Many immigrants share the same stories from their journeys such as being taken from a familiar home and culture, being placed into the unknown, not finding their own peoples, and then having to interact with other cultures in their new home out of necessity.
That’s the story shared by Jay Florante Cruz Catalan, this week’s Filipino-Canadian in Focus. Jay faced those challenges head-on and, together with his fellow immigrant co-founders, managed to establish a successful and rapidly expanding business. After finding success, Jay then found a way to give back to his community by giving his original culture an outlet to grow in his new homeland.
Jay came to Canada in 1987 along with his siblings to meet with their parents who had arrived shortly before them. The reason for the move was to reunite them all with his mother’s side of the family that immigrated to Canada in the 70s. The move came as an immediate shock to him.
“Moving away from the only community you’ve known your whole life, for a country you know very little about, was a daunting prospect. However, as kids, we did not have much choice in the matter”, he said.
Now in Canada, Jay was faced with the typical challenges that accompanied new immigrants.
“The biggest initial challenge was adjusting to the culture and the language. We all learned English in elementary school in the Philippines, but it took a long while before I was comfortable enough to speak out in class”, he said.
“Navigating and learning the cultural norms of a multicultural public school in East Vancouver took some time to adjust to as well”, he added.
As he continued his schooling into university, he found that he wasn’t encountering many other Filipinos in his classes. Jay said that he only met two other Filipinos in his computer science classes during his entire time at the University of British Columbia.
“We didn’t know very many Filipinos who pursued a university education because the general sentiment in the Filipino community at the time seemed to be to aim for something more affordable and practical”, he said.
Despite these circumstances, he still found a way to connect with his peers and fellow immigrants.
Jay met Minna Van and John Van, Vietnamese immigrants who came to Canada in the early 90s, while taking his computer science classes at UBC. Together, the three of them found a common interest in computer programming and website development. Then they decided to start their first business together.
“We decided to apply what we were learning in class by actually starting a web design company while still in university. This allowed us to improve our skills, learn business through practicing it, and earn some money while we were at it”, he said.
Their web design company was doing well, and it ultimately provided the path towards their future business: The Network Hub.
“As our business grew, it became more difficult to work from home. Our clients were requesting for a more professional space to hold meetings other than the local Starbucks. We initially tried working from executive rental suites downtown, but it quickly felt too corporate and stuffy for us. We wanted a workspace that felt inspiring to go to, but affordable and flexible enough for a small business or startup”.
Thus on September of 2006, The Network Hub co-working space officially opened its doors in downtown Vancouver.
Co-working places such as The Network Hub feature open desk spaces that anyone can rent by the month or longer, as well as amenities that one would expect to find in a regular corporate office such as a stable internet connection, a common kitchen space, a reception area, mailbox services, and private meeting rooms. The open nature of the workspace is meant to facilitate a cross-breeding of ideas between the different disciplines of the occupants, as well as possible collaboration on projects.
At first The Network Hub was a bit of a challenge to sell to potential occupants, as the idea of co-working was not really big at the time it started.
“The initial challenge was getting people introduced to the idea of co-working, and getting people to see that there’s a benefit to becoming a member of a shared workspace, instead of being isolated in a private office”, he said.
But with the rise of freelancers, lean startups, and online workers in Vancouver and around the world, the idea of co-working spaces has really taken off.
“Over the years, the increase in freelancers and startups in Vancouver has helped us greatly as these groups tend to be more open to the idea of a sharing economy and a co-working community”, he said.
The Network Hub opened up a second location in 2011 in New Westminster, a suburb of Vancouver. At the end of 2013, they opened up their third location in nearby Whistler village. From here, the team is looking into potentially franchising out The Network Hub, which could see the company brand explode nationally and beyond.
After establishing The Network Hub, Jay has found time to keep in touch with his Filipino roots and give back to the community by growing the Filipino culture in his adopted homeland. He is co-founder of the Tulayan Filipino Diaspora Society along with several other Filipinos he has met through the years. Tulayan (a Tagalog phrase that means ‘to bridge the gap’) is a group that aims to connect the ever-growing Filipino community through programming around Filipino culture, history, and language. They offer Tagalog lessons and use their network to promote Filipino community events.
Jay has some advice for Filipinos entering new surroundings, and that is to make sure to remember where you came from, but to also make sure to connect with the other cultures in your new surroundings.
“Do not forget your roots, and celebrate your culture as you celebrate others. Take advantage of the unique learning opportunity that Canada’s multicultural landscape provides. Make an effort to learn about other immigrants’ stories, and make sure they know yours,” he said.