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A New Beginning

What do you do when you can’t find a business to supply what you’re looking for? Most of us just get frustrated and then give up. Not Queeny Li, however. When she couldn’t find the right daycare centre for her children upon arrival in Vancouver from China, she decided to open one herself.

“I was pregnant with my second child,” she explains, “and I needed to find good daycare—but I simply couldn’t. Waiting lists were up to two years, even for infants. And the quality wasn’t always good. It was a frustrating experience. But as I kept looking, I realized that it also represented an opportunity.”

The waiting lists were sending a clear market signal: there’s high demand, and it’s not being met. That’s the catalyst for countless small businesses, and it gave Queeny the confidence to take the plunge. “I had friends in Early Childhood Education (ECE). I trusted and respected them. And I knew they shared my passion—for daycare of the highest quality. So I approached them with my idea of setting up on our own.”

Setting up your own business involves overcoming countless barriers, as Queeny soon discovered. Obtaining permits, finding a location, choosing the right bank, marketing her business—all involved more than she imagined when she first started out. She faced skepticism, even from her own family. “They thought it was going to be too hard for me,” she smiles. “A new country, a new culture, all that paperwork, permitting, marketing—they thought it would be overwhelming and that I would give up halfway through. They were right that it was overwhelming at times; but they were wrong about me giving up! I kept going. And gradually, I made believers of them. They started sharing the vision, and they realized I could do it.”

Queeny’s is a familiar story. Immigrants face daily barriers in building new lives—language, culture, customs, legal systems—and learning how to navigate them in a new country is in itself a major barrier.

But Queeny overcame it, even if she downplays her own strength in doing so. Her proudest moment came on registration day, when her centre opened its doors. As one of the largest daycares in the city, it attracted over 200 families. And in the crowd was her mother, who had flown over from China for the occasion. “She was so proud of me,” Queeny says. “She saw that her daughter had done it. She told me afterwards, when everyone had left, that I had made our whole family so proud through my success. That meant so much to me.”

But Queeny is not about to slow down now. Her thoughts have already turned to opening a second—and then third—daycare centre in the city, in her quest to ease those lengthy waiting lists. And her thoughts have also turned to her young daughter.

“She’s just a little girl, but she’s had a great lesson to start her off in life. She has seen her mom working hard to set up a business—everything from starting with an idea to putting together a daycare centre that occupies three floors. When she wants to do the same thing—whatever the challenge might be—she’ll remember her own mom doing it. And that’s important for me. I know that I’ve broken a barrier for her, and that’s what every parent wants to do for their child.”

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