When it comes to entrepreneurial capacity building, immigrants are the heavy lifters

Posted on July 01, 2021 | By Richard Woodbury | 0 Comments


When Johnny Anjoul decided to move from Lebanon in 2004 to be with the love of his life in Halifax, the then 24-year-old had to borrow $5,000 from his brother to pay for the plane ticket and some clothes better suited to Halifax’s cooler climate.

Prior to coming to Canada, Anjoul worked in road construction and said a lack of economic opportunities meant he sometimes couldn’t afford to fill his vehicle with gas. “When you come from a country like that, you’re hungry for work,” he said.

Anjoul is no longer lacking those opportunities. Today, he’s the owner of Mayabella Homes, a Halifax-based home construction company. Last year, his company built 37 homes.


By their very nature, immigrants are risk takers. The process of leaving one’s home to start over in a new country with a new language and profoundly different culture is a daunting challenge. To succeed requires perseverance and an ability to be creative and adapt.

“Broadly speaking, what we see is the more immigration there is, the higher the economic impact,” said Iain Reeve, the associate director of immigration research with the Conference Board of Canada. “You can measure that in terms of increases to GDP, increases to tax revenue and an improvement in what we call the working-age-to-retiree ratio.”

Reeve said research has shown that immigrants are more likely to start businesses than people born in Canada. While the traits mentioned above are part of the reason, there’s a bigger driver.

“There is pretty clear evidence entrepreneurship is being driven by survival, a need to make income while you wait to see what can happen with your desired career, or because people are pivoting because they’re dissatisfied with the labour market and they don’t feel they’re getting a fair outcome,” said Reeve.

He said this speaks to the need to do a better job of recognizing the credentials and skills immigrants have so they can be employed in positions that match their qualifications.

According to Economic Benefits of Immigration: The Impact of Halifax’s Lebanese Community—a 2015 report published by Halifax Partnership, the city’s public-private economic development organization—Canada’s immigrant population is highly educated. A greater share of immigrants have received post-secondary education than the non-immigrant population. “In particular, immigrants are much more likely to hold an advanced university degree, with an attainment rate of more than double that of the non-immigrant population,” said the report.

For the first six months after Anjoul arrived in November 2004, he worked with his father-in-law, Ray Khattar, at his restaurant, Ray’s Lebanese Cuisine, in the Scotia Square mall in downtown Halifax.

As Anjoul learned the business, his eye was on another one nearby, Coffee and Colours Cafe, which he bought in the spring of 2005 for just under $30,000. The business was “a bit old looking,” so Anjoul shut it down for a few days prior to taking over ownership to repaint it and add new seating and lighting.

As part of the transition, the previous owner worked with Anjoul. On the first day, Anjoul said the former owner walked right past the place. After a couple of days, the former owner was satisfied. “I don’t think you need me, Johnny,” he said. “You know what you’re doing.” Anjoul expanded the business’s hours and took on more catering jobs, which resulted in a big sales boost. Anjoul worked long hours, often getting up at 4 a.m. and working until 10 p.m.

In need of a break, he sold the business in 2010, with the aim of opening a similar business in Nova Scotia Power’s new waterfront headquarters in Halifax. With the building’s opening delayed, Anjoul turned his attention to another project. He was driving through a subdivision in the Halifax area known as Bedford West when he spotted a lot that he envisioned would house his new family home. Construction started in September 2011 and the home was ready by April 2012, but Anjoul and his family never got to live there. “I made the same amount of money selling that house as working in a restaurant for a whole year,” he said. The improved hours were another bonus for Anjoul. Mayabella Homes was born.

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