10/28/2015 05:29 EDT | Updated 10/28/2016 05:12 EDT

Newcomers Are Leading The Way In Small Business Ownership

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I am always impressed by the courage it takes for someone to pack up and begin again in a new country. In September, Statistics Canada released the latest population numbers which showed that Canada's population had the largest percentage increase of all the G7 countries. More than half of this growth is due to immigration. Over the years, I have met many newcomers who arrived in Canada with a business vision. Some wanted to replicate a business they had at home, and others hoped to realize long-held dreams.

For example, take Cristina Lewarne. I knew that she had been named one of Profit Magazine's Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs but I didn't know her back-story.

She and her family came to Canada from Brazil in 1997. Strapped to make ends meet, a chance visit to kid's consignment shop inspired Cristina to open up her own second-hand children's store. It was difficult, and she had a hard time securing inventory until she decided to pay cash upfront for goods (versus the usual consignment mode of cash once the goods sold). Demand for baby goods was high and Cristina continually sought inventory in used and new items.

As with many newcomer entrepreneurs, Cristina struggled with language issues and had no credit history -- both were barriers to securing domestic suppliers. Leveraging her four languages and offering to pay cash, she looked to Europe for suppliers. A pair of $400 Portuguese strollers were the turning point for her business. She ordered two as an experiment and both sold as soon as they went in the store window. Cristina sold 25 more almost immediately.

Today, Cristina and her husband Gerry own four upscale Crocodile Baby stores in the Vancouver area generating millions of dollars in sales.

Newcomers such as the Lewarne's are the engine behind much of the growth in small- and medium-sized businesses in Canada. Many people don't realize that almost 20 per cent of newcomers will start a small business, and are 1.6 times more likely to do this than a Canadian-born individual. In Canada's largest city, Toronto, 40 per cent of SME owners were born abroad.

Owning a business requires long hours and hard work, and it may take years to show a profit. For a newcomer, there can be additional challenges in the beginning including limited contacts in Canada, familiarity with local language and business practices, and as Cristina found, access to credit. Here are some considerations as you start to plan your business:

1. Build a credit history: A limited credit history can impact your access to financing. Unfortunately, your banking records from another country are not readily available to Canadian financial institutions. One of the easiest ways to start developing a Canadian credit record is to apply for a Canadian credit card and use it wisely. Look for a bank that offers services and solutions specifically for newcomers.

2. Develop your network: One major challenge of starting a venture in a new country is the absence of relevant contacts. To start building contacts, look for an association you could join or networking events you could attend. Identify potential clients and ask them for feedback on your ideas. The people you meet will be able to provide market intelligence, and they may also become close friends and business mentors.

Don't forget to leverage your supplier/producer networks in your home country. This is an advantage you have as a newcomer.

3. Create a business plan: Creating a business plan is not unique to a newcomer hoping to start a successful business, but it is perhaps more crucial. The research process will provide you with in-depth knowledge of a market that might be unfamiliar. You can also clarify your strategy and vision as your investigation proceeds. The financial planning and projections you develop will aid in securing financing. A typical business plan is comprised of seven steps 1) executive summary 2) company description 3) products/services 4) market analysis 5) strategy and implementation 6) organizational and management team 7) financial plan and projections.

4. Research government support: The Government of Canada has several websites to assist you in finding out more about starting a business in Canada. If you are in the planning process for immigrating to Canada, information about applying for the Start-up Visa will be useful. Another government website that has excellent business information is Starting a Business for Newcomers to Canada.

Are you a newcomer wanting to start a business in Canada? What have been your greatest challenges and what services have helped you the most? Share your comments below or on Twitter @RBC_Canada.

Christine Shisler is the Director of Cultural Markets at RBC. As a first generation Canadian she grew up hearing the family stories about settling in a new country. Christine understands the challenges of starting a new life abroad and has made it her priority to provide newcomers to Canada the opportunities to thrive and succeed in Canada. Visit


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