When I moved to Canada 15 years ago, I knew I wanted to pursue my passion in sustainable development and tourism and have my own consulting business. However, I didn’t know where to begin, so the first thing I did was start attending events to meet people who shared my interests. I have always believed that networking is one the best ways to connect with like-minded people but being in a new country with a new language, networking felt like a huge challenge. Little did I know this was but one of the obstacles me and other immigrants regularly encounter.
I have learned valuable lessons through my personal journey, but since I joined Calgary Catholic Immigration Society in 2022 as the coordinator of a new entrepreneurship program, I have witnessed many challenges that other newcomer entrepreneurs confront daily. My personal goal has been to keep growing and improving our programs to go beyond business development.
Many newcomer entrepreneurs face challenges with settlement; usually, language and cultural differences are also barriers. That’s why social integration and personal well-being are significant components of our program. By connecting with each participant during classes and getting to know more about their personal challenges, we can provide a more holistic approach to entrepreneurship. We realized that, through this training, we are not just giving them tools to work on their business ideas or to get to know more about the Canadian market, but we are also supporting their personal development, capacity building and overall wellbeing to help them be better prepared for breaking down those barriers commonly encountered by newcomer entrepreneurs.
Through in-class lectures, interactive workshops, one-on-one mentoring, and participation in various networking opportunities throughout the city, our participants have the chance to connect with local successful entrepreneurs and community partners from diverse industries and sectors. This comprehensive experience equips them with the necessary tools and support to embark on their entrepreneurial journey in Canada with newfound confidence.
Moreover, our workshops and lectures offer more than just knowledge and information; they provide hands-on opportunities for participants to apply what they learn. In a group setting, they benefit from shared experiences and insights. Facilitators address their questions, fostering a collaborative learning environment that thrives on diverse perspectives. Given the range of industries represented, participants gain fresh insights into their own ideas. Both facilitators and students offer honest and respectful feedback, contributing to individual growth. Furthermore, consistent practice and refinement of their pitches occur in each class, ensuring that, by the program's end, everyone has a polished "elevator pitch”.
The holistic approach to entrepreneurship, along with the connections we foster through this training, significantly benefits our participants when they seek financing—a major hurdle for many newcomers. Limited access to capital is a common challenge, either due to a lack of credit history or immigration status restrictions. However, by gaining a deep understanding of how to leverage various forms of capital, not limited to financial, and by building relationships with key partners in our business sector, newcomers can tap into a wealth of resources to overcome this initial financial barrier.
At present, a few financial institutions are introducing new products designed to support newcomers with limited or no credit history in Canada, but unfortunately, many newcomers are unaware of these offerings. Our program, in conjunction with similar initiatives across the city, serves as a platform for sharing this crucial information and establishing partnerships with these organizations. This ensures that we stay up-to-date and can disseminate vital information while aiding them in forming connections that contribute to building trust.
For some individuals, immigration status is the primary barrier they face. In such cases, establishing a network becomes critical. Angel investors, incubators, and pitch competitions represent potential avenues for securing the necessary funding, and, consequently, building trust remains a key objective.
The importance of immigrant entrepreneurs in the local economy cannot be overstated. Statistics Canada's analysis in the fourth quarter of 2022 found that businesses owned by immigrants accounted for 21.7% of all private sector businesses in the country, and notably, 'nearly two-thirds (65.0%) of businesses majority-owned by immigrants reported having an optimistic future outlook over the next 12 months, a slight increase from the third quarter of 2022 (61.1%)[footnote 1].
The journey of entrepreneurs, especially immigrants, encompasses more than just acquiring business knowledge and entrepreneurial skills. It also involves building vital social and professional networks that serve as essential pillars of support and confidence in adapting to a new environment. While technical expertise is crucial, cultivating the right mindset and establishing a robust support system play equally vital roles in helping newcomers thrive within the intricate landscape of entrepreneurship. Together, these elements form the foundation upon which entrepreneurial dreams can flourish, nurturing not only business success but also personal growth and integration into their new community.