Serving whom? Immigrant entrepreneurs in a new local context


  • Johanna Lilius postdoc
  • Hossam Hewidy lecturer


In Helsinki, the current number of immigrants is quickly rising. Ethnic retail has emerged as a new, but visible, part of the city landscape. Compared to other European countries, becoming an entrepreneur is typically not very popular in Finland. Therefore, in this paper, we seek to comprehend this phenomenon and more specifically discover: what motivates immigrants to become entrepreneurs; what is the impact of their background and culture on the phenomenon; and finally, is the help provided by the city useful for them? Based on interviews and observations, we conclude that immigrant entrepreneurship facilitates in fluid ways the maintenance of cultural practices, while simultaneously enhancing meaningful encounters between immigrants and mainstream society. In our sample, we identify three types of entrepreneurs: growth-oriented, investors and status builders, as well as freedom and stability seekers. Although the groups are neither mutually exclusive nor collectively exhaustive, they display differences in certain aspects, which include their ways of entering into entrepreneurship, how their business is run, who their main clientele is, as well as in the future prospects for their businesses. We further infer that immigrant entrepreneurs, via their practices, also participate in making immigrant needs visible to politicians and policy-makers, thus also adding a layer to the local context within which they operate. However, we surmise that more effort is needed in addressing the freedom and stability seeker entrepreneurs if the aim of the city is to anchor immigrant retail in the city.

Research Papers



How to Cite

Lilius, J., & Hewidy, H. (2019). Serving whom? Immigrant entrepreneurs in a new local context . Fennia - International Journal of Geography, 197(2), 215–231.