Entrepreneur network helps immigrants start their businesses before they land in Montreal

Armed with the support of his new colleagues, Caren Arakelian will soon move to Montreal to start a business focused on artificial intelligence.

Thanks to BridgeMTL, this Armenian businessman is taking a leap of faith

Caren Arakelian (far left) and his family will be moving to Montreal on a new business venture. (Submitted by Caren Arakelian)

Caren Arakelian has been in business a long time. He is 53 years old, lives in Armenia and he has worked with partners around the world on projects ranging from rice trade to iron exports.

In his experience, he says, the challenge is in finding the right people to support his ideas.

"Some are skeptical, some think you're a lunatic, some think you're a nice guy," he says. "But there is nobody to tell you, 'Is this viable? Is this possible?'"

When the pandemic hit in March, Arakelian was forced to slow down and take stock of his work. He searched the web to find a home for his next venture. He found it in Montreal.

Thierry Rassam (centre) and his team offer coaching to help immigrants build their businesses. (Submitted by BridgeMTL)

Arakelian pitched a few ideas to Thierry Rassam. Rassam is the CEO of BridgeMTL, a not-for-profit focused on helping immigrant entrepreneurs establish their businesses.

"I gave [Thierry] many ideas, and he always gave me an honest answer," Arakelian says. "He would say, 'look, this is a good idea, but this is not workable.'"

When Arakelian pressed for feedback, Rassam would connect him to relevant local experts to further workshop the idea. Through these exchanges, Arakelian built business connections in a country thousands of miles away.

Armed with the support of his new colleagues, Arakelian will soon move to Montreal to start a business focused on artificial intelligence.

Rassam explains that personal networks and resources are invaluable for Canadian-born entrepreneurs, but those advantages are not always readily available to people immigrating here.

"We take it for granted — our resources, the people we know. It's worth a lot," he says.

This is why he and his colleagues offer their networks to immigrant entrepreneurs who might need the help. The goal, Rassam says, is to ease their transition to Quebec, and to connect them to the wider business community.

WATCH | Learn more about BridgeMTL with this story from Our Montreal:

Connecting immigrant entrepreneurs in Montreal

2 years ago
Duration 7:53
When immigrants come to Montreal, it can be hard to break into the local business community. Thierry Rassam joins Catherine Verdon-Diamond to talk about how he’s helping newcomers establish their businesses in Montreal.

"It's really a win-win for society, for the immigrant and the immigration authorities, who are looking for ways to channel immigrants where they're well integrated and for society to be enriched by the addition," says Rassam.

He says that many immigrants arrive with an entrepreneurial spirit.

"An entrepreneur by definition is a risk-taker, someone who is going to innovate and create," says Rassam.

"For an immigrant, leaving everything behind, that's a big risk as well. People who take that leap are entrepreneurs."

This is an experience Arakelian will soon experience first-hand. He will be moving to Montreal with his wife and daughter later this year.

"I'm driving on a highway, and suddenly I'm putting on the brakes to change the direction of my whole life," Arakelian says.

"I'm doing this because it's a leap of faith, and because of friends I have found in Montreal."


Eric Dicaire

CBC editorial assistant

Eric Dicaire is a CBC Montreal editorial assistant working from home during the pandemic.

With files from Our Montreal


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