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Building on dreams

Nova Scotia needs immigrants and people brave enough to start their own businesses. Getting both in entrepreneurial newcomers can solve the problems simultaneously, according to Laurie Cameron, the head of Halifax’s Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development (CEED).
CEED works with entrepreneurs to help them turn ideas into reality.

“I quite like what’s happening in the province now with the One Nova Scotia Action Plan, and also within the education frameworks because entrepreneurship is really being profiled as something everybody feels is very important,” Cameron says.

She was president of CEED from 2004 to 2006 and has now returned on an interchange with the federal government. There, she worked for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).

During her time at ACOA and CEED, she has seen One Nova Scotia’s Ivany Report elevate public awareness of the need for a stronger entrepreneurial drive in the province. CEED even recently started offering business summer camp for kids. While it might not sound like the most natural of things, Cameron says the kids love it.

That fun-focused approach applies to adult immigrants who are thinking about starting a new business too. Cameron says the first step for most newcomers is a visit to the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS).

ISANS offers a range of business services, some free and some at a cost. ISANS matches newcomers with business counsellors who meet with them one-on-one. ISANS’s workshops include Introduction to Entrepreneurship in Nova Scotia, Business Plan Creation, and Networking for Success. Others cover cultural aspects, for example introducing newcomers to Nova Scotia’s business culture.

Cameron says there are cultural advantages to being an immigrant entrepreneur in Canada.

“There’s definitely a different culture with immigrants,” she says. “They come in and they’re ready to start a business right away. They don’t necessarily come to Canada to seek an employment opportunity. They might search a little while, but they’re quick to transition into an entrepreneurial opportunity.”

A good first step at CEED is to sign up for the Start Smart course. The free information session looks at local resources available to entrepreneurs and small businesses. It provides an overview of the services CEED offers, including loans, training, and the Self-Employment Benefits Program. It shares simple approaches to planning your business and shows you where to turn when you need help. Start Smart is delivered by CEED staff at the training centre at 7071 Bayers Road.

“We have a really comprehensive understanding of what some of the challenges are for people starting up,” Cameron says. “Because of that we can reflect upon what we’re hearing in the classroom setting or in the school system. They give us ideas so we can keep introducing new things.”

A good next step is paying to enrol in CEED’s Go Venture program. It gives the experience of running a micro-business. Participants learn about day-to-day management of a small business and discover more about the skills needed to do it well. This includes mathematics, finance, and career planning.

Go Venture participants learn by running a virtual business. The course runs simulations based on how you handle pricing, inventory, advertising, financial statements, manage schedules, and increase profitability.

Cameron says past clients have included someone who went on to start businesses selling protein powder made from insects, a lawyer who started plying his trade in the entertainment industry, and the founder of a Montreal-style bagel shop, among many others.

But the courses are about more than just information, Cameron says. Often the lasting effects come from the expanded social networks people can build by talking to the other people in the class. Peer networking is “incredibly meaningful,” she says.

CEED boasts of many successes. Cha Baa Thai, the popular restaurants in Halifax and Dartmouth, started from a CEED program. Indochine Asian Sandwiches, which serves a unique blend of Asian-inspired flavours and foods, operates on South Park Street and began with the help of CEED.

Sherzad Ibrahim credits his “amazing” CEED experience with helping him and his wife Rouba start Sherzad’s Tailoring Shop. Three and a half years ago he took his idea to CEED. “We got a big help from them,” he says.

The couple, who moved from Syria to Canada, met with a business advisor. “He helped us with our business plan and gave us some tips and advice,” he said. “We wrote our business plan and everything was great.”

After much work on the business plan, they presented their idea to a CEED committee in the hopes that it would approve a loan. “We gave them a nice speech,” he recalls. “They loved it and they loved our business plan. That was the big event.”

The couple also connected with a mentor through CEED who gave marketing advice. “Try to explain yourself and try to be nice so people believe in you and start trusting you,” Ibhrahim says. “People love us. Our customer service is great. Our customers are like friends now.”

The Ibhrahims opened Sherzad’s Tailoring Shop in the Brewery Market on Lower Water Street in May 2013. “It was exactly how we saw the future,” he says.
He says it took six to eight months to get the word out about his business. He worked full time in a factory while his wife ran the shop, and after work he would take over and work on, sometimes as late as midnight. Just this year, he left his factory job to work full time in the shop.

“It was amazing after that,” he says. “Now everyday we are getting busier and busier.”

The key, he says, is “understanding and believing in your business and the market. We know our competitors’ weak points and we try to cover that for our customers.”

For newcomers, Ibhrahim says patience is important. It will take months or years to start the business, and steady work to grow it.

He and his wife are still following that business plan they created at CEED. Earlier this year they opened their second location on the Bedford Highway at 12 Esquire Lane. Both shops are flourishing.

“It was a lot of hard work,” he says. “Every small business needs that. You’re planting a seed to get what you want.”

The four most popular questions for ceed

  • How do I get started?
  • Where do I get financing?
  • What type of training does CEED offer?
  • Will you come to our school to do a workshop?

About Jon Tattrie

Jon Tattrie
Jon Tattrie is a freelance journalist and author based in Halifax. His most recent book is the novel Limerence from Pottersfield Press.

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