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Association Profile: CIBPA (Canadian-Italian Business and Professional Association)

By Elaine Sambugaro |

Business associations can be a pool of hidden resources for entrepreneurs.

There are hundreds of these non-profit associations scattered across the country – ranging from culturally-based organizations to industry-specific groups - where the small business owner can identify new clients and obtain quick access to marketing, financial or legal advice.

In the past, published a series of articles profiling prominent business associations. We're reviving that effort and in the coming months will continue to outline who these associations are, how you can contact them, and most importantly, analyze what concrete benefits - if any - can be gained by purchasing the memberships and other services they offer.

The Italian-Canadian connection
One ethnically-based association that provides networking opportunities is the CIBPA, the Canadian-Italian Business and Professional Association.

The CIBPA is a federation of 1,600 small-to-medium sized business owners and professionals with nine local chapters across Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec. It provides guidance to the small, independent business owner and encourages their non-partisan participation in political, economic and social debates.

It's primarily known for hosting monthly guest-speaker dinner meetings and for its fundraising initiatives. But, the CIBPA is also noted for having cultivated a series of partnerships with well-known national organizations such as the Royal Bank Financial Group, Deloitte and Touche, KPMGToronto and the Scotiabank.

"We want to be coast-to-coast by the end of this year," Clementi said. "Our vision is to give our members quick access to Italian-owned businesses right across the country."

Although CIBPA has been dubbed "old boys network" by competing associations, Clementi says that things have changed – fast.

In the last six months, he says that women have become the driving force on their 15-member board of directors, outnumbering men by a ratio of 8:7. "I'm a little uncomfortable now," Clementi said with a smile, acknowledging that forceful and persistent networking techniques have helped many female members excel in the organization and in their business career.

Not all members agree that the CIBPA has helped them with their business. Some dissenters have expressed concern with the quality of guest speakers chosen for the association's monthly dinner meetings. Others have said that they have been unable to see dollar-for-dollar returns and that more value-added options ought to be added to the membership package.

Not so for Rossana Magnotta, a seven-year member of CIBPA. The Vice President of Magnotta Wineries in Concord ( says that being a member is definitely worth it for her. She said she was able to promote her wines within the association's membership and that the exposure led to more business opportunities.

"When we joined we were a small company," Magnotta said. "I had a lot of support from the members … I networked and tried to brand ourselves within the Italian community. Now, we're a 23 million dollar business," she said.

Magnotta, and her business and lifetime partner, Gabe, have turned their small business into an award-winning enterprise. Although their wine is not available through the LCBO, Magnotta is one of Canada's fastest growing wineries with five locations across Ontario.

Emilia Valentini, as Manager of Business Development, Economic & Technology Development with the City of Vaughan, also says that her experience within the association has been positive.

"I benefited in a couple of ways," she said. "I was able to create a personal network that is still part of my immediate circle of friends and I also saw a renewal in my family business through word of mouth," she said.

Although a formal mentoring program within the association does not exist, Valentini said that she feels comfortable calling people she meets at the dinner meetings to gain from their expertise. "When you sit and break bread with someone and make that face-to-face connection, it warms the telephone call," she said.

Membership fees
Becoming a member of the CIBPA can be a little pricey, if you have a limited budget. First time members are required to pay a $50 initiation fee and a $350 membership fee, plus GST which totals $428.00. For a Plus membership, the costs go up to $650 plus the $50 initiation fee and GST for a total of $749.00. However, if you are a student a membership for you will cost $50 plus GST, for a total of $53.50.

That, however, does not include the cost of meals at the monthly dinners. Those are an extra $40 each, if purchased on a pay-as-you-go basis, or $30 a piece if purchased in a package.

Asked about what entrepreneurs get from the membership, Anna Daria, the executive director of the Toronto chapter said: "the CIBPA is an excellent place to network with politicians, bankers, insurance brokers and lawyers. Small business owners can tap into this knowledge-base and get professional, proactive advice in a casual environment – at no extra cost."

Aside from the networking benefits, the CIBPA provides members with a telephone directory in binder format (soon to be transferred to an Internet database) which is designed to facilitate networking outside of the standard monthly meetings.

Members also get a value-added discount card to encourage member-to-member business transactions and free booth space at every meeting to display their products and services.

For more news about the CIBPA, visit their Toronto Web site at or telephone Anna Dara at 416-782-4445.

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