Jairo and the Obstacle

Most business start-up stories are about overcoming obstacles. This story, however, has only one obstacle. The obstacle was big. It stopped Jairo Prada like a huge boulder on a road. But this exhibitor at ISSofBC’s and RBC’s 2014 Immigrant Entrepreneur Exhibition (IEE) overcame it.

An accomplished civil engineer in Colombia, Prada immigrated to Canada and to an economy in the Lower Mainland that offered multiple opportunities. He found work quickly in a Burnaby materials testing and engineering company. Soon after, BC’s Professional Engineering Association granted his P.Eng. status. Prada thrived.

Then he received an offer from an entrepreneur: to start an engineering consulting company in the Fraser Valley. As they talked about the possibility, the obstacle emerged.

It was fear.

The primary breadwinner for his family, which included two teenage children, Prada feared many things:  his savings might not be enough to sustain him in the start-up period, lean days during slow seasons as the business grew, and failing.

“There is always that negativity in the back of your mind that says, ‘don’t do it,’ or ‘be cautious,” Prada explains.

He also had good reasons not to be afraid. He has a strong education, strong experience and strong connections; these merged with a strong demand in the Fraser Valley for construction.

“It was the right moment,” Prada recalls, “It was the right time. Construction was starting to boom.”

Add to this an agreement between the partners to take low survival salaries until the business was more established.

Still, he hesitated.

Prada talked with a long-term financial advisor friend who asked these questions about the potential business:

  • Who is your clientele?
  • Who is going to do the work? Who knows what needs to be done?
  • Is the work optional or mandatory for the clients?

Prada was able to answer clearly and positively to each question.

“When he put it in those terms, he made me realize I had it all.”

“There was no reason not to take the step.”

With the help of a lawyer and an accountant, Prada addressed the things about which he was most fearful.

Fraser Valley Engineering Ltd. opened on September 1, 2003 in his home. Just over a year later, the young company moved to office space in Abbotsford.

The years since then have not always been easy. The two men have worked many extra hours. Prada recalls going into his office at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning to complete essential billing paperwork. He had to finish it early so that he’d be available for a family activity later.

At the same time, the business has completed work on significant projects such as a concrete water tank in Chilliwack and a sewage treatment plan upgrade in Harrison Hot Springs.

Looking back at his experience, Prada is pleased. The company now has eight staff members and together they are a model of a diverse Canadian business.

Understanding his own fear has been helpful for this engineer, whose work is all about advising builders on safe structures.

Fear may be much less of an obstacle and much more a series of questions to be asked and problems to be solved.

Considering this, Jairo’s obstacle has perhaps not left him, but rather works for him, rather than against.

The 2015 IEE is set for Wednesday evening, May 27 from 6:00 to 8:00 at Bonsor Recreation Centre in Burnaby.

This free event is an excellent opportunity for new, established and potential business owners to network. Please join us. Talking with others can help you overcome obstacles.

Register online for this event at  If you have any questions, please email

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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