A study by the Conference Board of Canada found that small (and medium) sized enterprises owned by recent immigrants to Canada, are more likely to export, and they are also among the fastest-growing SMEs. This series highlights some of their stories.
Tarik Chakrellah is the co-founder and director of data analytics for Glint Innovation – a Toronto-based company and innovative collaboration platform.
Where were you born? When and why did you come to Canada?
I was born and grew up in Morocco. Later, I moved to France, then the U.K. to study. My U.K. job didn’t fulfil my career expectations so I applied for a job in Canada and got an interesting offer. I moved here for that job in 2010.
Did you have any specific thoughts or concerns about starting or growing a business in Canada? Did you face any challenges or barriers?
I didn’t know a lot about starting a business, but with some research, we found out the Canadian government helps entrepreneurs. We also had help from the MaRS Network, which offers start-ups resources, training and office space.
Have you used any resources or supports to help start or grow your business? If yes, what has been most helpful? If no, do you wish that more were available?
We attended workshops on starting a business and consulted on our project. We were encouraged to take it to market. Later, getting those first clients gave us hope and confidence to continue.
Each one of us invested our own money in the beginning and since then, we’ve generated enough money to hire others. Soon we’ll be looking for investors. We have some who are interested. We have about $500,000 in revenue, but we want to get to $2 million.
Our head office is in Toronto, and we have satellite offices in London and San Francisco. Most of the time, we collaborate remotely.
When and why did you start exporting as part of your business?
It was in mid- to late-2014. We adjusted our platform to allow Microsoft users to use it and they featured us on Yammer, a corporate social-media platform. That’s when we started getting requests from everywhere: France, the U.S., and England. Later on, we saw the UAE had a “year of innovation” so, with some help from CanExport, we went there to promote what we do. That’s how we entered the Middle East. But the first international client we got was in the U.S.
EDC resources to help you export
Describe your export journey.
As a Microsoft partner, we have benefited from its large network to reach more export opportunities. We are currently featured again on Yammer, a vote of confidence that makes us proud. So far, we haven’t had any hurdles or problems and it’s given us motivation. Being trusted by household names such as National Geographic U.K. has given us tremendous confidence to keep exporting.
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country?
We’re exporting software so there’s no physical exchange. In our experience, the U.K., Australia, and France are fairly similar to Canada. Customers in the Middle East, on the other hand, value face-time with suppliers.
Reports suggest that immigrant-owned businesses are more likely to develop new and stronger trade links beyond the U.S. Is this your experience?
It helps when you speak the language or have contacts or experience in a certain market, but we haven’t used the connections we have in Europe and the Middle East to sell the product. We plan to develop opportunities through our networks and our next phase will be South America. Co-founder Alberto Perez is originally from Colombia.
Do you sell and/or have business relationships in the country where you were born?
No. We don’t export to Morocco, but it surely is a potential market.
Looking back on your business / export success, what are you most proud of?
That first client. Getting that first client felt like a big success. What we are proud of is that we took the leap and said okay, let’s do it. I’m proud of our persistence over time — we just keep working and that’s what helped us succeed.
What advice would you give to new Canadians about starting or growing a business?
It takes time and effort. Believe in your potential, and hire the right people. You need to find people who really believe in your idea.
For new Canadians, there’s tremendous support from government organizations and networks of entrepreneurs. If you have the will to grow, you certainly will be helped along the way.
What is the #1 thing SMEs need to know about exporting and trade?
I believe success requires careful study and some risk-taking.