Note: Capital Daily is a media sponsor for the Colorful Business Expo.
A new expo coming to downtown Victoria on Saturday is helping empower and showcase the region’s burgeoning and diverse business community.
“Obviously, it’s a double entender to some extent,” said Colorful Business chief project officer Paul Schachter. “Many people of color are our exhibitors.”
But the real point, Schachter said, is that the entrepreneurs and artists showcased in tomorrow’s inaugural Colorful Business Expo are bringing color and vibrancy to the city with businesses that draw upon their cultural roots.
The Expo, which will be hosted from 1pm to 7pm at the Victoria Conference Centre, will showcase both local businesses and a diverse roster of performers.
“We’re really talking about a whole fabric: it’s the entertainment, it’s the businesses. It’s what our multicultural community really does add to Victoria and the province,” he added.
The pandemic has had a profound impact on Victoria’s local economy, with small businesses facing the most impact, Schachter said.
“This is a time where it’s really great for people to get out and get to know these businesses and get to see what they have to offer.”
One such business owner is Ayca Tanyer, who was an English teacher in Turkey before coming to Canada.
“Obviously, it’s harder to teach English here,” she said, laughing. “So I had to find some other things to do to earn money.”
The mother of two now sells handmade goods through her business, Aicha, a venture born in the midst of the pandemic.
“I had [all] These Turkish towels that were handmade in Turkey. And I knew that people are interested in those here,” Tanyer said. “It didn’t start like a business: I was just trying to do something. I never sold anything in my life.”
Her family in Turkey helps to run a charity that trains women in weaving and other crafts. Tanyer sells those goods at Aicha.
“There are lots of poor, uneducated women in Turkey. They have no resources,” Tanyer said. But skills like weaving can provide financial independence from their families and their husbands, she said.
There were unexpected obstacles for Aicha. Farmer’s markets, an obvious place to sell handmade items, were off-limits due to restrictions around international goods. Without a brick-and-mortar shop, that left her with festivals, and expos like Colorful Business.
“I’m really grateful for those organizations because those are the only places where I can show these traditional Turkish handmade goods,” Tanyer said. “That’s where I can tell people the story of these towels, and of those women.”
Before the expo opens to the public at 1pm, business owners will have the opportunities to hear from experts in marketing, government procurement, and financing.
“If you’re in a big company, your company will pay $1,000 for you to go to a workshop to get all these things,” Schachter said. “We’re very lucky to have some real experts in the field that see the benefit of talking to these diverse businesses.”
These workshops are “absolutely invaluable” for newcomers, said Tanyer. Aicha doesn’t have a developed internet or social media presence, but that’s something that she’s hoping to get more familiarized with. And being so new to the Canadian business system, taxes and financing are an additional layer of stress for the entrepreneur.
“It’s absolutely new for us,” Tanyer said. “We don’t want to make a mistake.”
Another business coming to the expo is RAD Cafe, a social enterprise that provides Ayurvedic food and medicine in the name of community healing.
RAD Cafe founder Prakhar Bhardwaj recalls the isolation that he felt when he first came to Canada from India as a student. He wanted his business to become a culturally safe space for others experiencing that loneliness.
“Community healing comes when people gather together and are seen and are honored. Just the fact of being seen is a very healing experience,” Bhardwaj said. “And this is what I want to provide—for them to kick back, relax, and know that they’re safe.”
Earlier this month, he organized a pop-up event at James Bay Coffee. Infused with Hindu and Yogic traditions, the event included a tea ceremony, meditation, and ecstatic dancing, an intuitive, free-form dance practice focused on movement and self-expression.
While Bhardwaj may have had success at attracting media attention for his business—which just celebrated its first month of operations—he’s run into some of the same challenges as Tanyer when it comes to understanding Canada’s business practices.
“Businesses are run differently in different cultures, and how businesses are formed or promoted in India might be different from how they’re done in Canada,” Bhardwaj said. “So there’s definitely a gap there, in how I have to manage organizing my business here. It’s still something that I’m learning.”
Schachter said that Victoria’s business community can be doing more to support newcomer entrepreneurs and indigenous businesses. “We’re going to keep working with them over the course of the year to keep these connections between all the businesses going,” he said. “There’s interest, but we don’t have as much participation as we’d like.”
“The expo was conceived of [as] being something that is going to be repeated,” Schachter added. “We’ll just keep building momentum.”
The Colorful Business Expo is a joint effort between Kulea Culture Society, BC Black History Awareness Society, Songhees Development Corporation, HERE Magazine, and the City of Victoria. Capital Daily is a media sponsor.
With files from Tori Marlan