreign-background entrepreneurs are less likely to have family networks to rely on in Finland, or understand how to fully access the funding options which might be available to them. They’re also more likely to feel isolated or have their mental health impacted by the coronavirus situation.

“Everyone is relying on their network within their own migrant community. Kurdish people are talking to other Kurdish entrepreneurs, and Iraqi entrepreneurs are talking to other Iraqi entrepreneurs, but there are others who don’t have these networks. So they don’t even have Finnish networks let alone networks within their own community” Aicha Manai tells News Now Finland.

And when it comes to funding, while 50% of Finns who applied for grants from Business Finland or ELY Keskus received money, just 25% of entrepreneurs with foreign backgrounds were successful.

“It’s a really big difference, and obviously many of the migrants don’t have the consultants, they don’t have the networks, they don’t know the people who are used to playing around with these Business Finland and ELY Keskus applications. That was the most drastic difference” Manai explains.

File picture of Adil Al-Massi in his Tapiola barber shop, 17th October 2020 / Credit: News Now Finland

Challenge of ‘network entrepreneurship’ not being met by funding options

In Tapiola, Adil Al-Massi also got support from a friend to give his new premises a modest make-over before it opened for business.

As a practicing Muslim, Al-Massi, who came to Finland from Sulimaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan more than eight years ago, is not allowed to take a bank loan – as any transaction which earns interest is not permitted. He did however get some financial help from TE-Palvelut but he’s unsure how long it will continue for.

Aicha Manai from Yrittäjät says one problem facing people who work as solo entrepreneurs when it comes to accessing funding is that in reality they’re not working alone – they also often indirectly employ other entrepreneurs.

“I think this whole new system of network entrepreneurship has somehow gone unnoticed, and all the funding mechanisms we are now pushing out are not actually responding to the needs of SMEs in the field. There’s definitely a communication gap in that” she says.

As he sweeps up the floor around one of the barber chairs, Adil Al-Massi is hopeful about the future of his business especially if a coronavirus vaccine is developed.

Business right now is “not very bad, but not good” he says, reckoning it will take a few more months in this location to establish a good solid client base.

“I want two months, three months, because I am new and people don’t know there’s a barber shop here. But I think that after coronavirus it will be a good place.”