By Andy Walker
Whether you’re seeking to start your own business after arriving in P.E.I. or looking for job, P.E.I. Connectors should be one of your first stops.
The program began as an initiative by the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce to offer support services to businesses owned and operated by immigrants. Nicole Bellefleur, director of the program, says the idea behind the free service is to help immigrant entrepreneurs become familiar with the business environment in the province.
“In a lot of cases, an entrepreneur is coming to P.E.I. without a professional network,” Bellefleur says. “They may have the experience and resources, but they don’t know anybody and in some cases, there may be a language issue. We try to provide them with a welcoming support system as they start and grow their business.”
When entrepreneur clients register, they are paired up with a local “connector” volunteer in the Island business community. Bellefleur says the program isn’t a mentorship per say (although it can sometimes develop that way depending on the individuals involved). The connector volunteers their time to provide advice, access, and contacts to clients as they get established in business. Services are provided in English, French, Hindi, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Persian.
Bellefleur says the service has expanded in both scope and geography since it was founded. Recognizing that all immigrants to the province may not want to start their own business, connectors also provide help to new Islanders seeking to build their network in hopes of landing a job.
That service is open to new Islanders who have either graduated or are in the final year of post secondary education, have a work permit, and want to establish themselves on P.E.I. Bellefleur says, “This is not an employment service,” adding it does help prospective job seekers network with employers and community leaders. The clients must be proficient in English, have a LinkedIn profile, and register with the Work P.E.I. website.
They meet the connectors one-on-one and are supplied with the names of three contacts in the field in which they hope to work. In turn, those three contacts will be asked to give the jobs seekers the names of three more people to help them develop a professional network.
While the service remains headquartered in the capital, Bellefleur says there are program officers in both Prince and Kings counties offering the same service.
“Anytime there is economic growth anywhere in P.E.I., it’s good for the whole province,” she says. “The program officers provide one-on-one support services to our clients in the development and execution of their business plans.
“We also offer workshops and information sessions throughout the year to familiarize our clients with the local business environment, and provide information about support services and programs for business owners.”
Amy Zhang is the program manager and the longest serving employee of P.E.I. Connectors,
having recently celebrated 10 years with the program. Zhang started her journey at the Chamber as a program officer and was later promoted to program manager. She manages program operations and helps immigrant entrepreneurs succeed in operating their businesses in P.E.I.
Helping immigrants is not only Zhang’s job, but also her passion, as it has led to multiple meaningful connections she was able to make through her work.
“These connections helped me succeed in my role and become more compassionate in my heart,” she says.
Garima Mishra of Maximus Canada DeltaWare Division in Charlottetown, is one of the connectors. She came to the province from India more than three years ago and sees being a connector as a way to share her experience with other newcomers.
She says finding is job is critical for newcomers.
“For me, it was the main concern. To have people who can provide direction and share experiences on how to secure work is really helpful,” she says. “Connectors can help in all kinds of ways. It doesn’t take much. Even taking the time to discuss companies in an industry can be useful because it can be difficult to find a comprehensive list.”
Abraham Roy became a client of the service when he came to the province from India and he is now a connector. He worked for another company upon arrival before starting his own company called ContactBoss, a one-stop shop for contact management requirements of small to mid-sized organizations.
“The P.E.I. Connectors program was very helpful because I got to develop my network and establish business contacts, especially in events like information sessions, six on six, and some workshops. I got an outlet to discuss and promote ContactBoss to various business organizations,” Roy says.
He didn’t forget the helping hand and he became a connector so he could give back to other entrepreneurs and job seekers. He wants to share his experience in the hopes of helping people succeed in their business or job search.
“P.E.I. is what we now call home. The economy of P.E.I. will prosper even more if we help each other grow within the community,” he says.