Let it be said right away, entrepreneurship is difficult for everyone whether you are an immigrant or not. However, it is fair to say that it is even harder for immigrant entrepreneurs as they face specific challenges in addition to those shared with Albertan-born entrepreneurs.
The most common challenges faced by immigrant entrepreneurs are related to language barriers, lack of access to financing to start a business, lack of knowledge of business culture and practices, absence of networks, navigating the landscape of regulations and taxes, finding and renting an appropriate location, advertising, and discrimination—to name a few.
Getting In: Classifications of Immigrants in Canada
The categories under which immigrants come to Alberta and Canada, as well as their backgrounds, have an impact on their decision to start a business, and can influence the ways they work to overcome challenges to start and grow a successful business.
According to Statistics Canada, immigrants come to Canada under four main categories:
- Economic class: immigrants who have been selected for their ability to contribute to Canada’s economy through their ability to meet labour market needs, to own and manage or to build a business, to make a substantial investment, to create their own employment or to meet specific provincial or territorial labour market needs.
- Family class: immigrants who were sponsored by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and were granted permanent resident status on the basis of their relationship either as the spouse, partner, parent, grand-parent, child or other relative of this sponsor.
- Refugees: immigrants who were granted permanent resident status on the basis of a well-founded fear of returning to their home country.
- Other immigrants: immigrants who were granted permanent resident status under a program that does not fall in neither the economic immigrants, the immigrants sponsored by family or the refugee categories.
Starting a Business: Experience vs. Necessity
Research has shown that immigrants who come to Alberta and Canada under the economic class—especially those who were selected under the categories of self-employed, entrepreneurs, or investors—immigrated with entrepreneurial goals and tend to start businesses with a non-ethnic focus that targets non-ethnic clientele. Conversely, most of the immigrants who enter Alberta under other categories, without specific entrepreneurial goals, tend to turn to entrepreneurship out of necessity, and therefore start ethnic ventures such as restaurants and small businesses catering to their ethnic community.
Those who come with entrepreneurial goals are well prepared to overcome the challenges of starting and operating a successful business, especially because they have to get out there to convince non-ethnic clientele to do business with them. However, these individuals are a minority.
Most immigrant entrepreneurs start a business out of necessity because they are not able to find a job in their field or are laid off. Immigrant entrepreneurs from this category struggle to overcome challenges.
Overcoming Barriers: Journey to Entrepreneurship
From my experience of over 10 years of outreach to immigrant entrepreneurs of the second category from different backgrounds and cultures, the criteria below are key to overcoming challenges:
- Knowledge and open-mindedness: there is no doubt for me that immigrants who invest time to learn and adapt to change are very likely to overcome barriers to succeed in Alberta. Business is based on a trusted relationship. Adapting to business customs and culture is key to success, but one must know them first. Integration is an ongoing journey!
- Language: immigrant entrepreneurs without language barriers are much more likely to learn, build networks, and understand business practices than those with language barriers. Those with language barriers must be willing to invest time to learn English; otherwise, you can just start a business to make a living—but if you want to be successful, communication is key!
- Established community: immigrants who have an established community to welcome them have an obvious advantage over those who don’t. These connections can help you find translators, coaches/mentors, and keep you connected to resources, which provides a major advantage over those lacking this community.
- Coaching and mentorship: having someone who has gone through this experience to act as a role model, advisor, and sometimes keep you accountable is invaluable. Not only will they help you avoid mistakes that they went through, but they will also open their network to you and sometimes help you close business deals by giving you a good reference.
- Tailored support to meet immigrant-specific needs: this is the role of the government, nonprofit organizations, and other service providers to ensure that immigrants have access to resources to satisfy their specific needs and to help them integrate the Alberta business community.
As an immigrant entrepreneur, you may face unique challenges that Alberta-born citizens do not. Organizations like ours are here to support you as you take the steps towards entrepreneurship, no matter what your background is! If you’re ready to take the first step, our Business Advisors can provide one-on-one support and guidance for your small business as well as connections to other supports in the community.