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Innovation & Job News

New report published on immigrant entrepreneur challenges and opportunities

We know, broadly speaking, the key factors that help create the conditions for success for would-be entrepreneurs. They include access to capital, mentorship, and a very practical knowledge of day-to-day business operations. However, though Canada--and especially Toronto--have very high rates of immigration, we tend to spend less time thinking and talking about the challenges that are specific to immigrant entrepreneurs, and the conditions for success that are particularly pertinent to newer Canadians.

Stepping in to the breach is North York Community House, which recently released a study (conducted with the help of Public Interest) examining precisely those issues.

The report, DIY: Immigrant Entrepreneurs are Doing it for Themselves, looks at the specific challenges immigrant entrepreneurs face, and in the process outlines some major opportunities for offering more and better support to this community.

Among the report's key findings: English language skills, and knowledge about the mechanics of opening a business--the rules and regulations and procedures and nitty-gritty details--are two of the biggest determinants of success of failure for immigrant entrepreneurs. Mentorship and entrepreneurial experience (either directly, or within one's family) are also crucial--and all of these can be particular challenges for new immigrants, who may not have ready access to many of these supports in the way that Canadian-born entrepreneurs might.

"There are some really good programs going in Toronto for newcomer entrepreneurs," says Shelley Zuckerman, executive director of North York Community House, "but there aren't a lot."

She goes on to explain that there are some very targeted supports in place, for particular demographics or providing very specific services, but there simply isn't a sufficient number or variety of programs to meet the demand. "There's definitely a need for more mentorship programs," she says, especially for people without a family history of entrepreneurship, and especially aimed at those who are trying to get started with very small businesses.

At the most general level, the report finds that immigrant entrepreneurs fall into two main groups: those who are "pulled" towards entrepreneurship, who are attracted to it and choose it and arrive in Canada with that course of action in mind, and those who are "pushed" towards it, who don't find satisfactory or sufficient employment elsewhere and turn to entrepreneurship to close their income gap, or provide more flexibility in their scheduling and family life.

It's the latter group in particular that needs the most support, since it generally consists of people who have fewer resources (both financially and in terms of a pre-existing knowledge base), and aren't quite ready to hit the ground running. Even simple things like how language classes are structured can make a significant difference, explains Zuckerman.

"One of the difficulties around language for immigrants is that a lot of the language classes are during the day, or quite intense, so if you're running a business [at the same time] it can be quite challenging to attend," she says.

NYCH convened a roundtable of groups offering services to immigrant entrepreneurs in the course of putting together the study; that group will continue meeting now that the results have been released, to share more information and examine how they might coordinate their services more effectively.

They'll also be discussing the "need for government and funders to look at different ways of supporting small entrepreneurs" and, in particular, try to learn more about how services can be best structured to be of greatest value.

DIY: Immigrant Entrepreneurs are Doing it for Themselves is available online [PDF].

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Shelley Zuckerman, Executive Director, North York Community House
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