Our story

What is Startup Refugees?

Startup Refugees is a social innovation that offers asylum seekers, refugees, and other immigrants support in finding employment, developing their professional skills, and starting a business in Finland. We have a network of more than 2000 members including companies, private and public sector organisations, and individuals. We welcome anyone to join as long as they offer something concrete to support newcomers in employment, skills development or entrepreneurship.

With the help of our partners from Futurice we developed the Match Made in Startup Refugees platform which currently holds more than 8000 newcomer profiles in its database. The profiles include information about a person’s education, work experience, skills, motivation, wishes, and needs for the next step in order to get employed. In addition we map the interest in entrepreneurship and possible business ideas.

By collecting the professional profiles we obtain valuable information regarding the real needs of newcomers, needs that guide all our actions. It means that when you offer a job opportunity, mentoring or other support through us, we always match your offer to the newcomer who has a real need for it. 100% of the people who have a profile in Match are motivated and ready to work, update their skills, grow their network, and many want to start their own business!

The Match Made in Startup Refugees platform is currently being developed together with our partners from Netlight.

Our story

Startup Refugees was founded in 2015 when suddenly more than 32 000 asylum seekers arrived in Finland mainly from the Middle East. Finland had not experienced something similar since World War II and the country was in shock. The overall and rhetoric around the topic was negative and refugees were seen as a burden to the Finnish economy and not an asset by any means.

Two adventurers and entrepreneurs, Riku Rantala and Tunna Milonoff, visited reception centers and met people from various professions, all of them eager to find work or start a business in a their new home country. During the filming of their Madventures travel series they had come across new talents and skills that Finland did not have. Rantala and Milonoff realized that refugees should be seen as a brain gain to Finnish society.

They called together everyone who was willing to do something concrete to support asylum seekers’ employment or entrepreneurship. What happened next was a surprise: within two weeks the initiative had been backed up by several government ministries and departments, NGOs, private individuals and more than 250 companies who wanted to offer their services in one way or another. And this is how Startup Refugees was born. Soon after, a group of active network members started to visit reception centers and gather the skills and background information of asylum seekers, and find out what they wanted to do. This gave Startup Refugees the knowledge and awareness of the real needs of newcomers, and activities were then tailored to meet these needs.

It also became clear that many asylum seekers brought skills and motivation to Finland that matched with the needs of companies struggling with labor shortage. More and more companies started to hire staff through us. There was a high entrepreneurial spirit among refugees and a tailor made Business Program was created to provide support for refugees to start their own businesses. As the years have gone by Startup Refugees has also started providing services for other immigrants, not only asylum seekers and refugees since the needs are very similar for many newcomers.

We are funded by public project grants, grants from private foundations and by direct contributions from companies. We also sell certain services to organisations nationwide.

The same principles still apply today.

Startup Refugees has created a fast employment and entrepreneurship integration model that answers to newcomers’ real needs. 

Together with our network members, we have provided more than 1500 job opportunities, better professional skills for 12 000 newcomers and supported close to 900 business teams. Our model is ready to be scaled where ever refugees and other newcomers need support in employment and entrepreneurship. 

In 2022 we were chosen as the Innovator in Recruiting by Rekrygaala.

In 2017 we were chosen as finalists in the Builders of the Century -competition and received funding from Finland’s 100 Year Anniversary of Independence Fund (Suomi 100) governed by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Our values

Hands on

We spend our time with our customers. We do what it takes.

Based on need

Everything we do is based on the needs of our customers.

No false promises

We only promise to do our best.

Everything is possible

We are not afraid to think and do big. We act fast, fail fast, and learn fast.


We work with everyone who wants to do something concrete to support our goal.

Our board

Tom Miller, Chairman of the board

Tom is a sales and banking professional. He has had a long, 20 years career in banking, specifically in product and process development, segmentation and value proposition, strategy, sales leadership and management, and leadership at a C-level. Currently he works for Tietoevry plc, as a senior Sales Executive for lending systems for banking customers.

Reetta Räty

Reetta is an experienced and well-known journalist and entrepreneur on the Finnish media scene. She has worked as a journalist in many newspapers, and later as Managing Director of Helsingin Sanomat. Reetta has taught journalism at the University of Tampere, and has extensive experience leading people, projects and events.

Antti Innanen

Antti is the co-founder and CEO of Dot. Legal Design. He is a legal design pioneer and also the co-founder of Legal Design Summit, the biggest legal design event in the world. He is a frequently requested presenter at various legal design seminars such as Legal Geek, Legal Hackers and JDHorizons.

Tommo Koivusalo

Tommo is a business professional and former entrepreneur who is an expert in developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Finland. Tommo was in charge of Haaga Helia’s StartUp School that supports students’ in entrepreneurship. He has also managed Helsinki’s services for entrepreneurs and startups. Currently Tommo works as Director of the Helsinki Region Chamber of Commerce.

Camilla Weurlander

Camilla has a long working history in the service industry. For her, the most important thing is people, and she has strong expertise on Human Resources and Customer Service. Camilla joined IKEA Finland 17 years ago, and has had multiple different roles inside the organization. Currently she works as a Regional Director for IKEA Espoo.

Elisa Vepsäläinen

Elisa is a former CEO of Startup Refugees. She is specialized for the questions related to social impact & responsibility. Elisa is an expert in growing and scaling social innovations and building brands that have meaning. Currently she is heading the international recruitment at Attendo/Silkroad.

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