At 17, Nouhaila Chelkhaoui arrived in Canada from Morocco as an international student at the University of Toronto. As a newcomer, Chelkhaoui credited the support of the local community in helping her adjust to life in Canada. She worked at tech startups at the University of Toronto and the DMZ, before moving into a full-time role supporting startups at the DMZ.
“It was because of the people who helped me that I was able to make something out of this journey, and I wanted to give back.”
Today, Chelkhaoui is the program lead for the DMZ’s accelerator and women founders, and is spearheading a new program to support newcomer entrepreneurs called Scale Without Borders (SWB). The program, which officially launched yesterday at an event in the MaRS Discovery District, is behind an event series that shares the stories of newcomer entrepreneurs, and offers networking opportunities, allowing them to connect and learn from each other.
“It was because of the people who helped me that I was able to make something out of this journey, and I wanted to give back, specifically in the tech and entrepreneurship space,” said Chelkhaoui. “I’m fortunate enough to be in the tech space for a few years now, and there’s a lot of resources for tech entrepreneurs, and we need to bridge the gap between the resources and the newcomer entrepreneurs.”
SWB is also hosting a 10-day virtual masterclass to help entrepreneurs understand the legal complexities of launching a Canadian business, the funding landscape, and immigration programs for those who haven’t come to Canada.
“The biggest challenge is the connections, they don’t know the right people and where to find the right resources…which is why we’re not duplicating efforts or reinventing the wheel,” said Chelkhaoui.
'You don't have to fail 100 times. Learn from the failures of other people and make your scale-up more efficient.' – @leenli on some valuable lessons learned as a newcomer entrepreneur in Canada 🇨🇦 #scalewithoutborders happening now @MaRSDD in #Toronto. Kudos @chelkhaoui! pic.twitter.com/wAaIAyrxy0
— how she hustles (@howshehustles) September 5, 2019
For the event, Chelkhaoui brought together other organizations that are supporting underrepresented founders, including Dream Maker Ventures, which is raising for a $75 million diversity fund, and BDC’s Newcomer Entrepreneur Support Team (NEST).
“BDC is really happy to support Scale Without Borders support newcomer tech entrepreneurs. We know newcomers face many challenges in getting started and in scaling,” said Sharon Connolly, vice president of BDC’s NEST( BDC sponsored the kickoff event). “Our Newcomer Entrepreneur Support Team is dedicated to helping newcomers overcome these challenges. This community will provide access to networks and resources that are crucial to the success of these entrepreneurs.”
The evening included panels with immigrant entrepreneurs sharing their story, and appearances from Canadian politicians to support the launch. Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Toronto Mayor John Tory made speeches encouraging the tech community to continue with initiatives like SWB.
“What you’re doing is showcasing that the job of integrating and enabling newcomers to succeed in Canada is a whole-of-society approach, it’s not just the government’s job,” said Hussen. “One of the reasons that we’re so successful in doing so, is because regular Canadians, the private sector, and the nonprofit sector does a good job itself.”
Diverse teams perform better. Diversity in thought means higher profits. And @SiriAgrell @DreamMakerVC @michelle_scarb spoke to this from experiences in their professional lives. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻#scalewithoutborders https://t.co/RAOIlatN0E
— Kate Tomen (@KateTomen) September 5, 2019
Tory added that initiatives like SWB provide a level playing field and access to opportunities for anyone interested in tech and entrepreneurship, regardless of their background.
“We have to make sure organizations like this get the support from the rest of community and can do their job, which is to make sure that every smart ambitious person that wants to be in this sector, the tech sector — which is not as representative in many of its ranks as it needs to be — have the support and the opportunity to make that so,” Tory said.