Immigrant entrepreneurs missing out on valuable help

posted on September 4, 2014

By Patrick Blennerhassett, Business in Vancouver | Link to Article

By Patrick Blennerhassett, Business in Vancouver | Link to Article

Government aid for small businesses is being underutilized by the immigrant community in Surrey, says one entrepreneur who got valuable help from the province while building his successful company.

Ankit Sharma, founder of Kitply Industries, a cabinet hardwood distributor, started his business back in 2009 out of his home. Now he has five full-time staff members and 10,000 square feet of warehouse space, and he has regularly tapped multiple government programs such as Small Business BC and the Industrial Research Assistance Program at every step of his company’s expansion.

But Sharma said his story is not the norm in Surrey; in fact, he is an anomaly. He said the city has a high number of immigrants running small businesses (more than 30% of the population is of South Asian descent), but they’re unaware of the government programs available.

“A lot of immigrants come from countries where there isn’t a lot of support from the government. So they don’t naturally think of the Canadian government of being supportive of small businesses when the opposite is true. There’s a lot of support there.”

Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, said culture does play a role when it comes to accessing government grants.

“The challenge lies in language, or being focused on selling product or services, not education of the owner or staff,” Huberman said. “For us, to help business immigrant communities and offer quality service, the face-to-face interaction seems to work, but yes, more needs to be done.”

Kitply Industries, which wholesales hardwood and plywood products for cabinet manufacturers and designers, has found a niche in the market. Sharma said he recently completed a free Small Business BC program, partially funded by the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, to help with another step of his business expansion.

“I just did a webinar through them for our new online space and social media, and then one on taxation for different provinces.”

Sharma was 24 when he started Kitply Industries fresh off a business degree from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and he would have had a much rougher time without government help during the startup phase.

“They should do outreach to the owners – to the immigrant community. I’m an immigrant myself, but I came here when I was younger. They’re doing something great but nobody knows about it.

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