Leveraging Immigrant Experience for Global Business Success

Alpana Sharma January 13, 2021
immigrant entrepreneur

Immigrant-owned businesses have a positive impact on international trade.  They are key drivers for innovation, economic growth, and can play a crucial role in Canada’s successful export story.

Immigrants also diversify international markets as they are inclined to export beyond the United States and focus more on emerging markets. A report by the Conference Board of Canada found that 12 percent of immigrant-owned businesses are exporters that sell goods and services to non-U.S. markets compared with 7 per cent for non-immigrant businesses.  Another report found that a majority of immigrants were entrepreneurs. Recent immigrants are also more likely to strengthen Canada’s trade connections with their country of origin.

Here are a few reasons why immigrants may have a competitive advantage in being successful exporters:

  • Risk takers: Moving to a new country and setting up roots in a new place is not an easy experience. One of the barriers immigrants face is recognition of their educational degrees in their new home country. This challenge usually turns into a motivator for them to consider entrepreneurship as a viable career option. Living in different places helps them adapt and innovate in their professional lives.  Generally, immigrants tend to be more resilient and natural risk-takers.
  • Leveraging experience: Many professional skills are portable. For example, good communication, technological expertise, and sales proficiency are a few of the skills that can be profitably employed anywhere. It is especially true in the case of international trade. For example, consider a tech immigrant entrepreneur who has moved to Canada from a developing country and has set up her own innovative educational device firm that can help educate children from low income families in developing societies. Her local networks, professional experience, and cultural understanding can help this entrepreneur overcome several barriers if she decides to export to her country of origin and to other developing societies.
  • Cross Cultural connections: Bicultural competencies provide competitive advantage for immigrants as they get into international markets. Ties to the country of origin can be very productive, especially for newcomers who maintain strong connections to their personal and professional networks in their country of origin. Knowledge of the local business culture, customer trends, and local language in their country of origin provides them an edge as an exporter. Dealing with different cultures also makes immigrants comfortable in identifying global business opportunities and expanding to more international markets.
  • Networks: Immigrants can easily connect markets because of their networks and associations in the local communities in their country of origin. In any business, developing relationships with customers and suppliers takes time. Immigrants have a competitive advantage because of their existing networks in international markets, especially their country of origin. Such connections can also solidify effective partnerships in the target market, provide valuable market intelligence, human and social capital and can help in taking effective international trade decisions.

Women’s Enterprise Centre clients Mahsa Arbabi and Silvia Pogolsha are examples of successful immigrant entrepreneurs and how they have leveraged their skills and networks into business success after they moved to Canada.

Do you have questions about exporting? We can help. Email us at inquiry@womensenterprise.ca.

About Alpana Sharma

Alpana Sharma is a Business Advisor with WeBC, and is based in our Vancouver office. She is a Forum for International Trade Training (FITT) professional and supports clients who plan to export or import and grow their business internationally. Email her your international trade questions at inquiry@womensenterprise.ca

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