Business

What does it mean to be Canadian? 6 Immigrant Entrepreneurs Share

Canadian

They say it takes a specific kind of person to become a successful entrepreneur. Whether its grit, blind hope or a willful desire to ignore risk, business owners utilize it daily to make their aspirations a reality. Sometimes that very drive inspires dreamers to cross boarders in search of opportunity and a fulfilling life.

Canada’s ecosystem of entrepreneurs incorporates all walks of life from varying regions. With diversity in spades Canada, as many other countries around the world, struggles with managing discrimination and embedding equity into societies infrastructures. Immigrant entrepreneurs who not only defy odds by building successful empires, often face an additional set of challenges along the way– creating a unique experience and definition of what it means to be Canadian.

With no experience like the other, we asked 6 Canadian entrepreneurs to share their journey’s as immigrants and as proud citizens of Canada.

To learn more about the entrepreneurs and businesses featured click on their names!

Lulu Liang, CEO of Luxy Hair

CanadaI am so proud to be Canadian. I was born in Beijing, China, and immigrated to Toronto when I was seven years old. Like many other immigrants, my parents sacrificed a lot to give me a better life. And it has definitely changed my life. 

Being a Canadian has made me stronger, given me a powerful voice, and rewarded my hard work with opportunities. It has allowed me to express myself and given me freedoms I don’t think I would have had growing up in China. I’m grateful to have grown up in a melting pot where I was exposed to all ethnicities, traditions and values. I hope we continue to be kind and accepting while also growing our entrepreneurial spirit and dreams to make a bigger global mark. No matter where I am in the world, Canada will always be home.

Tareq Hadhad, Founder of Peace by Chocolate

Eight years ago, we lost our home to the war in Syria in the blink of an eye and four years later. Canada said to our family, “Welcome home.” Now, there’s nowhere else on the entire planet we would rather be! On January 15th, 2020, the world watched as I was sworn in as a citizen of this country and life has never been the same. I became part of the amazing ‘Canadian Family’, and I am so happy to share this as I am about to celebrate my first official Canada Day as a proud citizen. Since I first set foot on Canadian soil, I was treated like a citizen. I was welcomed into my new home with more care and warmth than I could ever imagine. I felt like I belonged. I have had the pleasure of sharing my days meeting thousands of Canadians while visiting almost every province and so many towns big and small. I’ve seen the Ottawa Senators play, survived harsh winters and experienced some beautiful summer days too. I have heard the stories of

indigenous peoples, the past and current injustices that they still have to live through. I have visited lakes and oceans. I’ve met incredible entrepreneurs, politicians, community builders and volunteers. 

I have met many immigrants who made Canada their home by choice like me. Through it all, my fellow Canadians have shared their warm hearts and big dreams of what they want Canada to be. To be a Canadian is the biggest honour of my life. This country was built by a broad range of people from a number of different nationalities and continues to thrive not in spite of, but because of our differences. Canada is a cultural mosaic in which all our diverse backgrounds come together to create a bigger, more beautiful picture of what Canada truly is and the values it represents.

Wali Shah, Motivational Speaker

Being an entrepreneur as well as a person of colour and an immigrant in Canada feels like a responsibility, but it also feels like a privilege. It’s a cliché, but I think it’s very true that with power comes responsibility. My parents have struggled immensely for me to be in a position to be in this country, let alone succeed. To honour their sacrifice, it’s my responsibility to do as well as I can. Having done well as a person of colour, as an immigrant myself and as an artist, I really feel like now I have the opportunity to give that back to other people who need a hand or someone to hear them out and give them support. As I’ve now reached a point where I am capable of providing that, it’s important to me that I do so.

A lot of the work I do is centred on working with young kids and youth; helping them find their career path and navigate their journey. In today’s world, possibly now more than ever, I really feel that diverse voices have an immense opportunity to share narratives that were not previously highlighted. In the last few weeks, in Canadian media we have seen more change and an increased focus on emphasizing diverse voices than we have in the last 5 years. There is a stigma around talking about discrimination and facing prejudice, but sharing that story is so important right now. It is easy to feel resentful of the struggles you may face as an individual. But in sharing your story and being proud of who you are, you can leverage that as a way to create change, be successful and be a voice for others.

Salima Visram, Founder of SAMARA

I’m actually a Canadian citizen through my dad, but was born and grew up in Kenya. I came to Canada for university in 2011. I’m always grateful to be Canadian and to have the opportunities I have here. I think Canada is at a point of experiencing a wave of growth in the startup and small business space and I feel lucky to be able to be experiencing it and growing a business during this time. Being Canadian means support, doing things in a pluralistic way and having Canadian customers who care about making a difference in the world through the brands they support too. 

I feel deeply grateful again, for the support especially during times like this, with COVID-19, from the government. I think in Canada, most citizens are taken care of in some way. In other parts of the world, things are so different. If I was in another country, and was a female founder running a young brand there, I’m not sure I’d have the same support as we’ve had. I’m also in awe of how much support there has been online towards small businesses and online businesses. The future of Canada seems so bright, I truly believe that the next wave of groundbreaking companies are going to come out of Canada, and I’m so excited to see more employment, more talent and more success stories come out of this country.

Temi Shobowale, Founder of Essentials by Temi

Being a Canadian entrepreneur now, I feel as though it’s opened a lot of doors and opportunities for me—I literally just became a Canadian citizen last summer. It makes me feel so much more confident in being able to start my business and do more, since it was launched earlier last year. Now, the Canadian pride makes me feel really happy. I was featured in Vogue recently and am starting to make it into major publications, and usually I’m the only Canadian on the list, so I feel really proud to represent Canada and my Nigerian background too.

Being Canadian is amazing. I got to travel as an official Canadian citizen for the first time back in January before COVID-19. I was in Europe, and I was amazed at how Canadians are respected and viewed in the world, in my opinion and I’m pretty sure a lot of people’s opinions. It’s a powerful thing to live in a country where we strive to create a diverse space for everyone; but, sometimes our diversity can get lost in translation. So, for the future of Canada, I would love for us to push and be really, really transparent with how diverse we can be.

Richard Berman, CEO of VerbFactory

During my 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, I met a lot of Canadian entrepreneurs who felt they had to build their companies in the US to have any sort of credibility. So when I started coming to Toronto for conferences and meetings, I was blown away by what was going on here – especially because so many expat Canadians had told me that the scene was sort of slow. In late 2018 I got my permanent resident status, my family and I sold our house in California, and we moved here. No one believes me when I tell them that I left the Bay Area to open an office in Toronto because the innovation scene is so amazing here! And so far it’s been a great opportunity for my company

Given everything that’s going on in the States right now, it’s a weird feeling for me to be an American running a company in Canada. One of the strangest things for me is the US recently blocking almost all legal immigration for the rest of the year. That’s insane. If you’ve ever spent time in Silicon Valley, you know that people from all over the planet have made it the tech capital of the world. My prediction is that this will be a huge boost for Canada as the world’s top talent comes here rather than to the States. We’re going to see a lot more diversity in the next few years as this country becomes even more of a magnet for skilled workers.