Research finds immigrant entrepreneurs lacking in guidance, but not enthusiasm

By Lisa Grace Marr
Fadhumo Abdul Malik Raza arrived in Hamilton in 2001, a refugee from Somalia with a handful of English words, her 8-year-old daughter and a dream to build her own daycare business.
“I was told that Canada was responsive to women and children ... there was this confidence that was instilled in me that this would be a good place.”
Workforce Planning Hamilton (formerly the Hamilton Training and Advisory Board) has completed a study exploring what kind of place this is to make a living as an immigrant entrepreneur.
Wise5 is the name of the year-long research project headed by Sarah Wayland in concert with similar agencies in the regions of Niagara, Waterloo-Wellington-Dufferin, Windsor/Essex and Elgin Middlesex Oxford.
About 65 entrepreneurs were interviewed for the study, 80 per cent of whom had lived in Canada for less than 10 years.
The aim of the report was to create recommendations for communities to support immigrant businesses and identify best practices which each region can adopt as needed.
Abdul Malik Raza ended up in Hamilton by accident — she thought she’d settle in Toronto but there was no space, so she was moved into a hostel for a short period in Hamilton.
By 2009, she had graduated with an early childhood education diploma from Mohawk College with her sights firm on a goal of having a daycare.
Eventually she received her licence through Today’s Family but also was surprised by offers of contract employment from Mohawk College and others to do field supervision work for others studying early childhood education. She continues to do this as well as running her own business as a way to keep working on her knowledge of the industry.
All of her success though came after a dedication to mastering English, earning some money and doing some research into what is necessary to start a proper daycare — a concept which was as foreign to her as snow and everything else Canadian.
“Back at home, it really was a village raising a child — if a mother had to go out, she just left her children and the rest of the people would watch.”
Wayland said there are, in fact, few services for entrepreneurs, let alone immigrant entrepreneurs in the five regions — a bit of a surprise to her.
Wayland and her team conducted interviews with those who immigrated to Canada in the past 10 years to get a sense of the initial challenges of setting up a business here.
She said the majority of the entrepreneurs she interviewed (seven out of 10) said they came to Canada to be self-employed, but some started their own business because their professional designations aren’t recognized here, or to increase the potential for success.
“You can work really long hours if you’re self-employed. Lots of studies have found that people who are willing to move to another country are not risk-averse anyway. They might be just hungry ... sometimes literally ... to find work and they’ll create a job for themselves to do it.
“I felt that most people were optimistic and enthusiastic. They really embrace opportunities.”
Wise5 recommendations include:
1. Service providers and funders improve accessibility by a variety of prospective entrepreneurs, for three key aspects: affordability, eligibility and language supports
3. Service providers promote their services — including any available interpretation supports or services in languages other than English — through the “ethnic” media
4. Employment service providers become educated about the benefits and viability of self-employment as an option for clients
5. Governments and other stakeholders work with financial institutions to improve financing for new businesses and existing micro loan programs
6. Service providers and other relevant stakeholders explore the creation of mentorship opportunities possibly through the chamber of commerce
7. Chambers of commerce form a task force to examine how their own organizations might better incorporate immigrants
Highlights of Wise5
Immigrants identified these “key ingredients to success” for starting a business in Canada: networking (especially connections outside their own ethnic communities); hard work/motivation; relevant business knowledge and skills;
Successful immigrants interviewed had these characteristics: voluntarily self-employed; highly educated; spoke excellent English; had prior business experience in their country of origin in the same industry.
Key barriers included: language, lack of familiarity with Canadian business culture and practices; lack of a Canadian credit history; and lack of social and professional networks.
Of the entrepreneurs interviewed, 27 per cent provided professional, scientific and technical services; 25 per cent were involved in retail trade.
Almost three-quarters of entrepreneurs had no employees.

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