From an interview with Guy Hermann Feunou, Entrepreneur
Guy Hermann Feunou was born and raised in Cameroon in west-central Africa. An entrepreneur and business owner, he decided to close his business and move to Canada for a fresh start in 2017. Five years after starting the immigration process, the 34-year-old arrived in Toronto in July 2022 with a bold plan to build his new business on Canadian soil. Within a month, he joined a business incubator program, found a place to live, and landed a new job. Guy shares his experience of relocating to Canada to follow his start-up dreams and why he thinks Toronto is a great place to live and build his business.
I started my first company about eight years ago, in Cameroon, while working full-time. Unfortunately, it was not as successful as I’d hoped, and it closed in 2017. This was a very difficult time for me. I lost money and was frustrated and sad about the experience. I wanted to put it all behind me and move somewhere completely new. Canada was a popular immigration destination for many people from Cameroon, and I decided this was where I wanted to go. Like Canada, Cameroon’s two official languages are French and English.
At the time I began my express entry immigration process, the official government website said the process would take six months, but with the Covid-19 pandemic, it ended up taking five years.
Preparing for the Canadian market and tech ecosystem
The extended wait was good for me because my mindset changed during this time. I found a better job and started a new business that was more successful than my previous one. I eventually quit my job to focus exclusively on my company.
I also used this time to research Canada’s tech ecosystem since my start-up is a B2B software in marketing and sales. I learned Toronto is Canada’s most important tech city and after researching different programs for entrepreneurs, I became interested in the Toronto Metropolitan University’s start-up incubator called the DMZ.
One year before coming to Canada, I participated in a DMZ program called the Black Innovation Bootcamp that was open to tech entrepreneurs from across the globe. It was a six-week remote program designed to help founders validate their business ideas. This helped prepare me for the Canadian market and tech ecosystem.
I received my visa in May of this year, and I decided to move as soon as possible. I knew Canada had cold winters, so I wanted to come in the summer to settle in before the cold season came. I’ll admit I was a bit afraid of winter! I put my company on hold and left for Toronto with the savings I’d been putting aside.
I also wanted to arrive in time to attend a second DMZ program which was a follow-up to the bootcamp I’d participated in that was to start in August. The Black Innovation Connection Program was a three-month coaching program for Canadian residents only that included $5000 business grants. I sent my application a week before my flight and had the interview a few days after landing. The timing was close, but I had been ready for it and I was accepted into the program.
The challenges of finding accommodation in Toronto
When I arrived in Toronto, I had one contact who helped me settle here. He had advised me to book an Airbnb for my first month. I found this a bit scary because it was new to me. Before leaving Cameroon, I had to find the right accommodations, book online, and pay the fees upfront. I spent a lot of time researching the best place and it paid off. My place was good value, in a good location, and the landlord was kind.
Finding permanent accommodation was the most difficult part of moving here. Initially, I was looking for a single bedroom through online marketplaces, like Kijiji. I could not find any good options and it was a challenging process. I decided to look for an apartment instead. I found this route easier because I could have professional conversations and get the information I needed. Every day over a period of two weeks, I called to follow up on leads. It was tough, but I was able to find an apartment in a nice area in mid-town Toronto. Once that was settled, life became simpler for me.
A successful job search
At the time, I was attending the Black Innovation Connection Program, and now I also had to find a job because my rent was more than I’d budgeted. Landing a job was much easier than expected. My initial plan had been to improve my English and do training to prepare for the Canadian workplace. But when I spoke with the orientation agent at the newcomer agency, I was told Canadian employers value my existing job experience and more training was not required to start working. However, having a good level of English was necessary, and my native tongue is French, so I took the language assessment for English and learned I was qualified enough to start job searching.
This gave me the confidence to look for a job. My plan was to find an entry level position to help me better understand Canadian culture. I applied for 10 to 15 jobs and was surprised to have multiple offers the next week. To have so many offers and recruiters pressuring me to take a job is very different from where I come from. It was a positive experience and I accepted the offer that was best for me.
Setting up for entrepreneurship success
When I decided to participate in the Black Innovation Connection program I had two main complementary objectives.
The first objective was to register my company in Canada which would be a continuation of the one I already had in Cameroon and which would serve the Cameroonian market, as well as the entire African market. This is a market with a strong potential for which I have a certain expertise. This first objective has been achieved. I opened my company in just one day with an amazing RBC platform called Ownr.
I also benefit from RBC’s low-cost financial solutions dedicated to small businesses, but above all, from the services of a dedicated banking advisor with whom I have built a great relationship. Before I left Cameroon, I spent a lot of time comparing bank offers to choose the one to do business with. I chose to open a bank account with RBC because of its dedication to entrepreneurs. My experience so far confirms that I was not mistaken in my choice.
My second objective in joining the Black Innovation Connection program was to raise funds to be able to finance my new ambitions, as Toronto is part of the North American capital market—which is, by far, the largest in the world.
This second objective has been postponed. My participation in the program helped me realize that fundraising requires a real strategy for which I need more time to prepare and to adapt to the tech ecosystem. But I remain confident that it is a goal that I can achieve very soon.
Toronto is a friendly city
I find the people of Toronto are really welcoming here. When I stayed at the Airbnb, I spent a lot of time in a coffee shop where people were kind and easy to talk to. It’s the same in my new neighbourhood. I play basketball at a nearby gym twice a week, and I have no trouble finding teammates. I should also say I’m a big fan of the Toronto Raptors. Did you know one of the players, Pascal Siakam, is from Cameroon?
Toronto is a welcoming and diverse place. I feel really comfortable here.