On May 3, Maytree’s president Ratna Omidvar addressed young immigrant entrepreneurs at a commencement event hosted by The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) Toronto.
Ratna began by telling her own family’s story of immigration and entrepreneurship and the difficulties they encountered: “Why do I tell this story to enthusiastic and energetic would be entrepreneurs? Not to discourage you, but to encourage you. We were entrepreneurs by default, you are entrepreneurs by design and by purpose. Your trajectory will be very different from ours.”
Watch the video of her presentation below, and read a short summary of her remarks.
Learning from experience
Ratna spoke about Reza Satchu, “one of Canada’s most successful serial entrepreneurs.” Reza has described how the test of a true entreprenuer is his or her relentless pursuit of efforts regardless of available resources: “Most people think to be an entrepreneur, you have to be walking down the street and a bolt of lightning hits you and you get inspired to look at the world differently and come up with this brilliant new idea … I would argue most great entrepreneurs are simply able to look at everyday things in a slightly different way than others.”
Immigrants are natural entrepreneurs
The good news is entrepreneurship is in the DNA of all immigrants. After all, it takes a certain kind of risk taker to leave their home, their culture, their language, their customs, and make this long journey half way around the world, to a country with frankly very different rules of engagement, not to talk about the weather.
The evidence tells us that the immigrants to Canada are more likely to be self-employed than other Canadians. We know that most immigrants consider themselves to be self-employed by choice, that they are more likely to seek self-employment in times of economic downturns. Most immigrants have some key assets for investments in their efforts – not just money, but their education and their families from which they can borrow.
The path to entrepreneurship is well trodden, but not easy
A recent report on Immigrant Entrepreneurship by Maytree and the Metcalf Foundation explored whether self-employment and entrepreneurship are viable options for lifting new Canadians out of poverty in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
We know that there are some things that make life very difficult for all entrepreneurs, but more so for immigrant entrepreneurs :
- Language difficulties;
- Different business cultures and markets, regulations, and rules;
- Lack of networks – “who you know;” and
However, we also know that helping immigrant entrepreneurs overcome these barriers has positive effects and benefits:
- Their movement in and out of the country creates opportunities both for migrants and for the local population: more trade, links to global markets;
- Linking them with Canadian-born is important because research shows diverse groups can create new technologies and products in ways that perhaps homogenous groups cannot; and
- When immigrant entrepreneurs succeed, they create jobs and are more readily willing to hire other immigrants.
And, for Ratna, most importantly, immigrant entrepreneurs create wealth, wealth for themselves, their families and their communities.