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3 tips for starting a business as an immigrant to Canada

3-minute read

If you’re new to Canada and want to start a business, you’re not alone. In 2010, 5.3% of immigrants owned a private company after living in Canada for nine years, according to Statistics Canada. In comparison, 4.8% of people born in Canada owned a business in 2010.

Even so, the road to business ownership is not without its challenges. Renu Narang, Manager at BDC’s Entrepreneurship Centre in Scarborough, says it’s important to keep that in mind and plan carefully.

“There are challenges to starting a business no matter who you are, but immigrants certainly face some unique ones,” Narang notes. “Keeping an open mind and embracing the wonderful cultural diversity we have here in Canada will help you in the long run.”

Narang offers three tips for new immigrants to Canada who want to tackle those challenges and start a business successfully.

1. Build your credit score

Being new to Canada means you may not have a history of responsible credit use banks can lean on to lend you money as you get your business started. Fortunately, there are some quick ways to build up your borrowing potential.

One of the easiest and quickest ways to build up your credit is to sign up for a credit card and use it responsibly. Within about six months, you’ll start to develop a credit score a bank can use to finance your business.

According to Narang, the main thing to remember is that you have to make your payments on time and not drive your credit utilization score too high. “Credit utilization refers to how much credit you’ve used out of the total amount you’re eligible to borrow,” she explains. “You don’t want to borrow too much, and you don’t want to apply for too much credit either.”

Even if you don’t have a credit history in Canada, there are still ways to finance your business. Futurpreneur Canada, in partnership with BDC, offers business mentoring and loans to new Canadians. There are a number of government programs for which you may be eligible. And BDC offers a New Canadian Entrepreneur Loan that can have a value of up to $50,000.

2. Embrace Canadian culture

To run a business anywhere, you need to understand the local culture—who your customers are, what they like to buy and how they like to buy it. Narang says the best way to get immersed in Canadian culture is to get involved with groups in the community where you live, such as volunteer organizations, business associations, your local place of worship, wherever you can mix with people who have lived longer in Canada.

“The more people you talk to, the better,” says Narang. “Once you’ve built a solid network where you live, you can branch out and make connections elsewhere.”

3. Find a mentor

There’s a lot to soak up when you start a business, especially if you’ve just recently arrived in Canada; a mentor—someone with experience who can offer you advice and guidance—can be a huge help. There are lots of organizations and programs that offer training, mentorship, advice and guidance to new business owners.

For example, ACCES Employment, in partnership with BDC, runs the Entrepreneurship Connections program, which offers coaching, mentoring, legal consultations and business planning support to start your business in Ontario. Futurpreneur Canada also offers a six-month mentoring program for entrepreneurs that’s available across Canada.

Set yourself up for success

Narang says it’s important you have enough money to cover your personal expenses while your business is getting started because it may take some time to become profitable. At least six months of personal expenses is a good baseline. If you don’t have that money now, saving it can be a valuable process in and of itself.

Finally, Narang notes that if you need help finding a job to make money while you’re planning your business, the Government of Canada’s website’s Preparing to Work page is a good place to start. It has information about how to find work, getting your credentials assessed, where you can take classes to improve your English or French, and links to free newcomer services in your area.

For a step-by-step roadmap from great idea to operating a company, read our Ultimate Guide to Starting a Business in Canada.

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