Immigrant entrepreneurs and the art of networking

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By Pradip Rodrigues

Entrepreneurs and those getting into business may have fantastic ideas and knowhow, but if they aren’t great networkers and can sell their ideas, chances of success are compromised. Immigrant entrepreneurs could face additional challenges of being viewed as ‘outsiders lacking Canadian experience or language skills’.

In recent years we’ve heard successive Canadian governments create programs to allow entrepreneurs from around the world to set up shop in Canada.

The Government of Canada launched the Innovation and Skills Plan in July which is a comprehensive strategy to turn more promising ideas into market-ready innovations. The hope is that this will in turn create jobs, generate new business opportunities and equip Canadians with the in-demand skills needed to secure their futures.

That was the message delivered by the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, during Startupfest, an annual conference attended by entrepreneurs, innovators, investors and business mentors from across the country.

For those not familiar with the details of the Innovation and Skills Plan, the Government encouraging the public and private sectors to collaborate in bringing more early-stage research to market. The federal government is promising to be the first buyer and early adopter of their innovations.

But while it is wonderful to have government support in the initial stages, entrepreneurs cannot expect such hand-holding and taxpayer dollars indefinitely otherwise this scheme will get a public sector feel to it where entrepreneurs will be so assured of risk-free funding which will end up producing mediocre results and returns.

Over the 25 years as a journalist, I’ve interviewed dozens of young entrepreneurs both here in India and Canada bursting with ideas, unfortunately most of their schemes and business ventures were destined to collapse and it was not because the idea was terrible or simply unworkable, their idea could have worked if they networked and marketed themselves correctly. They failed to build their own personal brand without which venture capitalists, banks and other companies that could have collaborated and assisted them to take their game to the next level or sustain their momentum were reluctant to back someone who for all practical purposes was an unknown entity. I’ve seen businessmen and entrepreneurs with great PR skills grow their companies by simply tapping into their networks that they assiduously cultivated over the years.

Wizcraft Entertainment based in India comes to mind. This is the company that is better known in Canada for IFFA. When the three partners were starting off in the early 90s, they worked hard at handling small events and nightclubs, they worked equally hard at networking not just with politicians, but with businessmen, clients and the media. They had plenty of competition and I dealt with them all, but most were destined to fail not because they were bad at what they did, but they lacked PR skills. They made contacts but didn’t know or care about maintaining them, with the result when they needed to leverage a contact they had difficulty.

Here in Canada the challenges for immigrant entrepreneurs and businessmen is even more acute. Last year I met a very well-known businessman who told me that he aspired to be known as not just a South Asian businessman but a Canadian businessman. He realized that the reason most South Asian businessmen and entrepreneurs never reach their full potential is because they put in all their efforts in socializing and networking only within their own communities. Entrepreneurs who are being lured into Canada to start businesses could end up simply becoming dependent on government support and not really investing time and effort into productive networking which will help them grow once government support ends. They need to get out of their offices, out of their comfort zones, invest in smart business attire, engage the services of PR consultants and scour the internet for any platforms, meet-up groups and other networking opportunities. This way they will broaden their horizons by meeting other entrepreneurs, they could find an angel investor who’d love to hear about their proposals, they could connect with bloggers and all other business enthusiasts who can inspire them to take their game to the next level.

Thousands of immigrants have come in on job categories deemed in high demand by the government only to be disappointed. One hopes that the bright young entrepreneurs do not end up not meeting their true potential only because they failed to understand the importance of networking.

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