Ottawa entrepreneur Karla Briones sharing lessons from the school of hard knocks

Native of Mexico creates online course aimed at helping immigrants launch successful businesses

Karla Briones
Karla Briones

Karla Briones knows first-hand the challenges facing immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada.

Briones moved to Ottawa from Mexico with her family in 1997 at the age of 18. After studying journalism at Carleton University, she embarked on a successful career in public relations before deciding to pursue her dream of operating her own business in 2009.

Today, Briones owns a Freshii restaurant in the city’s west end and runs Global Pet Foods franchises in Kanata and Hintonburg. While she’s now a well-established entrepreneur, Briones admits the road to get to this point hasn’t always been smooth.

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“The entrepreneurship journey can be very lonely, and when you’re an immigrant it’s even lonelier,” she says. 

Along the way, Briones and her father ​– a veterinarian who owned a clinic in Vanier and dealt with some serious financial setbacks of his own ​– learned plenty of harsh lessons in the school of hard knocks.  

“The entrepreneurship journey can be very lonely, and when you’re an immigrant it’s even lonelier.”

For the past couple of years, Briones has been sharing some of the wisdom she’s gained with other entrepreneurs through her consulting business and in her role as an adviser at Invest Ottawa. 

Now, she’s taking that hard-won knowledge, bundling it up and packaging it in a series of online modules aimed at immigrant entrepreneurs. Dubbed IDEA – short for the Immigrants Developing Entrepreneurs Academy – the program launches on Jan. 25.

IDEA consists of 10 weekly modules featuring a total of more than 50 short video presentations on topics such as writing a business plan, securing financing and hiring employees. 

Briones says the video lessons are geared toward helping newcomers to Canada better understand the country’s business climate, which may be very different from the one they’re used to.

“A lot of people coming to Canada, they already have their business ideas, but they may not necessarily be the right idea for Canada,” she explains. 

Virtual mentorship

“A lot of times as newcomers, we come from developing countries where, let’s just say, employment law is not followed. It’s the questions that I get the most – if somebody wants to hire an employee, what’s legal here and what’s not.”

The program will allow participants to take part in virtual “office hours” with successful immigrant entrepreneurs who will share advice and provide mentorship.

“One of the things that immigrants lack the most is a network,” says Briones, a 2018 winner of Ottawa’s Immigrant Entrepreneur of the Year Award. “Particularly (during the pandemic), it’s been impossible to meet people face to face.”

Briones says she’s hoping to sign up 20 students for the first cohort, which has a fee of $499. Students can go through the modules at their own pace, and Briones plans to enrol new entrants four times a year.

Pointing to studies that show immigrants are more likely to be self-employed than native-born Canadians, she expects plenty of demand for the new service.

“I just want to make sure that … immigrants are opening businesses that are going to be sustainable and scalable,” Briones adds. “I want to make sure that newcomers don’t feel alone, and hopefully I’m providing a platform for that.”

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