If a newcomer has little or no prior experience as an entrepreneur, he or she would be well advised to learn as much as possible about the Canadian business environment before launching a business. Even for those who had their own businesses before coming to Canada, they will likely find that the licensing, regulatory, taxation, employment, customer service and other cultural expectations and rules are very different in this country. All the more challenging it will be, if the newcomer does not have very good English proficiency.
On the other hand, there are newcomers who are “born entrepreneurs” and may have some clever business ideas and sound plans. They would be greatly helped by having good mentors, assistance in building a network of useful contacts, and access to financing. Private sponsors, in addition to possibly being able to act as business mentors themselves, based upon their own experience, should consider helping to make such useful connections.
Guides and other resources to starting a business in Ontario
There are many online resources available for newcomers thinking of starting their own businesses in the GTA. These include:
- Newcomer Business and Innovation Portal (Ryerson University.)
- Where can I get help to start a business? (Settlement.org.)
- Starting a Business (City of Toronto.)
- What do I need to know about licensing and regulations to start a business in Ontario? (Settlement.org.)
- Start your business: Discover the key steps to starting your own business (BDC.)
- Immigrant Entrepreneurship – links to resources to help get started (Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC).)
- Starting a business (Ontario) (Government of Canada.)
- Small business: advice, support services, regulations (Government of Ontario.)
- Checklists and guides for starting a business (Government of Canada – Canada Business Network.)
- Business guide for newcomers to Canada (Government of Canada.)
- Common questions when starting a business (Small Business Centre London ON.)
Programs to help newcomers start a business
There are several programs for newcomers wishing to establish their own businesses in the GTA, which are not primarily focused on either home-based enterprise, or on improving English language proficiency. These programs are offered by:
- ACCES Employment
- Enactus Ryerson
- Job Skills
- Skills for Change.
Details may be found in the Programs & Events section of this website, filtering for “Entrepreneurship”, under “Type”. These programs may require as little as CLB 4 English proficiency.
For more information on mentorship opportunities, see our separate article on Mentorship, as well as our database of Programs & Events, with the filter set to display only programs of the type, “Mentorship”. Note that there are many organizations in the GTA that offer a mentorship program in association with TRIEC, but these are limited to newcomers who were professionally trained and became skilled before coming to Canada and these programs require a minimum English proficiency of CLB 6 and are focused on newcomers seeking employment.
OSLT programs for those with an entrepreneurial interest
Colleges in the GTA, including Centennial, George Brown, Humber, and Seneca, offer Occupation Specific Language Training (OSLT), especially tailored for newcomers with entrepreneurial ambitions. See our separate article on Employment-Related Language Training. Also, consider searching for programs of the types “Entrepreneurial” and “OSLT” in our Programs & Events section. These OSLT programs also require a minimum English proficiency of CLB 6.
Programs for entrepreneurs with little or no minimum English proficiency requirement
At the other end of the formal education and language proficiency spectrum are some programs in the GTA that are designed to help women become self-employed, using skills they may have, such as sewing, cooking, and child care, often in their own homes. These programs have very low English language proficiency requirements, if any. A search of our Programs & Events database, filtering for “entrepreneurship”, under “Type”, will also display these offerings, including from organizations such as Newcomer Women’s Services and YWCA. There may be no formal minimum English language proficiency requirement for these programs.
(The organization, Mes Amis, used to have a program for Syrian refugee newcomers to promote entrepreneurial enterprise in sewing, but this program is not currently operating.)
Financial support for newcomers to start a business
For leads on financing a new business started by a newcomer, see the Funding page on the Ryerson Newcomer Business and Innovation Portal.
For loans up to $15,000, also see the program of Access Community Capital Fund.
In May, 2019, “seven teams of Syrian refugee entrepreneurs were given a chance to pitch their proposals to investors through a joint pilot program by Toronto-based Refugee Career Jumpstart Project and Angel Investors Ontario, which aims to help them turn their dreams into reality”: From robots to restaurants: Refugee entrepreneurs pitch business plans in hopes of turning dreams into reality (Toronto Star, May 9/19.)
Stories in the media about refugee newcomers starting a business
The following stories in the media, organized by sector, are about refugee newcomers starting their own businesses in Canada and may offer inspiration and further ideas and leads:
- Recent refugees face unique challenges with business ventures in Canada (in part, about start-up challenges facing a floor tiling company, Aug 5/18, Globe & Mail.)
- Syrian baker finds refuge in Sudbury(CTV, Jan. 27/19.)
- Recent refugees face unique challenges with business ventures in Canada (in part, about start-up challenges facing Tayybeh Foods in Vancouver, Aug 5/18, Globe & Mail.)
