Newcomers want to open businesses in Manitoba but need more support: Brandon researchers

Abdul Miah has wanted to own a restaurant since he moved to Brandon, Man., in 2012 and began working part-time as a dishwasher while going to university.

That dream finally became a reality this year — but not without unique challenges he had to overcome.

His story, according to researchers at Brandon University, is like those of many other newcomers. The university’s Rural Development Institute has has found while many newcomers bring with them dreams and entrepreneurial aspirations, they often have trouble finding help to navigate rules and legislation. 

“When I came here, I have seen that we do not have too many options for South Asian food,” said Miah. He opened Babakidar Shwarma in downtown Brandon early this year, serving a mix of food, ranging from shawarma to curries to poutine.

Miah came to Canada from Bangladesh by himself to study at Brandon University. He got a part-time job washing dishes at a local restaurant to make ends meet and discovered a passion for working in the industry.

He worked his way up to prep and line cook positions, eventually redirecting his focus to hospitality. 

After a brief move to Toronto to work as a manager and master shawarma chef, he moved back to Brandon — falling in love with the southwest Manitoba city.

For the last five years, he’s been planning to open a place of his own, he said during an interview in his restaurant, which opened early this year.

He’s also made efforts to help others — by offering discounts to students, for example.

“This is my chance to help my community and I want to help … all the students, because once upon a time, I was a student.”

Challenges mount for newcomers

That sentiment of giving is felt among many newcomer communities, says Bill Ashton, who heads up Brandon University’s Rural Development Institute. 

But those looking to start up their own business can run into trouble, he says.

“It’s often very different from their home country in terms of how things are done, the permits that are required,” he said. 

Bill Ashton heads up the Rural Development Institute at Brandon University. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Ashton and his team began looking into the subject 15 months ago — the latest in a series of research projects focusing on new Canadians. 

“The challenges can range from the practical — how do you start it, what’s the licence look like, what’s the process look like, how do we name it … all the way through to if you’re a permanent resident, then you can start establishing some of the roots.”

He said his institute looked at supports for newcomer businesses in particular, including the Aurora Project in Brandon. That federally funded experiment aimed to help new Canadians open businesses.

Over the course of its three years in operation, it fielded more than a hundred calls and helped more than a dozen newcomer-owned businesses open their doors in Brandon. 

Ashton says the Rural Development Institute’s research found that kind of support is essential.

“There’s a kind of a specific set of things that are unknown, or maybe not as clearly known, to immigrants,” he said.

“Simple pamphlets and organizations around ‘how you do this?’ … [for] immigrants hasn’t really been tackled before in any kind of major way that we found.”

Ashton said some of the information that is available might be hard to understand for newcomers, who may not have English as a first language.

Miah says it was hard to secure financing for his business, despite all of his experience managing restaurants. He had no close friends or family in Canada to co-sign a loan. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

He said while Manitoba has welcomed large numbers of newcomers to work in various industries, he believes — based on the research — that more could be done to help them do bigger and better things. 

“There’s an opportunity to tap into those networks and their ideas that are beginning to find credence as being economically viable for businesses to do,” he said.

“I don’t know what the practice looks like for that, but it seems to me that there’s an opportunity there that needs to be explored.”

Business picking up 

Miah said he’s faced some of the issues Ashton describes. He said obtaining a business loan was particularly difficult — he owns no property in Canada and had no close friends or family to co-sign on a loan either. 

He said Brandon’s downtown development corporation was instrumental in helping him open. 

Miah says business was slow to start, but has been picking up. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Miah said business has been slowly picking up — even through Manitoba’s third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said his focus remains on giving back to Brandon, and he wants newcomer students to know he is there for them.

“I know how they feel,” he said. 

“I don’t want … the new students or new international students of this community to face the same problems.”

WATCH | New research at Brandon University is looking into the challenges newcomers face opening businesses:

The institute found challenges can range from issues with paperwork being more complex to little help navigating tax rules. 2:07

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