In Canada, immigrant entrepreneurs face obstacles

posted on January 20, 2014

By The Origami | Link to Article

By The Origami | Link to Article

TORONTO, Canada – Immigrants are joining the ranks of entrepreneurs in Toronto, but a recent study shows that many are struggling to overcome significant barriers to success, including inadequate English skills, lack of financing, and insufficient knowledge about the Canadian way of doing business.

About 100 immigrant entrepreneurs took part in a survey conducted from January to March 2013 by North York Community House, in partnership with Public Interest Strategy and Communications.

Results of the survey were incorporated in a study, DIY: Immigrant entrepreneurs are doing it for themselves, which also included in-depth interviews with representatives of service providers supporting immigrant entrepreneurs.

Six community animators spoke one-on-one with immigrant entrepreneurs in their respective mother tongues – Tagalog (Filipino), Farsi, Korean, Mandarin and Russian – and asked them to respond to a set of questions to assess their situation.

The study identified “enhanced English skills,” increased knowledge about finances, networking, and mentorship as critical areas that need to be addressed if immigrant entrepreneurs are to grow and sustain their small businesses.

“Strong English skills result in greater access to markets and suppliers, and access to problem-solving strategies and resources,” the study noted. Lack of English skills tend to make immigrant entrepreneurs insular, relying mainly on customers from the same cultural background and limiting their social networks.

Providing adequate support in these areas becomes more crucial given the growing number of new immigrants who are choosing entrepreneurship over traditional employment, the study said.

In most cases, an immigrant becomes an entrepreneur in response to a lack of employment opportunities, the survey showed.

Eighty percent of respondents had been in Canada for less than five years, and 32% opened up their business because they couldn’t find adequate jobs; 29% used it as a means of supplementing their income.

Others identified such “pull” factors as always wanting to start a business (17%), seeing a need in the community (15%) and taking advantage of a good opportunity (21%).

The survey showed that these immigrant startups are small: 44% are one-person operations; 29% have a staff of one and only one in six have more than five staff. In over half of the cases, they are also a family affair.

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