Mai Eilia laughs easily these days. And why not? As project manager and founder of New Westminster–based Magnum Construction Services, she’s making a mark in the booming home-renovation and interior-design industry.
She launched her company last year, just four years after coming to Canada as a well-educated refugee from Syria who spoke fluent English, French, and Arabic.
“I want to hire more tradeswomen,” Eilia told the Straight. “This is my objective.”
She makes a point of hiring refugees, whether they’re from Syria, Iraq, Somalia, or any other country torn apart by violence. She also volunteers at MOSAIC, a Vancouver refugee-aid organization, as a way of giving back to her community.
“I didn’t have experience myself when I was hired in my first company here,” she said. “My boss trusted me.”
Eilia is from Aleppo, which has suffered the greatest damage of any city in the Syrian civil war. Fortunately, she was able to bring her father, mother, two siblings, and their families to Canada.
“It’s very difficult for me to watch what’s happening or to see photos about my city,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Eilia has a great deal of experience as a marketer, and she’s an adept researcher. While investigating how to start a business in Canada, she learned about a nonprofit organization called Futurpreneur Canada, which has been fuelling the dreams of young entrepreneurs since 1996.
It’s the only national nonprofit group that provides financing, mentoring, and support tools to aspiring business owners. Its loans can be leveraged to borrow more money from organizations such as the Business Development Bank of Canada, Vancity, and the Women’s Enterprise Centre.
Eilia spent a couple of months preparing her business plan.
“When I submitted it to Futurpreneur, I felt like I was putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the sea,” she recalled with a chuckle.
When she received a call from Futurpreneur requesting a phone interview, Eilia started jumping up and down with joy. She said she then called her mom, saying: “Oh, my god, they picked it. They read it. They want to know more!”
Each year, Futurpreneur provides loans to more than 1,000 young entrepreneurs across Canada. It doesn’t take an equity position in the companies it finances, nor does it get involved in the operation of the business.
But unlike conventional lenders, Futurpreneur provides mentorship. Eilia said she felt confident about many aspects of doing business but needed help with bookkeeping. So Futurpreneur arranged for her to receive instruction in this area from an expert, Isidro Saguindan.
She meets him about every six weeks, and he also responds immediately to any questions she sends via email.
“I will call him and say, ‘I need help. Can you check my QuickBooks to make sure I’m not doing anything wrong before sending anything to the client?’ ” Eilia said. “He’s a very awesome guy.”
Eilia pointed out that many refugees in Canada have skills and education, and she’s never met one who wants to be on welfare. She’s also aware that North America’s most famous entrepreneur, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, was the son of a Syrian immigrant.
At the same time, she recognizes the pain that refugees feel when they’re forced to flee their homeland. She said they are grateful to be given a new life in Canada but they can also be plagued with sadness over what’s been lost.
“They have a hole in their heart and it’s showing on their face,” she said.
This is a powerful motivation for her.
“I want to do well for this country,” Eilia stated. “I want to help as many people as I can along the way. To me, it’s not only about money.
“Of course, I want to make money, but I want other people to experience the same,” she continued. “I want to help others. If they’re facing difficulties at the beginning, I tell them, ‘It’s going to be all right. You’re not alone.’ ”More