‘We want to build Canada’: Refugees with startup ideas pitch investors at Toronto event

Five newcomers to Canada pitched business ideas to investors on Monday as part of a new mentorship program designed to help startups founded by refugees.

The educational program, which connects refugees to investors, is called REinvest and the pitch event was held in downtown Toronto on World Refugee Day. 

Angel Investors Ontario, an organization of “angel investors” who provide capital and mentorship to startups across Ontario, and Jumpstart Refugee Talent, a refugee-led non-profit organization, created the program to support refugees who start businesses. The program aims to address funding barriers faced by refugee entrepreneurs.

Jeffrey Steiner, president of Angel Investors Ontario, said the organization wanted to recognize World Refugee Day and one of its roles is to help educate, train and coach entrepreneurs.

Steiner said angel investors like to give back to the community, to help startups and to mentor. He said the “angel” part of an “angel investor” is they give their time, use their networks, mentor, coach as well as invest in startups.

“Today is the culmination of a series of workshops that we did over the last couple of months with newly arrived refugees. One of our partner organizations called Jumpstart helped us to identify newly arrived refugees who have entrepreneurial businesses that they want to launch and particularly launch in Canada,” he said.

Steiner said the program is designed to help the entrepreneurs succeed in Ontario by providing them with some basic assistance. He said the program shows support to the entrepreneurial community and to “early stage” companies.

“There is a shortage of skilled workers in the province of Ontario and Canada and so entrepreneurs will have a wonderful idea that will eventually employ more and more people and so really it’s economic development, it’s job creation at the end of the day,” Steiner said. 

He added that entrepreneurship is part of the whole business ecosystem.

“New ideas will be born here in Ontario. Showing support for the ecosystem will pay off economically and it’s in the interests of our whole community to see higher employment.”

‘We want to build Canada’: entrepreneur

On Monday, the five entrepreneurs presented ideas for startups in such areas as e-commerce, textiles, food and beverage services, learning English as a Second Language, and fashion.

Amer Maamari, an entrepreneur who came with his family from Syria in 2016, won $20,000 at the pitch event for his business plan. His company, Done Right Inc., works to address the shortage of construction workers by offering a service that helps people who have recently come to Canada understand how the Canadian construction industry works.

Instead of wearing a suit, Maamari stood in front of the judges and investors wearing an orange high-viz jacket. He said he wants to expand his business to include an academy that would provide newcomers who are interested in construction with industry-specific English classes, onsite and online job training, and connections with job opportunities. The idea is they can quickly enter the workforce with the knowledge and language they need, he said. The workers would be able to speak their native language in the workplace, he said.

“I am so excited. This is one of the amazing moments I’ve had in my entire life. I’m so happy to have this opportunity to meet with real investors,” he said. 

“We want to build Canada. We want Canada to be number one. And all those new immigrants, we want them to be proud to be Canadian.”

Maamari said to be a refugee means to struggle.

“I planned to help immigrants because I didn’t want them to be struggling the same like me,” he said.

Program addresses barriers, organization says

In a recent news release, Angel Investors Ontario says: “Newcomer entrepreneurs in Canada often face numerous barriers — including accessing resources, understanding the Canadian market, building their network, marketing and presenting their businesses, credit lending, friend and family net-worth, ability to bootstrap, access to advisors and experts and funding for their startup.

“REinvest, a partnership between Angel Investors Ontario and Jumpstart Refugee Talent, will support refugee entrepreneurs in addressing these barriers.”

As for angel investors, the organizations say: “Angel investors are typically formally educated, high net worth individuals, who invest personal funds at arm’s length in businesses owned and operated by unrelated individuals. Personal funds are invested on a long-term basis in exchange for repayable or convertible debt or equity in the company.” 

Prior to the pitch event, participants attended workshops on such topics as the Canadian business world, how to start a business, how to interact with potential investors and how to raise funding. The workshops were designed to expand their entrepreneurial knowledge.

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