5 Immigrant Entrepreneurs That Made it in Canada

Settling down and finding your feet in any new country is not an easy task, let alone starting your own successful business in that particular country. Canada though is known for being extremely welcoming to visitors and immigrants, offering them an opportunity for a better life and helping them fulfill their own potential.

Here we take a look at 5 immigrant Canadians that made use of this opportunity and went out of their way to create successful business ventures that are a source of pride and encouragement to other aspiring Canadian immigrant entrepreneurs.

Mike Lazaridis from Turkey

mika lazaridis

Beginnings in Turkey

One of Canada’s biggest immigrant entrepreneur success stories is the story of Mike Lazaridis. Born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, Mike Lazaridis is of Pontic Greek descent.

He moved to Canada with his parents at the early age of only five years in 1966. His love of science began at an early age, evidenced by his winning a Windsor Public Library at 12 for reading every science book at the local library. His tertiary education is predominantly in computer science and electrical engineering, which he did not finish due to being recruited for a project with General Motors.

Tech Entrepreneurship

Mike Lazaridias is the esteemed co-founder of Quantum Valley Investments. This venture capital firm aims to provide intellectual and financial capital to organizations and institutes involved in scientific research and investigations into the development and mass commercialization of breakthroughs in quantum computing and physics.

He’s also designated as the Managing Partner of the firm in charge of overseeing and ensuring that the firm's goal of helping research firms transform their ideas and early-stage breakthroughs into viable products for the commercial market.

He has been investing his energies and efforts into QVI for the past decade, all with the ultimate aim of creating a “Quantum Valley” in Waterloo, Ontario.

He’s been busy trying to recruit as many physicists, engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists, and scientific materialists who represent the best minds in their respective fields as possible to realize his stated goal of making Waterloo a “Quantum Valley.”

Mike’s humble origins as a tech entrepreneur include the founding of Research in Motion, a company which, through various transformative mergers and acquisitions, eventually became Blackberry Ltd., the company responsible for making Blackberry smartphones, one of the world's first durable qwerty-enabled smartphones. At one point, Blackberry was Canada’s largest global technology company.

In his dedication to technological innovation and moving the needle forward about socially uplifting technological research, Mike has served in a variety of positions that, includes being the Co-CEO and Co-Chairman (1984-2012) and Board Vice Chair of the Innovation Committee (2012-2013).

He was also instrumental in founding Perimeter Institute, one of Canada's most trusted and valuable scientific research institutes, and has served as the Board Chair Emeritus of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at Perimeter.

The University of Waterloo, in particular, its Scientific faculty has been a beneficiary of his services through his Chairmanship of the Institute of Quantum Computing and the Quantum-Nano Cente. He’s also a keen practitioner of charitable entrepreneurship and has donated 170 million CAD to Perimeter and 120 million CAD to IQC.

Honors and Awards

For his lifelong services and dedication to developing Canada’s enterprises in Information technology and Quantum Computing, Mike Lazaridis has been honored repeatedly by prestigious institutions.

Then, towards which he has been a generous benefactor, has given him an honorary doctorate in Engineering. McMasters University has honored him with a Doctor of Laws, as did the University of Windsor, Laval University, and Western Ontario.

Mr. Lazaridis's technological achievements extend to the creative industries as well. Mr. Lazaridis received an Emmy and Academy Award for developing a high-speed bar-code reader that increases the speed of film editing.

And the highest honor of all was his recent induction into the Consumer Technology Hall of Fame, which bestowed this prestigious honor on him in recognition of his pioneering vision in the consumer technology industry.

Shahrzad Rafati from Iran

Shahrzad rafiti

Trailblazing Entrepreneurship

Shahrzad Rafati has become one of Canada’s more prominent immigrant success stories in recent years. She has made a name for herself by growing one of Canada’s most promising media companies called BroadbandTV. At the still relatively young age of 42, Shahrzad presides over a company that has acquired roughly 8 billion monthly views across tens of thousands of creators in its network.

At the helm of this company she founded nearly 17 years ago in her mid-twenties, Ms. Rafati is the company's designated Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Under her skillful supervision and stewardship, Broadband TV has increased its profile in the online video fields of content creation and under-the-hood tech to an extent that rivals the scale achieved by platforms such as Disney’s Makers Studio and Otter Media’s Fullscreen.

