Joining Forces with Invest Ottawa
This past summer I was approached by local entrepreneurship hub, Invest Ottawa (IO), to be an independent business advisor for IO users.
This hub has done a great job helping startups get off the ground through their accelerator program but it also helps “mainstream” aspiring and current entrepreneurs. From developing a business idea, to scaling up and dealing with issues associated with growing pains, IO’s one-hour business advisory services are available to anyone – free of charge. That’s right, you read right, free.
Invest Ottawa is federally, provincially and municipally funded – which is why the service is free. Starting October, I will provide one-on-one consultations to IO clients booking this service. I’m also happy to say I’m the only female in the team of independent advisors and I am looking forward to connecting with and inspiring other women thinking about entrepreneurship as a way of life (or helping those with existing businesses).
As I have a soft spot for newcomers, I welcome all to look into everything that Invest Ottawa offers – from free classes to programs helping mature, expanding businesses, there is something for everyone. I have personally atended many of Invest Ottawa’s free courses and I have to say, this year’s programming is like no other. There are a lot of great classes with industry leaders as the instructors. I can’t recommend them enough.
If you are interested in booking the business advisory services, fill out this form. Feel free to ask for me, or leave it to the talented bookings staff to pair you with the best possible match depending on the business advisors’ areas of expertise.
Now, tell me, if you had the chance to talk to someone about your business idea or current issue, what would be the most pressing question/problem you would want guidance with?
I'm excited to work in collaboration with Welcoming Ottawa Week, a week-long series of events designed to showcase Ottawa's hospitality towards newcomers - an event after my own heart!
In collaboration with Collab Space, I will be hosting a seminar: "Opening a Business in Canada: What to consider."
This seminar is perfect for any newcomer who has thought about opening a business but doesn't know what steps to take or who to talk to locally in order to make that dream a reality.
You will come out of this seminar with a general idea of what to do to take your first step; you will meet representatives from lending organizations that will help answer some of your questions and you will walk out with a list of resources available to get you started.
To register for the event, click here. Looking forward to answering as many questions as possible!
Close to 22% of the Canadian population was born outside of Canada. According to a 2016 Statistics Canada report, immigrants who have been in Canada between 10 and 30 years have a private incorporated business ownership rate of 5.8% - higher that the 4.8% rate of those born in Canada. The failure rate, in comparison, is 7% higher for newcomer entrepreneurs.
A recent research by the Conference Board of Canada, found that the common challenges contributing to the failure of immigrant entrepreneurs include weak social and business networks, business and regulatory knowledge, language skills, and cultural understanding. In addition, there are few settlement support programs in Canada dedicated to helping immigrant business owners.
Canada’s mandate is to look beyond the traditional trading partners it has: United States, Japan and the European Union. Given their changing economic realities, Canada has recognized that exploring other trading partners are imperative for the country’s growth.
"Canada's top source countries of immigrants could end up being top trading partners that support Canada's economic growth moving forward,” said Kareem El-Asaal, Senior Research Associate and Senior Network Manager, Immigration for the Conference Board of Canada. “The majority of Canada's immigrants arrive from fast-growing markets such as the Philippines, India, and China and these newcomers are well-positioned to help Canadian businesses access these and other fast growing markets.”
Studies have found a positive relationship between immigration and international trade. Some studies suggest that a 10% increase in Canada’s immigrant population corresponds with a 1% increase in exports.
The positive relationship between immigration and exports can be explained by immigrants possessing a number of key attributes such as know-how - language, political knowledge, political, business and other knowledge that facilitates doing business in their countries of origin; know what - knowledge of global markets, such as emerging trends and consumer preferences; and finally, know who - business and government connections and trusted relationships to help to facilitate international trade. Without these skills, the transaction costs of international trade would likely be higher for Canadian-born entrepreneurs, which would reduce the likelihood of them engaging in global markets.
Pernille Fischer-Boulter, a Danish immigrant to Canada and founder of Kisserup International Trade Roots Canada, an international consulting and export development company, agrees. Fischer-Boulter employs staff from seven different nationalities and attributes the success of reaching businesses in over 90 diverse global markets to them. “We would have taken more than double the time to conquer this had we not had the cultural experience, diversity and knowledge of immigrants.
Given that immigrants are inherent risk- takers, they may be more comfortable launching a business and exporting to countries that Canadian-born entrepreneurs are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with.
However, despite this risk-taking ability, statistically their businesses tend to be smaller, employ fewer people and underperform compared to those of Canadian-born owners.
“They key is to equip newcomers with the tools that they need to thrive and benefit Canada's economy in the process," said El-Asaal.
According to the Canadian Conference Board’s report, while recent immigrant entrepreneurs are over twice as likely to export beyond the U.S., they are more inclined to have business models based on price competition than on delivering innovative products and services. This makes it difficult for immigrant entrepreneurs to build the long-lasting competitive advantages and make it challenging for them to contribute significantly to Canada’s international trade agenda.
