At home in two worlds

Nepali entrepreneur Bijay Baniya argues that immigrants have great potential for starting businesses - and creating jobs.

It seems Bijay Baniya has done every job imaginable. He has worked as a cleaner on a cruise ship, delivered a free newspaper, taught science at a Helsinki school. And managed businesses.

Baniya, originally from Nepal, arrived in Finland in 2004 as a 19-year-old. He was fulfilling his long time ambition of studying abroad. Baniya discovered Finland online - and seized the opportunity to study in English for free.

Baniya had never been outside Nepal or neighbouring India when he departed for Finland. He arrived in Varkaus when autumn was at its finest. “A teacher took a group of us international students to visit his cabin. The scene was like out of a postcard: the lake’s clear waters, the colourful leaves in the trees,” reminisces Baniya.

Little by little Baniya noticed that the leaves were beginning to fall, and the autumn splendor was being replaced by the winter dark. The man who had grown up in the bustle of his home town Bhairawa in southern Nepal realized that Varkaus was too small for him. He moved to Helsinki - and the Helsinki area has been his home ever since.

Seizing opportunities

Baniya says that for him, Finland has been like winning in the lottery - and it is hard to consider this a cliche. Baniya has graduated with degrees from a university of applied sciences and from Aalto university, and he has been successful in business.

Talking with Baniya, one gets the impression that he is very good at making the most of opportunities. Early in his career he was hired as a short-term replacement for the head of sales at an international firm. Baniya did his job so well that he was appointed the company’s CEO for Finland when the previous boss left for Germany. At that point, Baniya had been with the company for five months. Over the course of a few years, the business started making a profit.

At the moment, Baniya is CEO of a Helsinki-based IT firm. “I like that Finnish people are so efficient and punctual. Finns are used to working independently. I can give general directions, but I do not need to constantly supervise my employees.”

Baniya emphasizes that good leadership is good not just for an individual company, but for society more generally. “I create jobs. I can also help other immigrant entrepreneurs to do the same. I want to make the world a better place!”

Baniya has mentored other Nepali immigrants living in Finland. The power of a good example helps others to take the leap into entrepreneurship.

Baniya emphasizes the potential that immigrants have for starting businesses. “It takes a lot of courage to move to Finland. That same courage can be used to create opportunities and eventually jobs.”

Baniya heaps praise on Finnish work culture, but notes that there is a lot of room for improvement in sales skills. Taking a coffee cup in his hand, Baniya points out that a Finnish person would struggle to sell that cup. “A Finnish person would not boast that this is the greatest coffee cup in the world - even if it really was. You have to be excited about the product so that you can convince the buyer.”

Baniya has first hand experience in sales. Even as CEO, he has sold software to other businesses over the phone.

At first, he worried about his accent: he thought that customers would hang up on him because they could tell he was a foreigner. “To my surprise, this turned out to be a strength. I stood out from all the other callers,” Baniya says. “I turned a challenge into an opportunity, and I encourage all immigrants to do the same. Everyone has to find their own strengths.”

Creating networks

Baniya urges immigrants aspiring to become entrepreneurs to learn Finnish as soon as possible. His other pieces of advice apply to native Finns as well. “Create networks because they open up opportunities. Internships provide excellent chances of getting to grips with work culture in Finland.”

The attitude has to be right. You will not succeed unless you believe you will. If your first plan does not work out, try something else. “It seems that taking risks is difficult for Finns. They have good ideas, but they spend years making plans. You should do something!”

Baniya encourages Finnish entrepreneurs to hire immigrants. “An immigrant knows two worlds. He can see more opportunities - and create them.”

Baniya stresses that Finland needs immigrants. He particularly urges the country to take in more highly educated professionals. He again notes Finland’s reticence in marketing itself. “If only you could show the rest of the world how well everything works here!”

Text: Juha Rudanko

Photo: Samuli Siirala