New Brunswick

Syrian entrepreneurs in Moncton cautioned to take it slow

Would-be entrepreneurs from Syria were cautioned to go slow with their hopes to open businesses in Moncton at a workshop Wednesday by the Greater Moncton economic development corporation.

Greater Moncton economic development corporation workshop advises of need to know language, Canadian culture

Julien Robichaud is the manager of business immigration services at the Greater Moncton economic development corporation, also known as 3+ (3+/YouTube)

Would-be entrepreneurs from Syria were cautioned to go slow with their hopes to open businesses in Moncton at a workshop put on Wednesday by the Greater Moncton Economic Development Corp​.

Julien Robichaud, the corporation's manager of business immigration services, said while he often hosts information sessions for newcomers, this one was different.

"We don't typically do these types of workshops for refugees, let alone recently arrived refugees," said Robichaud.

"But there seems to be a growing need and a growing interest for Syrians to open businesses.

Robichaud said it is still too early for Syrian newcomers to open their own business, mainly because of the language barrier and the fact that they are still unfamiliar with Canadian culture.

"To think that they can grasp a culture in a matter of months is really nonsense," he said.

"They really need to understand how we Canadians live on a day-to-day basis."

During the presentation, which was given to about 10 people with the help of an interpreter, Robichaud gave the example of how Canadians value politeness, which often makes it harder to get honest feedback from customers about a product.

Unaware of bureaucratic restrictions

About 10 Syrian refugees attended a workshop in Moncton Monday about starting businesses in the area. (Suzanne Lapointe/CBC)

Robichaud also explained immigrants were frequently unaware of important bureaucratic restrictions.

"For example, we had newcomers in the past that had bought businesses in the wrong zoning areas," he said.

"So they would buy a residential property looking to make it a commercial activity just to find out later on that they're not allowed."

Kassem Altipawi, a refugee who wants to open a restaurant featuring Syrian cuisine, said he knows there are challenges ahead.

"The first thing is the language," he said.

"The second thing is money, of course."

Funding challenges

Robichaud agrees that funding a small business will be challenging.

"Currently there are some funding mechanisms, but mostly for startups," he said.

"I would actually challenge the greater Moncton community on trying to think about ways of starting a micro-loan fund or funding mechanism because a lot of these people, let's be honest, they don't come here with a wallet full of cash."

Robichaud stressed his presentation was intended to give general information in order to clear up some questions the refugees might have about entrepreneurship in Moncton.

"I think we still have months, if not years, on kind of grooming these people, on how to become successful," he said.

Robichaud said he hopes his presentation would be the start of an ongoing support mechanism for prospective refugee business owners.