An Interview with Karla Briones - From Immigrant to Entrepreneur

Karla Briones is a Mexican-Canadian serial entrepreneur, community builder, strategist, and lover of all things business.  Her passion for encouraging and supporting others to succeed in their business journey led her to capitalize on her 10 years of business experience to mentor, coach and help new immigrants become successful entrepreneurs in their adopted country.  She’s honoured to be part of the team of independent business advisors at Invest Ottawa, to volunteer with Futurpreneur Canada, and to have received the Newcomer Entrepreneur of the Year award from the City of Ottawa in 2018.  


I was lucky enough to catch Karla between meetings for a short phone call to find out more about her, her perspectives on building a business in Canada as an immigrant, and how a lawyer can best help immigrant entrepreneurs. 


Emily Lukaweski: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me Karla.  Your background is fascinating and I’d like to learn a bit more about you.  How did you end up in Canada and becoming a business coach for newcomers?


Karla: My consulting business is founded in my own and my family’s experience as immigrant entrepreneurs.  I’ve been there, so I know how difficult it can be to navigate the business environment in Canada. 


My parents came here when I was a child, with ideas of starting a business and scaling it, but they ran into severe culture shock, finding it harder than they imagined to navigate the new business environment.  They didn’t have any contacts or a network, and were left alone to build their company.   They were able to establish their business, but on a smaller scale than they had originally planned. 


Since then, I have learned from this experience and successfully been able to establish several of my own businesses in Canada.  I don’t want others to have to experience the same hardships my family did, but want to share my knowledge and success instead.



E: What were the legal challenges you and your parents faced immigrating to Canada, as well as opening and operating businesses here?


K: When my parents sold their business, they realized they had made so many mistakes that could have easily been prevented. They incorporated on their own, to save money, but they didn’t incorporate in the most effective jurisdiction.  When it came time to sell their business, this choice had tax implications.  They had to re-hire lawyers and accountants to fix these errors and it cost them more than needed. 


If my parents had known what to do, and what it meant from the beginning, it would have made a huge difference.  They came from a developing country where business structures are different.  They had a limited amount of resources and were trying to save them, but by saving that money, they ended up making more mistakes and limiting their options in the future. 


It was hard for them to understand that Canada, and Canadians, want to help you and make your business successful, compared to a country where you may be trying to avoid the government most of the time. 


In Canada, you can get the right help from people that you trust and learn how to work with the system and make it work for you.  You can see the results of your taxes being used for things that will benefit you as a business owner and as a citizen. 


E: What about your clients?  Do they experience the same issues? 


K:  Yes, they do.  They have limited resources and have to choose what to spend their money on. They tend to go straight to spending a lot of money on fancy marketing and a fancy logo.  Instead, they should spend their money on the foundation of their business: a solid business plan, and good legal and accounting advice.  It’s not sexy, but it is necessary.  The flashy stuff can come on top of the strong foundation.  This will allow your business to grow and become larger faster. 


These are universal issues that do not exist only in Canada.  Any immigrant entrepreneur in any country will go through these problems with adjusting to the new environment.  Credit history doesn’t migrate with you, and being able to fluently speak the language is not enough.  An immigrant entrepreneur has to learn how to market to a Canadian demographic, (even from the US it’s different).  They have to build trust, and learn how to communicate effectively.


E:  How do you think a lawyer can best help immigrant entrepreneurs?


K:  A lawyer can help an immigrant entrepreneur reach their goals faster; opening their eyes to their business’ risks and legal needs, for example by showing the entrepreneur which jurisdiction to incorporate in. 


A lawyer can also review your lease agreement and highlight potential area of concern.   I had one client who was unexpectantly evicted three years into her lease, forcing her to relocate after she had worked hard to build a successful business.  If this client had had a lawyer review their lease, she would have avoided a costly surprise. 


It’s all about the relationship though.  You need a lawyer who is experienced, and who understands their client and their needs.   You don’t need just any lawyer. 


Make sure your legal team connects with you and not only knows the law, but can craft legal advice that suits an immigrant entrepreneur’s unique circumstances. 



Thank you Karla for taking the time to share your story and perspective.  If you, the reader, would like more information on Karla and the services she offers, please click on the link at the beginning of this blog post, or click here


At MBS LLP, we have worked for over 25 years to provide just the type of services described by Karla.  Services that are not only innovative, changing to suit our client’s needs, but that are also empathetic and relationship focused.  We aim to solve problems, not create complications, hopefully making your life easier in the end.

For more information on which immigration option is best for you and your business, or for assistance designing your longer-term immigration strategy, please contact Emily Lukaweski by phone at (416) 368-0600 or by e-mail at elukaweski@businesslawyers.com.   

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