My family and I come from a country where, unfortunately, the government makes it very hard for you to succeed unless you know the right people, live in the right area or come from a well-known pedigree. As much as I am proud of my heritage and will never negate my Mexican background, this is an unfortunate reality.
When we arrived to Canada as new immigrants 20 years ago, we didn’t know any different. It wasn’t until a few months after our arrival that we learned about unemployment insurance - it took me personally a long time to wrap my head around the fact that the government would actually support citizens in need during tough times for a specific amount of time. Say what?! And not only that, but there were retraining programs they would pay for to help EI users upgrade skills and help them become more employable.
Our first five years as new immigrants in Canada were the toughest years of our lives. Ours was the typical story - foreign credentials not valid in Canada, a long and tedious recertification process for my father, and not much my mom could do to validate her teacher credentials other than start from scratch. A couple of years after arriving to Canada, when my mom lost her job as a retail cashier, she took advantage of the retraining program and became a Laboratoy Technician. I remember spending long nights along with my mom - both of us studying for our exams - mine for university, hers for her new career. It was surreal and amazing to go through this together.
My father had a hard time as well. Once he finally completed his recertification as a Doctor in Veterinary Medicine - after five years of landing in Canada, he started a laser-focused process of opening his practice once again (he owned his practice in Mexico before selling it to move to Canada).
But the ‘art’ of opening a business in Mexico and opening a business in Canada are two completely different beasts. Given our experience back home, where the government doesn’t really do much to help (or at least not back then), we assumed Canada wasn’t any different. We quickly realized it is extremely difficult to get a business loan from a bank and the reality of the situation had my dad question the ability to open his practice more than once.
Fifteen years ago when he was in the process of doing this, help and resources for entrepreneurs were limited - particularly in a government town (Ottawa). Let alone help and resources specifically for immigrant entrepreneurs. Little to no credit history, lack of assets, little knowledge of the Canadian business environment - all these things made it very difficult for my parents to open the business. Miraculously, they did - on their own - with just $8,000. But it was a long process that they went through alone. In retrospect, knowing what we know now, it never occurred to us to see what programs the government could offer to help make this a reality.
Coming from a country where you must be self-reliable, it didn’t occur to us that maybe, just maybe, our adopted country’s government might actually be willing to help. Had we instinctively known this then, maybe the process would’ve been easier. And not so frustrating and isolating.
The good news it that things ARE changing with entrepreneurship in Canada. It is widely talked about and more and more programs are popping up to foster and encourage entrepreneurship in this great country. And ever so slowly, immigrant entrepreneurship is getting more attention.
For all my fellow immigrant entrepreneurs, and actually entrepreneurs in general, my heart skipped a beat when I read about Innovation Canada’s digital platform. It is a very user-friendly, recently launched, concierge service platform that points people in the right direction for all their business needs depending on what stage of their entrepreneurial journey they’re in. Whether you’re looking for information on business planning, financing, scaling your business and even selling or purchasing one - it searches through their database of programs, loans, resources available through government departments and organizations and spits out a menu of available suggestions for you.
My jaw dropped. And it made me wonder how much quicker and less difficult my family’s process would’ve been had this existed 15 years ago.
One drawback I see on this platform is the fact that it doaesn’t list “immigrant” or “newcomer” as a group classification in the options available - considering there ARE loans and programs available specifically for this demographic. Also considering the number of immigrant entrepreneurship streams available nationwide.
I am sure this platform will improve daily as people provide feedback and recommendations. But for now, I know this is the beginning of a new era in making sure information on programs available to entrepreneurs are easily accessed in a one-stop-shop basis.
For all new immigrants reading this: don’t dwell on the lack of help you received from the government back at home. Take advantage of everything available that your adopted government has to offer. It is there for anyone willing to embrace it and run with it.
Karla Briones is an Ottawa-area serial Immpreneur with a passion to encourage and support others to achieve business success.