After arriving in Winnipeg in 2008 from Sri Lanka, Ralston de Zilva had hopes of achieving greater things for himself and his young family. Prior to leaving Sri Lanka, Ralston was an executive supervisor of four different divisions in a major satellite TV company, but he always dreamed of having his own company someday.
“I had all these amazing ideas flow in my mind of what I would’ve like to achieve in my own company, but due to the lack of finances and support at the time, they were just dreams that I’d wake up to every day,” Ralston explained.
After meeting his wife, he was introduced to the amazing tea flavours that Sri Lanka had to offer in a way that he didn’t understand before. His father-in-law was a manager of a tea factory which gave him access to a wealth of knowledge (and tastes) of Ceylon teas. Before he knew it, his wife and him started a small tea business where they made their own packaging at home and started delivering them by bus to businesses and staff, which eventually grew to retail stores. “My dream was finally starting to be a reality,” he described.
But Ralston’s new tea business came to a halt when he received permanent residency for Canada and had to start his business from scratch again in a new country. “The dream of starting a business seemed so out of reach when I was informed we had to build credit first to even apply for a small loan or credit card,” he said. With no other options as a new immigrant, Ralston set out to find regular employment again, and put his dream of owning a business to the backburner.
Meanwhile, his sister Amanda was excelling at her career in customer service and administration and was given an opportunity to work at one of Sri Lanka’s largest tea manufacturing companies. She eventually joined Ralston and his family in Canada in 2014 and shared similar dreams as Ralston’s, to own her own business.
Like two peas in a pod, it was a no-brainer that Ralston and his sister, Amanda, should start a tea business in Canada which would bring their passion of Ceylon tea to Canadian consumers. But the idea was easier said than done. The lack of funding available to the pair was barricading them from pursuing their true passion. Several financial institutions refused to fund the brother-sister duo because Amanda was new to Canada and Ralston’s credit rating alone wasn’t enough to get the funds that would be needed to build a business. “It was very discouraging, but we kept searching for options,” he shared.
That’s when Ralston and Amanda stumbled upon Futurpreneur Canada. Futurpreneur helped Amanda and Ralston build a business plan and provided them with financing to get their business off the ground and turn their dream into reality. On top of the much needed financing, their mentor, Willow Wolf, and the contacts they made through networking events they attended, helped them build their brand and business, Chizma Tea Collections.
After landing financing with Futurpreneur, they had success with landing additional financing through RBC too, which helped them skyrocket their company and reach customers across North America through social media and tradeshows. “Our shop at City Place in downtown Winnipeg is rocking the city with its teas and getting great reviews by our customers for the great service,” Ralston shared proudly.
Written by: Lauren Marinigh, Social Media & Content Creation Coordinator, Futurpreneur Canada