Most Successful Immigrant Businesses in Canada

February 27, 2024


  • Sinethemba Phongolo

In Canada's broad business sector, immigrant entrepreneurs have achieved remarkable success stories that enriched the country. From tech titans to retail magnates, these entrepreneurs reflect the contributions immigrants bring to Canada's entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Let’s look at some inspiring stories and strategies of immigrant entrepreneurs who have achieved remarkable success in Canada's diverse and dynamic business landscape!

Top Successful Immigrant Businesses in Canada

Here are the various journeys of immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada who have achieved unparalleled success, shaping Canada's business landscape and inspiring future generations.

V. Prem Watsa

V. Prem Watsa, known as the "Warren Buffett of Canada," immigrated to the country from India in the 1970s. He founded Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited in 1985, a multinational insurance holding company in Toronto. Under his leadership, Fairfax has grown into a global powerhouse, with investments spanning various industries, including insurance, reinsurance, and financial services.

Karim Hakimi

Karim Hakimi, an Afghan-born Canadian entrepreneur, is the founder and CEO of Hakim Optical, one of Canada's largest and most respected optical retail chains. Today, Hakim Optical, founded in 1967, boasts over 160 locations across Canada, offering a wide range of eyewear products and services.

Tobias Lütke

Tobias Lütke, a German-born entrepreneur, immigrated to Canada in 2002 and co-founded Shopify. This leading e-commerce platform enables entrepreneurs to start, grow, and manage online businesses. Lütke's journey from a humble start-up to a multi-billion dollar company reflects the immigrant influence of innovation and technology in Canada’s economy.

Shahrzad Rafati

Shahrzad Rafati, an Iranian-born Canadian entrepreneur, is the founder and CEO of BroadbandTV (BBTV), a digital entertainment company based in Vancouver. Rafati immigrated to Canada as a teenager and pursued her passion for media and technology.

She founded BBTV in 2005, leveraging cutting-edge technology to help content creators monetize their digital assets and reach global audiences. Today, BBTV is one of the world's largest digital entertainment networks, with billions of monthly views and partnerships with leading brands and media companies.

Rola Dagher

As a teenager, Rola Dagher immigrated to Canada from Lebanon. Working her way up the tech industry ladder, she eventually became the head of Cisco Canada, managing 1,700 employees. Rola Dagher has inspired Cisco to put in place support for their employees globally. She was recognized for leadership and named one of Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence in February 2020.

Ajay Virmani

Ajay Virmani, an immigrant from India, is the CEO and President of Cargojet, Canada's largest cargo airline. Cargojet provides domestic and international cargo services, employing over 800 employees. Through Ajay's leadership, Cargojet was named among Canada’s Top 50 Best Managed Companies in 2005, and in 2017, he received the RBC Entrepreneur Award.

Peter Tielmann

Peter Tielmann, the founder, CEO, and President of the furniture company EQ3, immigrated to Canada from Germany. Headquartered in Winnipeg, EQ3 products are primarily made in Canada, with all the upholstery produced in its Winnipeg factory.

Vikram Vij

Vikram Vij moved to Canada in 1989 to work at the Palm Springs Hotel. Here, he gained significant experience as a chef, and in 2000, he received the International Sommelier Guild award for his flourishing Vij’s Restaurant, which opened in 1994 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Over the past 20 years, Vij’s Restaurant has been renowned for the finest Indian dining experiences in Canada and worldwide.

Aldo Bensadoun

Born in Morocco, Aldo Bensadoun founded ALDO Group, an accessories and footwear company based in Montréal and has operations in over 100 countries worldwide. Mr. Bensadoun supports many educational, healthcare, and arts institutions. On account of his contributions to Canada’s economy and employment, he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2012 and, in 2014, a knight of L'Ordre National du Québec.

Rania Llewellyn

Rania Llewellyn, born in Kuwait, immigrated from Egypt to Canada. The first woman to lead a major Canadian-owned bank, Rania served as CEO and President of the Laurentian Bank of Canada from 2020-2023. Rania was also an employee with Scotiabank for 26 years. Her immigrant success story includes climbing the corporate ladder from a part-time teller to Executive Vice President of Global Business Payments.

What Are Immigrant's Contributions to Canada’s Economy?

Some immigrant entrepreneurs' most prominent contributions to Canada’s economy include the following.

Immigrant Contribution Self-Employment in Canada

There are over 600,000 self-employed immigrants in Canada, and approximately 260,000 have paid full-time/part-time employees.

Immigrants in Senior Management

Over 47,000 immigrant entrepreneurs are in senior management roles in Canada. This includes:

  • 15,000 immigrant businesspeople in finance, communications, and business services,
  • 12,000 immigrant businesspeople in trade, broadcasting, and other service industries, and
  • Over 12,000 immigrant businesspeople in utilities, transportation, production, and construction.

Number of Immigrant Owned Businesses By Percentage in Canada

The percentage of business owners with paid staff who are immigrants in Canada include:

Canadian Industries Percentage of Immigrant Business Owners
Truck Transportation 56%
Grocery Stores 53%
Computer Systems Design And Services 51%
Restaurants 50%
Data processing, Hosting, And Services 40%
Dentists’ Offices 36%
Software Publishers 30%

Which Sectors Are Particularly Welcoming to Immigrant Entrepreneurs in Canada?

