Starting a business in a new country can be overwhelming for newcomers. And when you come from a country with a different cultural background, establishing yourself in the Canadian business market can be a challenge.
Paola Villagra, founder of the new not-for-profit society Latin Women’s Business, experienced these barriers firsthand. She now aims to pass on her knowledge to other Latin American women by providing workshops and networking events to the Latin American female population.
Starting from zero
Villagra and her husband are now successful business owners, but they had to start from scratch when they emigrated from Chile thirty years ago. “We landed in Toronto without speaking any English. Although my husband and I both had a degree, we had to start from zero. The only jobs we could get were survival jobs,’’ says Villagra. But when the economic crisis of the nineties hit Ontario, Villagra and her husband found themselves forced to move to Vancouver. “We drove seven days across Canada with our two-year-old son and our three-month-old baby boy and a trunk full of belongings. It was a scary feeling not to know where to go, and not having something to go back to. I did not want to have a survival job again, and we decided to start our own business.”
This is a familiar story for many immigrants. Villagra laughs: “In the end our chances were indeed better in Vancouver. First I had a cleaning business, but later on my husband and I started an accounting business.” This grew to be a successful tax law firm, currently located in Downtown Vancouver. In her encounters with clients, Villagra discovered a need for better education about Canadian business practices. “Tax rules and business code are often not what newcomers are used to, and for a new business to succeed you need to understand these rules. I saw that our Latin American population benefitted from knowledge that was provided in Spanish,’’ she says.
Latin Women’s Business will provide workshops in English and Spanish to Latin American women who want to establish, or have already established, their own businesses. Metro Vancouver’s Latin American population ranges between 30,000 and 40,000 people. It became evident to Villagra that a large number of Latin American women needed more business knowledge. “Women have enormous potential when it comes to business. If they work with their husband, then the growth is a lot faster. The faster they learn how to do business in Canada, the less their frustration will be,’’ says Villagra.
The workshops that Villagra created in collaboration with her team of business professionals will range from self-help reiki courses to enhance confidence in women to workshops on marketing and organizational taxation. She also provides networking events and connects participants to a mentor from the field. “Every newcomer has obstacles, but they can be transferred into opportunities. Women often feel intimidated in the corporate world, and that’s why we want to create more self-confidence. Our goal is to have ten businesses up and running by the end of 2018.’’ The organization will also connect with professionals from other newcomer and business resources to reach this goal.
For Villagra, this project is also a way of giving back to the city and its people. “Vancouver always felt welcoming to me, and I want to give back to society with this charity. Women have the potential to be great business owners,’’ says Villagra.
The launch of Latin Women’s Business will take place on December 9 at the Vancouver Marriott Downtown.
For more information, please visit www.lwbusiness.ca