- Syrian refugee, fisherman’s friend: How a retiring couple found a new heir to their Lake Ontario business (about a Syrian refugee newcomer taking over a fish processing business in Prince Edward County, ON, Jul 29/18, Globe & Mail.)
- Life in Antigonish is like a box of chocolates for Syrian family (about Peace by Chocolate in Antiginosh, Nova Scotia, Sep 16/17, Toronto Star.)
- Syrian refugee family’s chocolate business expanding, hiring in N.S. (about Peace by Chocolate in Antigonish, NS, Jul 20/17, CTV.)
- From Syrian refugees to business owners in 1 year (about Saraya Hot Bread in Victoria, BC, Jun 13/17, CBC.)
- Sweet success: How the Hadhads went from refugees to employers in 1 year (about Peace by Chocolate, in Antigonish, NS, Jan 17/17, CBC.)
- Tea’s benefits include health and… Syrian refugee employment (about SuraiTea in Ottawa, Dec 13/16, National Observer.)
- Syrian refugee opens his own barbershop 3 years after arriving in Montreal (Global Television, Feb. 22/19.)
- Everybody comes to Mo’s (in Corner Brook, Newfoundland) (Sep 18/18, CBC)
- Refugee revives his barber career — and keeps a decades-old Halifax legacy alive (Mar 6/18, )
- Syrian refugee leaves rubble behind to grow new life in Markham (Jul 9/18, YorkRegion.com) and the website of that business, Aleppo Landscaping.
- Clean start: Syrian refugee rebuilds his fourth-generation soap business in Canada (Aleppo Savon soap, Jan 14/19, Globe and Mail)
- Syrian refugee carries on his family soap-making tradition in Calgary (Aleppo Savon soap, Jan 12/18, Global Television.)
- Journalist refugee launches Canada’s first Syrian newspaper (Dec/17, Toronto Star.)
- From janitor to entrepreneur: one Montreal immigrant’s experience (Montreal Gazette, May 15/19.)
Restaurants and catering
- Syrian refugees pursuing the Canadian dream: opening businesses in Ottawa (CTV, May 22/19.)
- Pizza place owned by first Syrian refugee to the Maritimes delivers slice of success (The Chronicle Herald, Halifax, May 13/19)
- Refugee’s path to ‘dream’ food-truck business highlights challenges newcomers face in job market(CBC, Apr 16/19)
- Refugee women escape conflict to start over as caterers in Montreal (CBC, Dec 9/19)
- Unpacked – Soufi’s: A profile (Uber Eats on Facebook, Nov., 2018)
- From refugees to Bay Area entrepreneurs: How one family started over (San Francisco, Nov 4/18, Mercury News)
- Syrian refugee women play to their strengths with great communal food (Nov 2/18, Globe & Mail)
- Guelph’s latest shawarma restaurant owned and operated by Syrian refugees (Aug 23/18, GuelphToday)
- Recent refugees face unique challenges with business ventures in Canada (in part, about start-up challenges facing Zezafoun in Toronto, Aug 5/18, Globe & Mail.)
- Toronto suddenly has a new craving: Syrian food (about Soufi’s, Crown Pastries, Beroea Kitchen, and Depanneur Newcomer Kitchen, Jan 12/18, New York Times.)
- Toronto kitchen staffed by Syrian refugee women at risk of closing (about Depanneur Newcomer Kitchen, Dec 18/17, Toronto Star.)
- Syrian newcomers add another layer to Canadian food identity [about Beroea Box, Soufi’s Café – Toronto, Jul 31/17, Globe and Mail.)
- Newcomer Kitchen: How Syrian refugee women are cooking their way to success (about Depanneur Newcomer Kitchen, Feb 21/17, DeGroote School of Business.)
- New life, new business: Syrian refugees bring taste of home to Canada (about Karam Kitchen food catering in Hamilton, ON, Dec 22/16, CBC Radio.)
- Newcomer Kitchen Cooks Up Business Venture For Syrian Refugee Women (about Depanneur Newcomer Kitchen, Nov 7/16, Huffington Post.)
- Rebuilding his life, one pair of socks at a time.(UNHCR, May 19/19.)
- New market builds new life for Syrian family of refugees in Victoria.(Victoria Times Colonist, Mar. 31/19.)
- ‘It put a big mission on our shoulders’ (about a clothing start-up business in Calgary, Aug 25/17, Globe and Mail.)
- For this Syrian refugee, proving himself meant business (about a meat shop in Halifax; CBC, May 3, 2018.)
- ‘Guildford is like my village now,’ says Congolese refugee who runs a tailor shop (CBC, Mar. 15/19)
- Stitching together the Canadian dream: Syrian refugee starts upholstery store in Ottawa (July 23, 2018, Ottawa Citizen)
- Sewing program helps make entrepreneurs of GTA refugees (about Darzee, Mar 3/17, Toronto Star.)