While the exact sectors most welcoming to immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada can be difficult to pin down, certain industries offer a better environment for immigrant entrepreneurs.

Technology and Innovation

Canada's thriving tech sector actively seeks skilled foreign individuals and fosters an environment that embraces diverse perspectives. Government initiatives like the Start-Up Visa Program specifically target tech entrepreneurs, offering them permanent residency based on their innovative business ideas.

Learn more about Canada’s emerging tech cities.


The service sector encompasses various industries, including healthcare, education, hospitality, and professional services. These sectors often value diverse cultural backgrounds and language skills, which many immigrant entrepreneurs possess. Furthermore, the service sector may offer lower barriers to entry for starting a business compared to capital-intensive industries.

Find out more about Canada’s service sector jobs with the National Employment Service.

Food and Beverage

Canada's multicultural population creates a strong demand for diverse food options, presenting opportunities for immigrant entrepreneurs with culinary expertise. The growing popularity of ethnic cuisine due to Canada’s multicultural society opens doors for establishing successful businesses catering to specific communities.

Learn how to start a successful food truck business in Canada in eight easy steps.


The retail sector offers a diverse landscape, from independent shops to franchises, making it potentially accessible for entrepreneurs with varying levels of experience and capital. Cultural knowledge and language skills can be valuable assets in this sector, allowing immigrant entrepreneurs to cater to specific customer segments.

What Resources Are Available to Help Immigrant Entrepreneurs Succeed in Canada?

Immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada have access to various resources designed to help them succeed, both government-funded and community-based. Here are some key options:

Immigrant Entrepreneur Resources in Canada Description
The Canadian Immigrant Integration Program (CIIP) This program offers funding and support services to help newcomers establish and grow their businesses.
The Business Immigrant Integration Program (BIIP) Similar to CIIP, this program provides mentorship and resources tailored to immigrant entrepreneurs.
Business Link This organization provides free resources and support to help entrepreneurs at all stages of their journey, with dedicated services for immigrants
Futurpreneur This non-profit organization offers free business planning resources, financing, and mentorship specifically targeted at young entrepreneurs (18-39 years), with programs designed for newcomers to Canada.
PORCH This community organization connects immigrant entrepreneurs with resources, mentors, and other entrepreneurs in their fields to foster networking and collaboration.
The Immigrant Café This community provides a space for immigrant entrepreneurs to connect, share experiences, and learn from each other.

How Can I Immigrate to Canada as a Foreign Entrepreneur?

There are several pathways for foreign entrepreneurs to immigrate to Canada. This includes:

Start-up Visa Program

The Start-up Visa Program targets entrepreneurs with innovative business ideas that have the potential to create jobs and contribute to the Canadian economy. You'll need a commitment letter from a designated organization confirming their belief in your business potential to qualify.

Learn how to immigrate to Canada as an entrepreneur with the Start-up Visa program.

Self-Employed Program

This program enables individuals to migrate to Canada permanently as self-employed persons, specifically those involved in cultural activities or athletics who strongly intend to contribute significantly to these fields in Canada.

Find out how to apply for permanent residency in Canada if you are self-employed.

Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) for Foreign Entrepreneurs

Several Canadian provinces or territories offer Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) streams for foreign entrepreneurs. Each PNP has its own eligibility criteria and application process, so it's crucial to research the program's specific requirements in your desired province. These PNPs include:

Canadian Provinces or Territories PNPs For Entrepreneurs
Alberta Graduate Entrepreneur Stream
Rural Entrepreneur Stream
Foreign Graduate Entrepreneur Stream
British Columbia Entrepreneur Base Category
Entrepreneur Regional Pilot
Manitoba Business Investor Stream
New Brunswick Entrepreneurial Stream
Nova Scotia Entrepreneur Stream
Northwest Territories Business Strean
Newfoundland and Labrador International Graduate Entrepreneur Category
International Entrepreneur Category 
Ontario Entrepreneur Stream
Prince Edward Island Business Start-up and Entrepreneur Program
Ouebec Entrepreneur Category
Investor Program
Self-employed Program
Saskatchewan Entrepreneur Category
Yukon Business Nominee Program

Learn more about how the Provincial Nominee Program works.


Is Speaking Fluent English or French Necessary to Succeed as an Immigrant Entrepreneur in Canada?

While fluency in English or French can significantly enhance communication and networking opportunities for immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada, it's optional for success. Many entrepreneurs thrive by leveraging language resources, hiring bilingual staff, and focusing on niche markets where language proficiency may be less critical.

What Are The Common Challenges For Immigrant Entrepreneurs in Canada?

Common challenges for immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada encompass cultural adjustment, navigating unfamiliar business regulations, and accessing financial resources. Overcoming language barriers, building local networks, and seeking guidance from community organizations are essential steps to address these challenges effectively.

What Strategies Do Immigrant Entrepreneurs Employ to Scale Their Businesses?

Immigrant entrepreneurs employ various strategies to scale their businesses, including diversifying product offerings, expanding into new markets, and forging strategic partnerships.