Ireland’s Ukrainians get down to business with bilingual start-up course

State’s newest arrivals are bringing their ideas - from ballroom dancing to furniture manufacturing - to the course

Sergii Burbas and Andrii Fokin have been friends for around 20 years, and both respectively worked in furniture businesses in their homeplace of Kherson, Ukraine.

The two men, who fled to Ireland last March following Russia’s invasion of their country, have decided to bring that knowledge to the State and are setting up their own furniture-making company in Dublin.

Mr Burbas owned a furniture store – which sold sofas, tables and wardrobes – while Mr Fokin worked in the industry “all my life” and was deputy director general of a manufacturing company.

“We want to start a small manufacturing business making cabinet furniture. For kitchens, wardrobes, house, livingrooms. Customers say they wait a very long time for their orders in Ireland. I think we can do this faster and better quality,” Mr Burbas said.


Mr Fokin said they currently have a small company but plan to scale up. “We only just started work, it’s a small company. We get some orders and make them. But next step will be manufacturing cabinets so we can rent a place and get equipment,” he added.

The pair were two of the 80 participants in the U Start start-your-own-business course, which was run by Fingal County Council, in partnership with the Irish Red Cross and the local enterprise office. Although the course was run by a Dublin local authority, participants were located nationally, with some based as far away as Sligo.

The business ideas ranged widely – from yoga and ballroom dance classes to consulting, crafts and a cake-making business. Participants will graduate on Thursday.

Noel Davidson – director of training at The Entrepreneurs’ Academy, which ran the course – delivered the training in dual-language format, including both English and Ukrainian in its teachings.

The programme, which was just over two-and-a-half weeks long, was book ended by live sessions, with the five in-between modules delivered online. The course covered marketing, legal issues, market research, business planning and finance.

“We’ve been doing custom programmes for years for crafts, sport, film and different sectors. This was an extension of that, because it was the first time we’ve ever done dual-language,” Mr Davidson said.

“There was a paragraph in English and then the slide in Ukrainian. One of the byproducts of it was that they were learning English as well.”

Alina Melnyk, a Ukrainian refugee who completed a previous iteration of the course through English, provided Ukrainian translations.

Ms Melnyk, who is a psychologist, is hoping to continue a business she had in Ukraine in her new home, Ireland.

For three years, she ran an online service called Inclusion in Ukraine that helped teachers with students with learning difficulties as well as parents with children who have disabilities.

“I’m researching it, and I would like to continue it. I would like to bring some experience to Irish society and continue and maybe connect parents who have children with disabilities with parents here,” she added.

Oisin Geoghegan, head of enterprise in Fingal, said the aim of the programme was to help the refugees come to terms with the way businesses operate in Ireland, which he said was a “huge learning curve for them”.

“These individuals are in this country and most of them only fairly recently have come here. It’s a huge challenge for them to learn about the infrastructure, what it’s like to set up a business, who the agencies are that can help you, what supports are available, the legalities and those sorts of things,” he said.

“They’re at a disadvantage when compared to Irish people and it’s not just the Irish people but also the culture and knowing how to do business.”

Those involved in the scheme have hailed it a success, with Charlie Lamson, head of fundraising at Irish Red Cross, describing it as a “huge first step”.

“I think we need to see more of this. The Ukrainian community that has arrived here, a huge number are saying: ‘I don’t want charity, I want to get on with it’,” he said.

The mayor of Fingal and Fingal Ukrainian Response Forum chairman, Cllr Howard Mahony, said it is a “fantastic initiative” that gives budding entrepreneurs from Ukraine the right tools and business insights to enable them to be positive contributors to the economic growth of the country.

“They are bringing their own ideas, expertise and varied backgrounds to really make a go of being here after fleeing the horrors back in their own country,” he added.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times