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Exhibition Encourages, Inspires and Connects Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Passion, persistence and plain old hard work.

These were three items that kept popping up at the Immigrant Entrepreneur Exhibition (IEE) in Burnaby’s Bonsor Recreational Centre on Wednesday, May 27.

“Without passion, you won’t succeed in any business,” stressed Steve Mander, COO of Knight Signs in Delta. Mander says passion provides the energy and courage fueling the hard work and persistence that leads to success. If you see a large, dramatic and even neon sign in the Greater Vancouver area, there’s a good chance it came from Knight Signs.

The event provided a forum for hopeful and newbie immigrant entrepreneurs to ask the tough questions about starting a business after moving to Canada. The second annual IEE attracted close to a hundred participants to the panel discussion and networking session that showcased eight established newcomer businesses.

ISSofBC, MAPLE 2.0 and RBC organized the panel discussion and networking opportunity as a way to help immigrant business owners connect with key information to help them achieve success. The two-hour event included opinions on mentors, mistakes, niches, customer service and suppliers.

One entrepreneur panel member, Mike Li, started Best Gourmet Coffee Company in the Lower Mainland market dominated by big players like Starbucks and Tim Hortons. Li’s strategy is breathtakingly simple and successful.

“We supply small guys,” he told the audience. “They are the people the big guys don’t have time to take care of.”

Another panel member, Eric Kim from Action Cheque Cashing in New Westminster, stressed the value of flexible thinking and adaptation to the local market, especially discovering a niche market.

“Forget about what is successful in your country,” Kim said, “Look for some markets nobody is trying.”

Flexible thinking and adaptation has been key to Judith Castillo, who operates Tri-cities Cleaning Services. By listening to customer suggestions and requests for power washing, carpet cleaning and cleaning product supply kits, she found inspiration for new service options and revenue streams.

Carlos Bobadilla agrees with being flexible and adaptive. This owner of two Mr. LockSmith franchises says he made multiple mistakes in his business journey, but he gained an understanding of the importance of learning about the local market.

“You have to learn and you have to ask people in your industry,” said the newcomer from Mexico who counts the Mr. Locksmith franchiser as his most important mentor.

Negar Khatami, a former banker turned jewelry designer, also noted the importance of mentoring. Naming her fiancé, another entrepreneur, as her mentor, Khatami says she has benefitted immensely from the advice she’s received, which allowed her to make the dramatic change in her work life that led to her supplying exclusive jewellery items to the Bloedel Conservatory gift shop.

For Danvic Briones, his mentors, especially his wife and business partner, Melissa Remulla-Briones, help him to balance his hard work developing Rescue72 emergency preparedness products with the need to rest.

Gabriel Hernandez, an entrepreneur who owns a Bricks 4 Kidz franchise with his wife Stephanie Bueso and father-in-law Augustine Bueso, agrees that hard work plays a significant role in the business outcome. “Your business will go as far as you want it to go.” Bricks 4 Kidz offers school programs, birthday parties, camps and field trips involving play with Lego bricks.

The process of starting and operating a business is positive and enjoyable, Khatami told the audience.

“Take your time. Enjoy it. It’s a blessing that you guys are here in this wonderful country.”

All of the business owners at the IEE talked about the key to their success. Watch the video below to hear the entrepreneurs in their own words.


Gwen PawlikowskiAbout the Author:
Gwen Pawlikowski is a freelance writer and entrepreneur who has also worked as an ISSofBC employment counsellor with newcomers. She lives in New Westminster and loves the diversity of the Lower Mainland. Please click here for information on ISSofBC’s career services.

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