Success, Commendations, and Beginnings of Entrepreneurship

Her expertise has been critical in advancing the company's growth in key verticals such as gaming, kids' entertainment, and music. The company had achieved such significant traction about its reputation in the media industry that it has been actively courted by major competing companies for lucrative partnerships.

Shahrzad’s stellar business acumen and reputation have been vouchsafed by other leading industry figures such as Hamed Shahbazi, Harald Ludwig, and Marc Benioff, the CEOs of TIO Networks, Lionsgate, and Salesforce.com have praised her astute decision-making, boundless energy, and relentless focus.

Shahrzad’s earliest experiences with entrepreneurship begin with her mother, whom she credits as the example and inspiration from which she learned the traits, skills, knowledge, and experience to become a successful entrepreneur. Immigrating to Vancouver, Canada, in 1996, through the ambivalent wishes of her parents, Shahrzad quickly learned the independent self-determined that would hold her in good stead for her business career.

Vikram Vij from India

vikram vij

From India to Canada

Vikram Vij was born in 1964 in the capital city of India, New Delhi. He lived in India in New Delhi and Bombay till he was 20 years old and decided to move to study in Austria. He studied culinary arts and received a Salzburg Hotel Management School certificate.

He moved to Canada in 1989 to work at the Palm Springs Hotel, where he gained significant experience as a chef. Vikram is passionate about pairing wines with food, and in 2000, he received the International Sommelier Guild award.

Vikram opened Vij’s Restaurant in Vancouver, BC, in 1994, quickly flourishing. The passionate and creative Meeru Dhalwala joined him in 1995, and a beautiful culinary collaboration began, blossoming into great menus. Vij’s Restaurant has become renowned in Vancouver, Canada, and the world over the past 20 years as one of the finest Indian dining experiences.

His reputation soared to such heights that a New York Times in 2003 dubbed Vikram Vij and his restaurant as possessing one of the finest dining experiences in the world. Basking in financial success, Vikram Vij, In December 2015, decided to move to a new, larger location on Vancouver’s Cambie Street.

Entering into Partnership

Deciding to expand his business enterprise, Vikram, in partnership with Meeru, decided to open a new restaurant called Vij’s Rangoli close to the established restaurant in the South Granville neighborhood of Vancouver. Intending to tap into a new market, this restaurant offered a more casual dining experience with lunch sessions and laid-back decor.

Relocating the Rangoli restaurant to the Cambie Village location in Vancouver, Vij transformed the restaurant into a lucrative night spot with a bar.

Culinary Awards

Among Vikram's many honors in 2011, the British Columbia Food Processors Association awarded Vikram the Rising Star Award for his achievements as a restaurateur. He was awarded the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Pacific Region’s Hospitality and Tourism category.

Vikram was named Chef of the Year by Vancouver Magazine while hosting one of their prestigious Restaurant Awards. For his services towards popularising Indian cuisine as a fine dining experience, he received the Best Indian Award.

Vikram’s humble experiences and rise as a culinary entrepreneur give a template to many aspiring immigrants who want to use the simple skills they possess to become successful in Africa.

Tobias Lutke

tobias lutke

Origins in West Germany

Tobias Lutke's birth was in Koblenz, West Germany, on the 16th of July, 1981. His mother and father were special needs teachers and an internist, respectively. They gifted him with a Schneider CPC when he was still a very young boy.

This gift was instrumental as one of the most formative experiences in his young life. The Schneider CPC provided the first major step towards developing the technological entrepreneurship skills that would make him a billionaire today.

By the time Lutke was a pre-teen, using his Schneider CPC as intended wasn't enough. It didn’t suffice to play his computer games as instructed, either. By the age of 12, Lutke had moved on to rewriting computer game code and tweaking his computer’s hardware for fun.

One of Tobias' most pivotal experiences in his career development is his meeting with the professional computer programmer and video game designer John Carmack. John Carmack is beloved for his creative vision and directing of games such as Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, etc, Of particular to Tobias and his development as a software and computer programmer were the .plan files in those games.

Beginnings in Tech Entrepreneurship

Tobias's first foray into IT entrepreneurship was Snowdevil. As an online shop, it served as a precursor to his creation of the later venture for which he is largely known.

