New research says immigrant entrepreneurs see starting a business as desirable, but barriers persist

A new research report, Immigrant Entrepreneurship: Barriers and Facilitators to Growth, from Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute shows that a substantial proportion of new Canadians are attracted to entrepreneurship as a desirable career choice (73 per cent), but the reasons may be different than for Canadian-born entrepreneurs.

More than half of the immigrant respondents acknowledged that they had difficulty finding regular employment (54 per cent) or having their credentials recognized (31 per cent) in Canada, leading them toward an entrepreneurial path. This is in contrast with Canadian-born entrepreneurs who were less likely to report that they had trouble finding employment (34 per cent), but more likely to indicate that they were dissatisfied with their job (49 per cent) compared to immigrant entrepreneurs (32 per cent).

“Newcomer entrepreneurs play an important role in Ontario’s economy through increased trade opportunities, job creation and the contribution of specialized skills,” said Laura Albanese, Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. “This research is vital in informing program and resource planning to ensure that all Ontario entrepreneurs have the best opportunities available for success.” The immigrant entrepreneurs who participated in the study had high levels of education, more than one-third were women and the most common countries of origin were South Asia, China and the Middle East. Most entered Canada as family class immigrants suggesting that the attraction of entrepreneurs is not restricted to the much smaller percentages entering as entrepreneurial class (three per cent) and investment class (six per cent).

Barriers to business
The research reveals that the primary barriers faced by newcomer entrepreneurs are similar to those reported by Canadian-born entrepreneurs but they were more likely to see understanding legislation, navigating the landscape of regulations and taxes to establish a business, and finding financing and talent as barriers. Canadian‐born entrepreneurs who received funding assistance were more than twice as likely to have received government funding (54 per cent versus 23 per cent) as immigrant entrepreneurs suggesting more needs to be done to ensure equitable access. Surprisingly, while they do acknowledge facing challenges understanding Canadian markets, new immigrant entrepreneurs as well as service providers were divided on the barriers presented by language and culture. More than 40 per cent of new immigrant respondents disagreed that language and culture were barriers compared to 33 per cent who agreed.

Service providers were also divided on the primacy of a focus on language acquisition versus “learning while earning.” Some recognized the unconscious and cultural biases built into many of the processes associated with securing financing, “pitching”, networking and navigating systems. Some service providers stressed the importance of “meeting people where they are” and, for example, providing better support to the ethnic chambers of commerce and business associations. Finally, there were innovative suggestions about strategies to attract immigrant entrepreneurs to smaller communities — for example sharing more information about established small businesses needing successors.

“Services provided to entrepreneurs must find better ways to address the needs of diverse groups including immigrants as well as women and others,” said Dr. Wendy Cukier, Founder of the Diversity Institute and the report’s author. “The research confirmed that there are opportunities to provide more assistance in navigating services and one stop shopping or “concierge” services. It also confirmed that systemic and unconscious bias can present barriers. We know, for example, that many of the norms embraced by incubators around ‘dragons’ den’ style pitching makes great theatre but perhaps not great entrepreneurs. There is previous evidence that shows that embedded practices and stereotypes exclude women and people from different cultural backgrounds who may actually have outstanding ideas. We also know that there are immense opportunities for entrepreneurs outside of technology particularly in smaller communities and this report confirms that ‘Immigrants will follow the opportunities.’  In addition, we need to ensure that settlement agencies and service providers better understand the opportunities that entrepreneurship can provide.”

Examine policies to ensure easy transition for students to entrepreneurial opportunities
Ensure service providers consider entrepreneurship as a viable opportunity and have information about relevant supports and services
Develop diversity accountability in government-funded entrepreneurship services and programs, including attentiveness to issues facing women, immigrants and other under-represented groups
Provide more robust support to raise awareness of entrepreneurship as a viable path and feature success stories
Support networking, mentoring and sponsorship of immigrant entrepreneurs by connecting them to other entrepreneurs
Provide more multilingual supports
Recognize that entrepreneurial opportunities and businesses are diverse and extend beyond technology
Provide better integration of services, including “concierge” approaches to providing information about full range of programs supporting.

-Canadian Immigrant

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