Franck Ndayubashe was sent to Canada at 14 years old to escape the civil war in Burundi, East Africa. He and his brother came to live with their older brother in Montreal, which was a good fit considering Ndayubashe’s mother tongue was French. But he decided to leave the Quebec city to attend the University of Winnipeg as he wanted a quiet place with few distractions so he could focus on studying and his future plans. He always knew he wanted to open a business one day, so he majored in business administration. After graduating in 2012, Ndayubashe joined an insurance brokerage company to gain some real-world experience, but it did not take long, however, before the stylish Ndayubashe, known for wearing bowties, had a business idea he couldn’t ignore. And, in 2015, Ndayubashe started up his company, Off The Wood, selling wooden bowties, wooden sunglasses and other wood accessories made from a variety of different woods(including teak, black walnut, bamboo and beech).
How did you come up with the concept of Off The Wood?
In thinking about fundraising ideas to send money back home [to Burundi], and being a bowtie person, I remembered a wooden necklace that I had when I was young and how people commented on it a lot. So, I thought, why not make wood bowties? In my research, I found that people had been doing this, but not in Canada. I hadn’t seen anybody doing it here. So, I contacted a carpenter that I knew in Quebec to make one for me and we were in business right away.
As a newcomer going into business in Canada, what kinds of qualities are important?
Getting involved! Being an immigrant here, coming from a different culture, you are in a country that is multicultural. You have to be around, involved in as many ways as you can. You have to welcome everyone, not be afraid of being surrounded by other people. Learn other cultures. Hang out with different people from different countries. It gives you different perspectives.
Why did you decide to settle and establish your business in Winnipeg?
I came to Winnipeg for school and decided to stay, as it is a small city that I have some friends in, but we rarely see each other. We see each other for birthday parties or occasions, which is perfect. It gives me a chance to be in my corner and focus on what I do.
Do you have any advice for other immigrant entrepreneurs starting up a business in Canada?
Never be afraid! Most people, when they think about business, they think about having to go through the paperwork — you need money all this kind of stuff — and it blocks them from even getting started in anything. Any idea is good if you believe in it. You have to never be afraid and just go into it and try. If you never try, you will never know. You have to put work into it before you can expect anything out of it. Don’t think about the hours you put in. Don’t think about the money. Think about the idea and the reason you are in business. Have a clear vision of what you are doing and why.
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