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EO Ottawa member Huiping Zhang is the president and founder of Wintranslation, a translation company formed in 1998. Huiping launched the company as a one-woman operation and has grown it into an award-winning organization that provides translation and project management services for the technology sector and has unique offerings in Canada’s Indigenous languages.
In 2019, Huiping Zhang, was honored for her contributions to Ottawa’s economy as a recipient of the City of Ottawa’s Immigrant Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Currently, an estimated 90% of Huiping’s employees are immigrants and 70% are female.
Wintranslation and its founder Huiping are a testament to the value newcomers can bring to the economy. We recently asked her to reflect on her entrepreneurial journey.
What is Wintranslation and how did you get the idea to start this business?
Wintranslation is a Canadian translation company that specializes in Canada’s indigenous languages. Many years ago—more than 20—when I was fresh out of grad school and at my first part-time job in Ottawa, I worked as an interpretation coordinator at an immigrant settlement agency and was exposed to the language service industry. I became aware of the outsourcing business model and wanted to start a company focused on business-to-business translation, which was lacking in my city at the time. In time, the company grew and evolved into a national player which also exports its services to the U.S.
Has being an immigrant helped you along your entrepreneurial journey?
Surviving and thriving as an immigrant has many comparable aspects to building a business. It requires an open mind, high degree of adaptability and a can-do attitude.
I believe the most valuable gift I received from my family, is the lesson of never forgetting to look at the big picture. For me, a job is more than just a means to earn money and provide for my family. It is an activity that I spend a great deal of time on, so it better be something that I enjoy. I agree with the saying, “do what you love and the money will come.” To take on a job just for money sacrifices personal happiness, and is not in the long term interest of one’s well being, in my opinion.
I grew up in the suburb of an industrial city in southern China. My parents both worked for a tractor factory and we lived in a community on the factory compound. My mom practiced medicine at the factory hospital and my dad was a plumber and then a tractor salesman.
My life took a turn when I moved to Windsor, Ontario, to pursue my Masters in communication studies. I barely remember what I learned during the three years at the University of Windsor. I was struggling. People in Canada think and write differently than what I was used to; my papers were not well received by my professors; I did not have enough money; my family and friends were far, far away.
I came out of graduate school with a Master of Arts, a boyfriend by the name of Ryan Iler and a permanent resident status that allowed me to look for a job. After a couple of short-term clerical positions including one at the Multicultural Council, I started my own translation business. The blend of enormous freedom as well as responsibility associated with running your own business was perfect for me. I knew I had found my calling from the get-go. I realized I had stumbled upon this perfect platform, one that allowed me to fully realize my potential and develop myself.
It is a playground that I never had as a kid, a place where I could do whatever I wanted—be as lazy or as hardworking as I please, or be the very best that I could be.
My journey as an entrepreneur and a person is not without struggle. My accounting was a mess; I had high employee turnover; I did not know a thing about marketing and sales; becoming a mom brought on a new set of challenges. There were numerous occasions I felt overburdened. I felt like raising my hands and admitting that I couldn’t live up to the challenge.
What kept me going was what I saw in the big picture. I saw a gateway to total personal and financial freedom; I saw a competent, agile business person emerging from my half sleeping, absent-minded self; I saw endless opportunities. After my wounds healed, I looked in the mirror and found myself never looking better.
What was the hardest part about being a newcomer and starting a business and how did you overcome these challenges?
It is hard being a newcomer and it is even harder as a newcomer in arts and social sciences. Lacking social networks and the knowledge of how business is awarded and conducted are just some examples. I remember when I came, I spoke enough English to understand conversations, but I did not understand the cultural references such as hockey, names of musicians, or TV shows.
I would be in a conversation but not fully engaged because I did not know the cultural context of what people were talking about. What helped me overcome the challenges is an innate curiosity and willingness to learn. Plus, I already possess many of the attributes that are helpful in building a business such as the ability to deal with the unknown and a can-do attitude.
If you could give one tip to immigrants starting businesses outside their home country, what would it be?
It is not for the faint of heart, do it at a time in your life when you can afford to fail—such as before you have kids and a mortgage!
What are some of the benefits of being part of a community of entrepreneurs like EO?
Being part of EO reminds you that you are not alone—that someone else already went through the same daunting challenge. It also provides multidimensional support in the life of an entrepreneur—across business, personal and family.
It is really a support network for thriving in every aspect of an entrepreneur’s life—building not just financial success, but a meaningful life journey that is satisfying, surrounded by friends and family, adventuring in the company of like-minded brave hearts.
Wintranslation’s workforce is comprised almost entirely of Canadian newcomers. Why is hiring newcomers so paramount to your company’s success?
Being an immigrant myself, I recognize and admire the resilience of people who are uprooted and have to start new in a new country. To me, having the courage to take that journey says a lot about that person. Those attributes—resilience and adaptability—are very valuable in business.
Where is Wintranslation heading in 2019?
At the moment, Indigenous language translation is the fastest growing part of our business. We would like to expand our dialect coverage (a language such as Inuktitut has more than 20 dialects) and bandwidth, so we can handle more projects.