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Newcomer Entrepreneur Hub equips new arrivals to Canada with the skills they need to run a business

The program consists of 40 hours of in-class training and access to one-on-one mentorship
May 23, 2024
A racialized woman wearing a grey head scarf holds up a boy’s outfit, a red vest with embroidery detailing layered on top of a long-sleeve white shirt.

Gulshan Mosleh, founder of Paroon Fashion, holds up a traditional Afghan outfit for a boy at the market Riverside Common Park in Toronto.

Gulshan Mosleh flips through a hanging rack of traditional Afghan clothing, moving bright green dresses and highly detailed blue shirts. The clothes are called perahan o tunban, traditional formal wear from Afghanistan that consists of a long shirt and wide leg pants. On one vest and long-sleeve shirt ensemble, embroidered squares decorate the wrists, while geometric flower-like patterns lay over the chest. It’s an example of an Afghan outfit a boy would wear for special occasions like Eid, Mosleh said, and it’s not easy to come by in Toronto. 

Mosleh is a newcomer to Canada who arrived in 2022 from Afghanistan with her husband and young son. She had started to build a community and friendships in Toronto but was missing a piece of home. After hearing from her friends about how difficult it is to access the types of clothes they desire, Mosleh decided to start her business to make it easier to get traditional formal Afghan clothing. “I wanted to do something that was needed,” Mosleh said. She’s a participant of the Newcomer Entrepreneur Hub (NEH), which supported and trained her with the entrepreneurial skills needed to start and run a business.

The program, created by the Diversity Institute (DI) in partnership with the Scadding Court Community Centre (external link) , was launched in 2018. Funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, it consists of 40 in-class hours with experts on topics like finance, procurement and social media. To date, the program has trained more than 200 newcomers in 12 cohorts.

As research led by DI and the Future Skills Centre (external link)  has shown, racialized Canadians and newcomers face significantly higher rates of unemployment compared with their Canadian-born and non-racialized counterparts despite holding equal or greater educational attainment levels. Statistics show the unemployment rate for immigrants is 7.7% vs. 6.4% among Canadian-born people. For example, among women aged 25 to 34 years, immigrant women pursue a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degree at almost twice the rate as non-immigrant women (23% vs. 13%). However, employment outcomes do not reflect these higher education rates, with more than one-half of STEM-trained immigrants working in non-STEM jobs.

A green dress with highly detailed colourful embroidery is displayed by a racialized woman entrepreneur wearing a grey head scarf.

Gulshan Mosleh, newcomer entrepreneur and founder of Paroon Fashion, shows off a piece of formal wear for a young girl.

Moreover, as the State of Women’s Entrepreneurship 2023 report (external link)  from the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (external link)  underscores, while many newcomers are pulled into entrepreneurship as a matter of choice, others feel pushed because of exclusion from the labour market or because their credentials are not recognized. While newcomers have a higher propensity to export, innovate and bring new products to increasingly diverse Canadian markets,  (PDF file) they are less likely to have access to support or be able to navigate services (external link) . The NEH program was created to bridge these gaps for newcomers like Mosleh. It helped her to get started, she said, because it’s one thing to build a business in your own country, but building one in a country to which you are new comes with a lot of challenges. She said the program provided her with a lot of information and knowledge on the Canadian entrepreneurial landscape and entrepreneurial skills. 

Mosleh’s small business selling imported Afghan formal wear, jewelry and some housewares like pillowcases and table runners, is called Paroon Fashion. She’s building her business, which is about one year old, and said she is driven by a larger purpose. “I want to support women back home to be economically engaged, and I also want to share the culture here, which is important,” she said.

One of the greatest barriers to being an entrepreneur for moms is access to affordable child care (external link) . To address that barrier and others, wraparound supports such as on-site child care are built into the NEH program. Mosleh said she took advantage of the support offered, which made it easier since her son could be close by while she studied. Mosleh said she learned that as a small business owner, you have to wear a lot of hats. Because she’s juggling being her finance manager, procurement officer and social media manager, Mosleh is glad to have her son’s participation. “I have a small model for myself,” she said. 

Mosleh has visibility on most social media platforms, with TikTok being the most active and fastest-growing. The TikTok account gives a glimpse into what goes into the business. It’s very organic, she said. It showcases not only the products she’s selling but also photos of her son modeling the clothes and clips of her husband doing product photography. So far, given that her main product is formal wear, Eid, one the most important holidays celebrated within Islam, has been her busiest season. Mosleh and her husband are also working on a website to expand their reach. 

“As a teenager, I had this dream to work in fashion, but due to circumstances and tradition back in Afghanistan, I wasn’t able to. But now, here, this is my second chance.”

Gulshan Mosleh, founder of Paroon Fashion

Lack of access to mentorship is also a barrier newcomers face. Following the in-class portion of the NEH program, participants gain access to mentorship for six months. They can book time with experienced mentors to have one-on-one focused time to ask any questions they have about their businesses. For mentor Yumna Ziaullah, a marketing manager at AirBnB, witnessing the growth of the entrepreneurs is a rewarding experience. "I really enjoy mentoring the entrepreneurs from the Newcomer Entrepreneurship Hub,” she said. “They all have wonderful stories of how they got started and are on their way to make a difference in the world in small and big ways.”

Of the more than 200 program participants, 138 have been connected to business mentors. For Shaun Pingatore, founder of Atlas Marketing Group Inc., the cycle of mentorship is gratifying to share. “The thing I really love about mentoring with NEH is the opportunity to share things that I’ve learned from my mentors over the years with others, and seeing the look on their faces where you can tell the exact moment that the lightbulb goes off,” he said. “It’s been a very rewarding experience, and it’s also a great opportunity for me to work on my communication skills.”

Mosleh hopes to expand the business further, eventually. “I am looking for women who are skilled with Afghan custom jewelry, but it is a little bit different for this type of work which requires special talents,” she said. For now, she’s focused on completing a project management course at Centennial College and says that the content is linked to entrepreneurship and everything she’s learning is interconnected. “Both help each other; one supports the other,” she said. One day, Mosleh hopes to gain access to venture capital funding that can help grow the business; until then however, she continues to build it bit by bit. “As a teenager, I had this dream to work in fashion, but due to circumstances and tradition back in Afghanistan, I wasn’t able to. But now,” Mosleh said, “Here, this is my second chance.”