Sanjay Pandrala, a horticulturist from India, hesitated to start his pest control and landscaping business because he didn’t know enough about Canadian commercial law.
Should he incorporate his firm? What is his liability if there is an industrial accident? What needs to be included in an employment contract?
While the lack of legal knowledge is a challenge, Pandrala said many small businesses simply can’t afford a corporate lawyer.
“You don’t want to learn about Canadian law the hard way, after a mistake is made,” said Pandrala, who came here in 2007 with a horticulture degree. “It is extremely important that we are aware of all these potential legal issues before we start our business.”
Today, Pandrala is the proud owner of The Bug Man Inc. — which had modest sales of $80,000 last year — and a finalist in Connect Legal’s inaugural Promising Immigrant Entrepreneur Award.
Marion Annau, founder of Connect Legal, said the award is to celebrate the spirit of immigrant entrepreneurs.
“There is an economic shift underway. Self-employment and small businesses are becoming more important to the economy. Many immigrants are getting into self-employment as a way to get ahead,” said Annau, a former Bay St. lawyer.
“But they are not familiar with Canada’s legal system. The better understanding they have, the fewer problems they will have.”
Since its inception in 2010, Connect Legal, working with other community groups, has delivered workshops to more than 700 aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs.
Through its one-on-one lawyer-matching program, it has connected 32 pro-bono clients with its pool of 80 lawyers from six of Canada’s top law firms, including Blake, Cassels & Graydon, and McCarthy Tétrault.
Annau said the lawyers volunteer for less than 50 hours of work per client (jobs count toward the law firms’ billable hour target), offering advice from contract design and reviews to permit and licensing, business structuring, branding and trademarks.
Carolina Velez, owner of Colombia Exotic, an importer of exotic fruits and natural products, said the legal help she got from the clinic was invaluable.
“I did study business and law in university, but it’s Colombian law,” said Velez, another award finalist, who started her company last year, which imports one ton of yellow pitahaya (dragon fruit) a week to sell at Loblaws.
“The lawyer explained to me about my liability, how to protect my interests in the worst scenarios and let me see all the blind spots. There are just a lot of (legal) landmines in business.”
Other immigrant entrepreneur award finalists include: Vibhor Chhabra of Grand Travel Planners Ltd., Igor Chigrin of Win Global Partners and Hardik Kumar Dave of Uniglobe Consulting Inc. The winner will be announced Wednesday.