Stockholm, Schweden

Nurturing immigrant entrepreneurs in Sweden


September 30, 2014

Partnering to help immigrant entrepreneurs access training, business advice and opportunities for success

Maroun 200x300“Entrepreneurs with a foreign background are often a key to international markets. Knowledge of business culture and language along with networks in other countries removes many barriers to exports. I have personally experienced the power of the mix of Swedish and Iraqi contractors on a trip to Kurdistan,” says Maroun Aoun, the CEO of IFS or the Swedish Association of Ethnic Entrepreneurs.

Using immigrant networks in their countries of origin to boost exports is a means the IFS uses to forge ties between migrant businesses and mainstream businesses and organizations in Sweden. The power of transnational networks is also an idea that the city of Aachen in Germany has also been exploring to stay competitive in an increasingly globalized economy.

About 1.8 million people with immigrant background live in Sweden.  And, like in many other parts of the world, they tend to start businesses more often than the native-born. There are around 70,000 migrant-owned businesses that together employ about 250,000 people.

Unforeseen hurdles

But despite their many successes, would-be immigrant entrepreneurs face hurdles when it comes to contacting financiers and raising capital.  This happens mainly because they fail to present their business concept and plan in a convincing manner.

“Language difficulties, cultural differences, and limited knowledge of the regulations which govern entrepreneurship in Sweden can make starting a company harder for an immigrant. They can also find it hard to get loans or a rental contract,” says Aoun. IFS was founded in 1996 to help immigrants overcome these hurdles. It aims to stimulate and increase entrepreneurship and raise competence among individual business owners.

In collaboration with Almi, its parent company owned by the Swedish government, IFS offers Rådgivning or free advisory service across the country. Rådgivning advisors represent Sweden’s new-found diversity and can communicate in 28 languages. It is a significant move for a country still coming to terms with immigration. “It is a new phenomenon for many Swedes. They do not understand why people move,” says Aoun, a first-generation Swede of Lebanese heritage. “It may be because the country has been ethnically homogenous for long and does not have a significant colonial legacy unlike other immigrant magnets.”

Targeted programs

IFS, along with its partner agencies, has initiated several projects to promote entrepreneurship. The Young Urban Movement Project or YUMP for instance is a selective entrepreneur educational program for youth who are entitled to government financial aid for higher studies. With the help of partner companies and other organizations, Yump can offer our students a unique concept you will not find elsewhere.

Participants looking to us with their idea. From the time they are accepted, Yump will help them with the concept, business plan, start-up and then develop their business further. It’s what makes us unique and sets us apart from other similar programs.

YUMP Academy works as a combination of training, competition and a kickstart for your business. The Academy is mainly based on e-learning but you will have physical meetings with business coaches to develop your idea. You will also get the opportunity to further in the process take advantage of an advisory board with a broad range of competences.

To promote these programs, IFS, in collaboration with the European Refugee Fund, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise and others, has produced two films: Start Your Own Company in Sweden and Ayten – Kurd, Swede, Entrepreneur. The films portray migrant entrepreneurs who have succeeded in Sweden. They are being screened all over the country.

Another IFS initiative is to create a corporate culture that offers equitable business opportunities for everyone. Towards this goal, it plans to pilot a program similar to the public procurement plan of the National Minority Supplier Development Council in the United States. “Not only would this initiative provide better insight for immigrant entrepreneurs into the supply chains of Swedish companies, it could spur the economy as a whole,” Aoun said.


The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth has found that 22% of immigrant-owned businesses target their goods and services, at least partially, for the international market, compared to 15% by Swedish-born owners. Immigrant entrepreneurs also tend to be more ambitious, with 86% hoping to expand their business, compared to 76% of natives. Also, 65% of foreign-born small business owners aspire to hire more employees as part of their expansion, compared to just 48% of Swedish-born owners.

Read our interview with Maroun Aoun on taking ideas about integration from Canada to Sweden.

Making it Work for You:

  • Equal opportunity increases economic growth. Much can be accomplished when the doors are opened for people with initiative and when they are given the chance to realize their visions.
  • Look for hidden or unexplored assets within immigrant groups to enhance larger  business objectives
  • Develop effective networks and processes to integrate immigrant businesses with the mainstream
  • Don't re-invent the wheel. Evaluate programs from other cities and countries and run pilots before large-scale implementation.
  • Target your services and share costs and infrastructure with partners
  • Keep the message inclusive so that all members of the business community feel welcome

For this Good Idea contact:

Maroun Aoun, IFS
Insamlingsstiftelsen IFS Rådgivningscentrum
Kungsholms Hamnplan 3
Stockholm, Sweden,
+46 (0) 8693 99 42