As a Canadian business whose many core team members are first- or second-generation Canadians, we have a particular soft spot for stories of immigrants who came here and, through hard work and an entrepreneurial élan, started successful businesses. There’s just something about the classic living-the-Canadian-dream story that resonates with many of our own experiences and truly underscores how small businesses are the heartbeat of our community.
So, we thought this would be a great time to highlight some first-generation Canadian small business owners, ask them what Canada means to them, and how their immigrant experience has informed how they interact with world around them.
From Taipei to Toronto
Howard Chang is the founder and CEO of The Turn Lab, a Toronto-based marketing and technology company with over 40 employees. He immigrated from Taiwan in the 1960s alongside his three sisters and their parents to escape the highly autocratic government at the time.
“As an immigrant to this country, every day is Canada day. I feel so fortunate and so grateful that my parents chose to move here. It has given me more gifts than I could possibly imagine coming from a place like Taiwan, which at the time, was a repressive fascist dictatorship. Sure, I have faced obstacles like language and racism but the good outweighs the bad 100 to 1.
I was raised with a pretty hardcore work ethic from our parents. I guess as immigrants that would be pretty natural. Given I pretty much won the lottery coming to this country, I feel obligated to make the most of it and build something good for myself my family and my greater community of Canadians.” - Howard Chang
The ESL student living the Canadian dream
Regis Edilima de Deus is a native of Brazil where he became a master of one of that country’s national martial arts: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He came to Canada almost a decade ago as an ESL student, with no previous knowledge of English. From the moment he came to Canada, he knew he wanted to share his knowledge of Jiu Jitsu to Canadians. Today, he runs a rapidly growing BJJ school called Liga JJ in Toronto’s Little Portugal neighbourhood.
“I was able to open my school in September 2014 and now get to share my love and passion for Jiu Jitsu with my students. Being an immigrant pushed me more to achieve my goals. Canada is the place of opportunity and if you have the energy and the desire, you can make it happen.” - Regis Edilima de Deus
All that glitter and gold
Tatiana Getter left the small Ukrainian village she was born in at 17 for a better life. She spent several years in Israel where she had two children, then immigrated to Vancouver with her small family. She now runs TG Designs, a bespoke diamond and jewelry business serving hundreds of clients all over the country.
“I feel Canada is my home. I never felt settled in Israel, where the weather and culture was so different from where I grew up. In Canada, the quality of life you can get is so much better. The space, the nature, it is a great place to live.
On the surface, being an immigrant gives you no advantages coming to Canada. I didn’t speak English. I didn’t have Canadian education. I had few connections. Everything was hard when I came here.
But because of this, I now have an edge over many of my peers. Now I don’t think anything is impossible. And because I had to work so hard, I have a work ethic that is much better than most people.” - Tatiana Getter
At Driven, helping lift up small businesses is what we do. While this usually comes in the form of advice, knowledge and capital solutions, sometimes it’s just about highlighting amazing people doing inspirational things. So this Canada Day, join us in shouting out some of your favourite immigrant-owned small businesses and sharing their stories.
Advice and research for Canadian small businesses from our expert team