Newcomers Overcome Challenges Starting Businesses
by Chris Sellers
In his first six months in Canada, Bhavesh Patel has found the secret to successfully starting his own business in his new country – research.
In Ahmadabad, India, Patel worked in the computer resale and repair business before deciding to start his own business. But India’s entrepreneurial environment is quite difficult. “It is hard to start a business because the market is very regulated and highly competitive,” explained Patel. “It is not easy to access official information, meet with government officials or get permission to start a business. Permission is slow and you need lots of industry experience.”
So after carefully researching three countries, Patel and his wife chose to immigrate to Canada in March, 2008, with a vision of a better way of life and a dream of starting his own business in food or liquor retail sales. But he soon found that Canada has barriers to overcome too.
The barriers to starting a business vary with the entrepreneur, type of business and the industry. Typically entrepreneurs face challenges around a lack of start-up funds, a jumble of regulations and the need for income until the business is running.
“Newcomers face additional barriers that can be overcome with patience, coaching and support,” added Beth Pitt, Lead Business Advisor at Lutherwood. “These may include being overqualified and yet undergoing extensive credential evaluation and re-certification, working with various government levels, learning English and understanding cultural differences. At the same time you must deal with a lack of social and business networks and local family support.”
Patel, a landed immigrant entering his thirties, has identified his barriers and carefully researched solutions. He wants to understand the differences in social interactions and business relationships such as how to work with people and what questions you can and cannot ask in the Canadian workplace. While his conversational English is good, he wants to comfortably communicate at a higher level in the business world. environment. Canada’s highly regulated liquor licensing environment means he needs help navigating the regulations and modifying his initial business idea.
To provide some income and improve his conversational English, an uncle helped him find work making submarine sandwiches at a local store.
With funds being a concern, he turned to the internet to do some preliminary research and joined the Kitchener-Waterloo YMCA to start building his network and take advantage of their programming for Canadian newcomers.
One such program is Business Quest, a free self-employment program and partnership that draws on YMCA’s newcomer expertise and the entrepreneurship expertise of Lutherwood – a non-profit organization that offers extensive employment development programs.
Business Quest operates in Waterloo Region and is funded by the Government of Ontario and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. With immigrants from China, Iraq, Colombia and India expected to form the majority of participants, the newly launched program will help more than 130 newcomer entrepreneurs develop small business skills in the first two years of operation.
Business Quest uses a combination of group and individual learning and is focussed around each individual’s business idea. It is delivered in three phases, the first being a one day session called “Introduction to Canadian Business Practices” in which participants learn about Canadian business culture and ethics, assess their entrepreneurial abilities and discuss the barriers they have encountered to self-employment.
The second phase focuses on small business skills and the development of a business plan through workshops on market research, marketing, sales and financial forecasting. Business English workshops increase the comfort level of newcomer entrepreneurs when communicating in a business environment. In the final phase, individual assistance from a business advisor provides an opportunity for participants to work through start up challenges specific to their business and a local business community mentor offers an added level of support as participants start their new ventures.
Patel is entering the final phase of the program. He finds it has guided him through government regulations, helped him access information, strengthened his understanding of Canadian business culture, improved his business-related English skills and jump-started his business network.
“For me, Business Quest is a very good opportunity and others should look for similar programs,” added Patel as he and his business advisor poured over business books at the local library. “You need help understanding finances, rules, and how to market products so you need to research properly. If you just jump in, you will lose your funds.”