The Business Joensuu and Riveria training pilot helps entrepreneurs with an immigrant background develop by combining business and education

Many immigrants end up as entrepreneurs because alternative career paths are scarce. Unique by Finnish standards, the training pilot enables restaurateurs to utilise their business as part of their studies and a path towards earning a qualification.

The cooperation between North Karelia Municipal Education and Training Consortium Riveria and Business Joensuu aims to solve the challenges of immigrant entrepreneurs in Finnish working life. The cooperation allows immigrant entrepreneurs to complete vocational units through their own business activities. This is a pioneering training pilot in Finland. Studies and entrepreneurship have not previously been combined in this way to support a group with an immigrant background.

A pilot group consisting of 12 restaurant sector entrepreneurs or entrepreneur spouses was formed in autumn 2021. The group meets weekly on the Riveria campus. At other times, students complete their studies by running their own business activities and occasionally providing competence demonstrations included in the qualification, such as the preparation of menu items. In this way, entrepreneurs complete their studies in their everyday work and, if they so desire, can also aim to finish their qualification with a shorter study unit.

Riveria teachers visit the businesses to gain an understanding of the participants’ working environment, and a personal competence development plan is prepared for each entrepreneur. The training is structured based on the group’s wishes and needs. Topics included business planning, social media, productisation and financial administration.

– It is an outdated notion that all learning should take place centrally within the educational institution’s walls, says Sanna Lappalainen, Project Specialist for the BaseCamp entrepreneurship project at Riveria.
– Competence can be acquired in many ways, provided that you can demonstrate that your skills meet the qualification requirements.

Cultural consensus opens doors to information

The idea for a training pilot was hatched when Business Joensuu and Riveria provided guidance to Ibrahim Öztas, who was studying tourism. In the mind of Öztas, who came to Joensuu from Turkey in 2013, he dreamed of setting up his own company. He talked about his goals in Riveria, where he was put in touch with Business Joensuu business coach Ali Giray. Giray has lived in Finland for a long time and is also self-employed.

– I was so fortunate to get help from Ali, says Öztas.
– We speak the same language and he understands my culture. This made it much easier to get information on how different actors can help me and what rights I have as an entrepreneur in Finland.

The training pilot began to take shape when Giray and Lappalainen started to consider whether other entrepreneurs could also benefit from the same kind of development assistance that Öztas received. Support is needed because immigrants often receive guidance in accordance with Finnish regulations, but it rarely helps them to integrate and succeed in society, explains Giray.

– It takes years to study the language and earn a Finnish qualification.
Entrepreneurship is an attractive option because it provides immigrants with the opportunity to get right to work and start building their lives in Finland. However, immigrant entrepreneurs are under severe pressure – society expects a lot of them, but offers little support. They can unintentionally fail to meet their obligations because they do not know how working life functions here.

People make things happen, not laws

Lappalainen hopes that the training pilot will provide useful lessons for planning the future. A lot can be accomplished with proper planning.

– By coming up with suitable combinations and qualification paths, we could also offer entrepreneurial training in sectors that are suffering from a shortage of labour,” says Lappalainen.
– Now, the entrepreneurs participating in the training pilot complete all parts of the Vocational Qualification in Restaurants and Catering Services, but the model is also applicable to all other qualifications and their parts.

According to Giray, Finnish working life can be something of a culture shock to many immigrants. “Trust in the authorities doesn’t come right away, there are many requirements involved in getting a residence permit, and the training and language skills requirements close doors to working life. Even though immigrants have to deal with these kinds of problems every day, they barely ever cross the minds of native Finns.

– Immigrants should absolutely be provided with the assistance they need – not just what the laws require. This is also what the new educational model seeks to accomplish: opening the door to education and training to immigrants based on their specific needs and wishes. The system should promote personal success, because when people feel good, society also feels good.

38-year-old Öztas now runs his own restaurant. His dream is to develop a restaurant menu focused on traditional Turkish dishes. Öztas would like to see more flexibility from Finnish society in helping immigrants make their way. He cannot always find information aimed at entrepreneurs because he often has no idea where to even start. Finns have lived in the system all their lives: they are served in their native language and they know where to go to get help.

Although there is room for improvement, Öztas also sees a lot of good things in Finnish working and study life.

– In Turkey, a 40-year-old would hardly ever go back to school. But, in Finland, people see this differently – here, age is not a consideration when it comes to education. This has also been a wonderful, eye-opening experience for me.

Further information:

Ali Giray
Business Coach, Business Joensuu, +358 50,331 6759

Sanna Lappalainen
Project Specialist, BaseCamp entrepreneurship project, Riveria, +358 50,597 4393

Tarja Piitulainen
Lecturer, Restaurant and catering services, Riveria, +358 50,520 1748

Business Joensuu

Business Joensuu Oy offers services for launching companies, growth and internationalisation, investing and setting up operations in an area, and space and event services of the Joensuu Science Park. Business Joensuu also produces growth and competitiveness programmes which create the best conditions for companies to operate in the Joensuu area.


North Karelia Municipal Education and Training Consortium, Riveria, is a Quality Award-winning multidisciplinary education provider owned by North Karelian municipalities. We are one of Finland’s largest and most successful providers of vocational education and training and liberal adult education. Riveria’s basic task is to coach future experts in working life in cooperation with our partners. Our primary task is to ensure the availability of skilled labour in North Karelia, and cooperation with working life is a cornerstone of our operations.