NEPEAN - From computers to cupcakes, new Canadians have become Ottawa’s entrepreneurs.
Newcomers to Canada who hope to become business owners received a large dose of inspiration at a networking event hosted by Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar and the Ottawa Public Library on Sept. 25.
More than 150 people travelled to Ben Franklin Place in Nepean to learn about starting a business.
The event was aimed at new Canadians because Dewar’s office noticed so many newcomers tend to search for the same information.
“We were getting the same requests over and over,” Dewar said. “Usually we send them to the resources and then we thought, ‘Let’s pull these people together and show them what’s available.’”
The city’s hub for business questions and answers is Invest Ottawa, but the evening’s would-be entrepreneurs also had a chance to chat with representatives of micro-loan programs, local and federal organizations and the library.
Visitors heard a few success stories from people who, like them, once dreamed of starting their own business.
A panel of five entrepreneurs – all newcomers to Canada at some point – gave advice and answered questions from an audience that seemed to hang on every word.
Common themes were passion for the chosen field of work and the support of family, along with thorough research prior to a business launch.
Claudia Arizmendi of the Cupcake Lounge moved to Ottawa from Mexico in 1994. She started baking part-time at home and decided to switch to full-time. She attended Algonquin College to learn the culinary skills she'd need.
Arizmendi said she started gathering information and had her business plan reviewed by what is now Invest Ottawa and made the changes the experts suggested.
With the help of a loan, the Cupcake Lounge opened in 2011 in the Byward Market.
“We broke all projections,” Arizmendi said, adding the shop has 15 employees and served 50,000 customers last year.
Her advice: “Go back to school if you need to. Have your plan reviewed and make changes.”
Xuening Chen arrived here from China and worked in high-tech before starting a retail computer business in 1990. He sold that company in 2006.
Between those years he learned that his then-limited English communications skills made it critical to find a local partner who could approach corporate customers, and sales to companies eventually eclipsed retail sales to individual consumers.
Columbian émigré Jaime Baquero said he has been successful because he works on something he is passionate about: coral reefs.
In order to succeed in Canada, Baquero said he needed to learn English and French, so took work in retail. Once he could better communicate with his fellow Canadians, he volunteered with a group that protects reefs and has since made a living by starting a company that maintains aquariums.
“Canada is a country of opportunities,” Baquero said. “The key is passion and the support of your family.”
Baquero also preached conservative economics to any future entrepreneur.
“Don’t spend more than you can afford,” he said.
LIBRARY FIRST STOP
Ottawa library CEO Danielle McDonald said new Canadians have a tendency to start their business inquiries at their local library branch, and as a result, Ottawa's librarians have learned what helps their customers. Ottawa’ libraries have also developed programs that can help newcomers, such as workshops on English conversation and career development.
Dewar said the networking event successfully matched people with the information they need if they decide to go into business for themselves.
“It’s not just about different levels of government putting out programs, but making sure they make sense,” he said.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson encouraged visitors to get in touch with Invest Ottawa; what he called one-stop shopping for businesspeople. The office at 80 Aberdeen St. can provide advice and arrange contacts within the provincial and federal governments.
Invest Ottawa can be contacted at investottawa.ca or 613-828-6274.