While developing Snowdevil, he encountered problems with the operating system software on which his service was hosted. This gave him the impetus to develop the OS that would prove valuable in developing Shopify.

In 2009, once he developed Shopify, Tobias decided to take it to the next level by launching an Application Programming Interface (API). In an act of generosity, the API was made open source and helped developers create their apps to launch the Shopify store. This benefitted online retailers who wanted to advertise their wares on the online Shopify store.

Innovation and Success

Tobias injected 17 million CAD worth of venture capital investment into his business by placing a freely downloadable Shopify app on the Apple store.

He added another innovation to his business by creating Shop Pay in 2013, which allows e-retailers to accept credit card payments on the platform without going through third-party institutions.

These innovations have helped solidify Shopify’s reputation as a viable, profitable business in the world of e-commerce. Since then, the company has moved on to bigger things, such as joining Amazon, Snapchat, Twitter, and more.

Karim Hakimi from Iran

karim hakimi

Childhood and Hardwork

Karim Hakimi’s had a very difficult childhood in Iran that proved instrumental in his success as a business tycoon in Canada.

Having to deal with his father's death at only the tender age of five, Hakim was quickly imbued with the grit and determination to provide for his family at the untimely age of 10. He worked as a blacksmith and ground magnifying glasses from damaged windowpanes to make eyeglasses.

This extremely early working experience required that he work from dawn to dusk for years on end, so he developed the work ethic to serve him in good stead for the rest of his career.

Capitalizing on his years of practical experience grinding glass into lenses, Hakimi decided to open his own optical business in 1967 once he had made the move to Canada. Immigrating to the commercial and financial capital of Canada, Toronto, he opened his business in the former dancehall of the Elmwood Hotel.

Capitalizing on Opportunities for Success

Once his business had begun to flourish, he used the surplus capital to buy up old equipment from closed Chicago labs, repurposed them, and began seeking customers by going from door to door.

Hakimi has turned a one-man operation into a profitable enterprise that is one of Canada’s largest optical businesses by consistently offering high-quality, value-based products over the quantity of mass production.

Today, Hakim Optical has an enterprise arsenal of over 160 showrooms. It also has over 120 one-hour factory outlets in Ontario, Calgary, Edmonton, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Vancouver.

Hakim's story is one of the most inspirational stories of persistence in the face of hard worship and how one immigrant man’s singular determination and hard work can afford them the opportunity to realize their dreams in a country that allows them.

Why You Should Start a Business in Canada

Why Move To Canada?

Canada continues to welcome immigrants every year; their success stories are numerous and often inspiring. The examples above represent only a few of the many stories of immigrant success that Canada nurtures due to its fantastic socio-economic framework for developing enterprises that flourish.

There has never been a better time to move to Canada, and maybe you can fulfill your dreams and potential.

How to Bring Your Business to Canada

Canada has a commonly used set of Business immigration visa programs that allows skilled foreign business people to move to Canada if they meet the eligibility criteria needed to start a viable business there. The followings are some of the immigration visa programs and streams you can use to bring your business to Canada through the grant of permanent residency status:

Make Your Own Success Story in Canada Now!!

Navigating the Canadian immigration system can be a tiring process. There are a lot of forms and documents to complete and strict submission deadlines. This can make it easy for applicants to get disheartened and feel apathetic about getting started on their application. However, that's what we’re here for.

At Canadian Visa, we take the stress and hassle out of planning to immigrate to Canada. Our accredited RCICs (Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants) are ready to evaluate your eligibility, review all documentation, and submit all documentation on your behalf.

Using an RCIC gives you the best chance of receiving an ITA and makes the entire process simple and stress-free.


What is the Best Place to Start a Business as an Immigrant in Canada in 2023?

Toronto has the largest reserves of capital and the greatest variety of commerce, allowing for the greatest opportunity to establish a business as a foreigner in Canada.

What is the Best Place to Move to Canada as an Immigrant?

There is no clear consensus on the best place for new immigrants in Canada, but Ottawa City in Ontario is the oft-cited place to move to Canada.

What is the Least Attractive Province to Move to Canada as an Immigrant?

The least attractive province to move to in Canada as an immigrant is Nanuvut on account of its cold, sparsely populated landscape.