Entrepreneur face many challenges, however, there are unique challenges specific to immigrant entrepreneurs: language and cultural barriers; weak Canadian social and business networks; lack of Canadian business and regulatory knowledge; lack of awareness of domestic and international business supports; overconfidence in their export-enabling attributes; financial difficulties; and logistical challenges.
The report suggests that to enhance immigrant entrepreneurs’ success and role in advancing Canada’s international trade agenda, it is important to help build their domestic networks, enhance their awareness of domestic and international business supports, offer more settlement support programs dedicated to their needs and improve their access to financing.
For example, there are few support programs available in Ontario that are dedicated to newcomer entrepreneurs, Canada’s leading destination for immigrants. Dedicated supports addressing these unique challenges would help improve the success rate of immigrant entrepreneur-owned businesses.
“Services provided to entrepreneurs must find better ways to address the needs of diverse groups including immigrants as well as women and others,” said Dr. Wendy Cukier, Founder of the Diversity Institute.
Canada is a global leader in integrating immigrants due to the great lengths it takes to support newcomers. Similarly, devoting additional efforts to supporting immigrant entrepreneurs, in tandem with key stakeholders such as business and immigrant-serving organizations, could yield even greater benefits to the country’s international trade objectives and overall prosperity.
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.
In short, the answer is yes. Canada is a country looking for top-notch immigrants and will speed up the visa process to those that are willing to invest and become entrepreneurs. There are several programs and most require that the potential immigrant proves a specific amount of capital to invest in Canada. The business idea also needs to prove that it will be sustainable and has the potential of generating employment and helping towards Canada’s economic development. These programs are fairly new but are becoming more attractive as the world around us looks at Canada as a progressive country with a stable economy and peaceful living. There are two types of business visas:
1. Start-up Visa Program: to be eligeble you require the backing of a Canadian venture capital fund, business incubator or angel investor group. You will need to proof that you have a specific amount of money that will support you prior to your business generating income. Lastly, you need to be fluent in any of the official languages (English/French).
2. Self-employed Persons: eligibility is based on people that are self employed in the areas of:
Are you someone who came through any of these programs? Let me know your experience. I love hearing about success stories.
For those thinking about it, you can always contact me if you need questions answered.
When I first arrived to Canada, one of the things that I was most amazed by was the willingness of Canadians to help you get started once you knock on a few doors. However, as a new immigrant, knowing WHERE to knock can be intimidating and confusing.
Depending on what your business idea is, finding the group of people that share the same passion of entrepreneurship is key to get you through the parts of the journey where you are ready to give up. Some of these places offer drop-in clinics, free educational seminars, shared office space and even shared commercial kitchen space.
Entrepreneurship in a developing country can be very competitive and cut throat (ok, even in developed countries) however, I have to give it to Canada that the willingness to help is very much alive.
Personally, I have visited places in Ottawa such as Collab Space and Invest Ottawa and have benefitted from the environment of sharing knowledge, resources and ideas. If you are in the food industry, think of shared kitchen space such as Cauldron Kitchen or the Ottawa Incubator Kitchen. And believe it or not, local libraries are also a good resource as they often have seminars and panel discussions on entrepreneurship - these ones usually happen in the larger, central libraries.
If you are stuck, a simple Google search with the words "sharing entrepreneurs <insert your city>" will provide a good starting point.
Have you used other collaborating services that have helped you grow your business? Is there a specific industry you are looking to start a business in?
Securing business financing as a new immigrant in Canada is one of the toughest problems in the journey of becoming an entrepreneur. The lack of credit history and the limited net worth most of us arrive with is a big hurdle to jump. Thankfully, institutions are slowly realizing that more efforts are needed to provide out-of-the-box thinking on financing programs aimed at newcomer entrepreneurs. The picture is changing with a handful of viable options.
Futurpreneur Canada Newcomer Program
If you are a newcomer to Canada between the ages of 18 and 39, have limited credit history and a viable business/business plan, you can apply for a $7,500 repayable loan to start a business. This repayable loan amount can potentially be matched by BDC for a total of $15,000. All applications are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and require the following:
Micro lending for Women in Ontario Program
This funding program is available to women entrepreneurs facing low income challenges in certain areas of Ontario. Women in those areas are able to apply to a local program provider where they offer business training and micro-loans. The loans can range from $5,000-$15,000. This program is not exclusive to newcomer women, however, newcomer applications are welcomed and encouraged.
BDC's Small Business Loan for New Canadians
This repayable loan of up to $50,000 is available to newcomers with an entrepreneurial drive and a solid business plan. The repayment is spread over a four years without capital payment for up to 12 months. No personal assets are taken as collateral for the loan and borrowers can pay off the loan in part or in full at any time without penalty. Are you eligible?
This is just a small example of on-traditional immpreneur-specific loans available in Canada. If your have been in Canada for longer than five years, have worked on your credit history and have a strong business plan, the Canada Small Business Financing Program is always an option.
For many other options available Canada wide divided by industry, feel free to click here.
Recommendations from the report included:
As an established or aspiring immigrant entrepreneur, what other recommendations would accelerate your success?
Karla Briones is an Ottawa-area serial Immpreneur with a passion to encourage and support others to achieve business success.