BY MARIA JOSE BURGOS
Acilia Brizzio wakes up for her first job at 9 a.m. and finishes her second job at 1 a.m. She then drives home and crawls into bed and dreams of starting her own business.
Since she moved to Canada from Honduras in 2013, she’s wanted to leave it all and open a food startup in Fredericton, N.B. But with four kids, zero financial help from the government and a few language barriers, doing that is impossible for her.
“Startups are receiving substantial help from all sectors of society; government, community, universities and successful industries,” says Dhirendra Shukla, the technology management and entrepreneurship expert from the University of New Brunswick.
However, the system has barriers that remain a challenge for newcomers in the city that calls itself Atlantic Canada’s startup capital.
Brizzio set up a Latin food stand at Fredericton’s Cultural Expression’s Festival in 2014 and again in 2015. She sold tacos and fresh fruit juice, and the line of people waiting to taste her food grew until the sun came down during those hot summer nights.
While serving her food and drinks, she talked with many Canadians who urged her to set up her own place, and make her dream a reality.
Since becoming permanent resident, Brizzio qualifies to receive financial help from the government. But this did not happen because of the type of startup she was aiming for.
Brizzio heard from friends that Fredericton’s Chamber of Commerce and the provincial government had created Canada’s first Business Immigrant Mentorship Program (BIMP), which provides a business incubator for immigrant entrepreneurs. She had meetings with mentors at BIMP, with Ignite Fredericton’s business advisors at the Hive, another incubator that gives free mentorship and finally at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).
“In the meetings I had with Ignite, I was told to create a business plan which will be presented to a committee,” Brizzio said. “This committee will evaluate the plan and decide whether they want to give financial help to the entrepreneur.”
She got the same answer at ACOA.
“They [ACOA] have different programs and initiatives. However, they also require the business plan in order for funds to be approved and also said restaurants have very little chance of funding,” she said.
It will be difficult to maintain a variety in the business community if organizations focus their help resources and money to just a certain type of startups.
Julia Ramirez, Planet Hatch’s population growth specialist, explained that “New immigrants do not receive financial support. Permanent residents or Canadians can qualify for different programs depending on the business, and the support that is offered to new immigrants is advisory and access to affordable programming.”
Brizzio thinks her many immigrant friends should have the eligibility to apply for financial funding.
“I wonder, how can an immigrant try to open a successful business in the city without even a little bit of financial help from the government?”
She said language is another huge barrier for newcomers who want to set up a new business in Fredericton.
Asif Hasan, CEO of an energy-saving startup named SimpTek, says there’s “no black and white answer to” language barriers.
But studying in an American school in Bangladesh, as well as at UNB, helped him overcome his language barriers.
“I got a lot of free advice” when setting up his now very successful startup, he says.
“The way the community is set up, you can get a lot of free advice if you go up the hill to Planet Hatch. It is a very good platform for anyone who wants to start a business. You can go to the people relevant to your business or to the entrepreneurship community and that won’t necessarily cost you any money.”
Though these mentorship programs and business incubators are excellent resources, Hasan says, for some newcomers understanding business jargon is difficult.
Ramirez said there are no translators available to help newcomers understand, but that “the Multicultural Association of Fredericton [MCAF] has free English and French classes for all newcomers who want to learn to speak these languages.”
Brizzio studied English for a year at MCAF, but when she got her second job she could no longer attend the courses. It’s still difficult for her to understand everything that is discussed when she talks with professionals about starting businesses.
Websites such as the Chamber of Commerce’s and Ignite Fredericton’s only have English or French options for languages.
“I think having more than just English and French as languages in these mentor websites should be a must,” said Brizzio.
“We all want Fredericton to keep growing. We want it to have culture and new and exciting businesses. But if the government wants us to stay in the city and open our businesses here, there are quite a few things that still need to change.”