How Start-Up Visa Program is assisting international start-ups in setting up their businesses in Canada
After making a splash in India with its HR Tech platform that enables companies to customise customer relationship management and application tracking systems, tech startup Enrich.io shifted its base to Canada in September 2020. The move might have surprised many, but made perfect business sense for a startup that was ready to kickstart a new chapter of growth.
The country’s immigration-friendly policies, a burgeoning community of investors and mentors, and an opportunity to make inroads into a global market were some of the reasons that helped Enrich.io’s founding team members — Vinay Johar, Lovepreet Dhaliwal, and Vinod Bharadwaj— make up their mind. However, what made the decision easier was the support extended by the Toronto Business Development Center (TBDC) in applying for the Canadian government’s Start-Up Visa (SUV) programme.
“We were looking to expand globally and on the east coast. Toronto is the perfect place to meet this requirement. Moreover, Canada’s SUV visa programme was ideal for building a core team, while growing our tech, sales, and global teams in Toronto,” says Enrich.io, CEO, Vinay Johar.
Launched in the 1990s, TBDC helps startups from across the world explore new opportunities and set up their business in Canada while offering business resources and advisory support. The programme is tailored to suit the unique requirements of individual startups.
The corporation has been designated by Citizenship and Immigration Canada — the government department looking into regulations and issues related to immigration and citizenship — to help immigrant entrepreneurs applying for the SUV programme. The programme was introduced by the Canadian government to attract international entrepreneurs who can create jobs and bring value to the country’s economy.
A roadmap for growth
The SUV programme offers startup teams a permanent residence in Canada to help support them in their growth story. In its recent budget, the center had proposed to provide $1.4 billion in funding over four years to help as many as 160,000 small and medium-sized businesses adopt new digital technologies. The six-month programme has been specifically designed to help upcoming companies in over 20 sectors like aerospace, FinTech, EdTech, HealthTech and mobility solutions.
TBDC was among Toronto’s first startup incubators and was initially established as a non-profit organisation to support new entrepreneurs and businesses. Over the years, TBDC has evolved as a premier incubator programme and has supported over 2,000 entrepreneurs in scaling their businesses.
Talking about the startup’s experience of collaborating with TBDC, Vinay says, “The incredible team at TBDC supported us throughout the process. We worked with distinguished mentors and advisors and connected with other startups, which boosted our morale. Even during the COVID-19 crisis, the TBDC team continued to support and encourage us.”
He also said that the TBDC team was always available for advice or support. “During our initial interactions with other incubators, we found the team to be very responsive and connected us with great mentors. Location-wise, Toronto downtown, where we wanted to set up a global office, fit the bill as far our vision was concerned. This support is ideal for any tech startup wanting to go global.”
Till now, TBDC has supported more than 50 startups from India in their journey to discover new avenues of growth in Canada.
The SUV programme complements the thriving startup ecosystem in Canada that’s strife with resources that can be critical to drive business growth. For starters, the country’s government has introduced special programmes for entrepreneurs from across the world who're looking for opportunities to scale in the North American market.
“Canada boasts of one of the highest percentages of foreign-born citizens than any other G8 country and is home to more than 14 million who speak more than 200 languages. The melting pot of cultures makes for a great background for entrepreneurs to test new ideas and excel,” says Esha Chopra, Director Strategy and Marketing, TBDC.
She adds that the country's student-friendly immigration policies enable talented individuals from around the globe to join the Canadian workforce every year and add to the talent pool.
“Some of the top technical universities like University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, McGill University and University of Waterloo offer job opportunities to international students without the cutthroat competitiveness that is the norm for the Silicon Valley in the US,” says Esha.
Nurturing a robust ecosystem for entrepreneurs
Talking about how TBDC has managed to carve a niche for itself with its distinctive position in Canada's startup ecosystem, Esha says the organisation works closely with entrepreneurs in growing their businesses in Canada through its various other initiatives. “Aside from our flagship SUV programme, TBDC’s International Soft-Landing programme is designed for established international scale-ups and startups looking to expand their businesses in North America.”
“The SUV programme has been designed to ensure that startups are successful in their move by providing a robust support system that includes world-class mentors as well as access to investors and funding opportunities,” she adds.
TBDC assists SUV programme applicants in two phases: a two-month pre-acceleration that’s hosted virtually and the six-month acceleration phase that’s conducted in office settings. In the first setting, the applicants get access to partner services perks worth $950,000, advisory hours, mentorship sessions and other business services, among other benefits.
In the second phase, the applicants sit down with the TBDC team to deep-dive into business advisories, get access to capital and talent, while exploring networking opportunities. To apply for the programme, startups first have to register online. Once the TBDC team performs the due diligence, the applicants are then interviewed by a panel who assess their potential to innovate to make the final call.
Doling out some advice for entrepreneurs who were considering applying for the SUV programme, Vinay says, “The SUV programme and TBDC’s guidance are a perfect combination. It’s a long process, and you need a team who understands it, guides you, and helps you get it done successfully. You would also need a local partner who helps you to get an office space, get payroll settings up, connect with the local echo system to raise money, and acquire new customers. With TBDC, you have a package deal.”
New players, new directions
Esha says that TBDC selects the startups on the basis of parameters like their past performance, clientele and market traction. “We are open to founders from around the world working on solutions that have the potential to build a business in Canada, and create jobs for Canadians on a global scale,” she explains.
TBDC motivates entrepreneurial-minded individuals from diverse communities to develop their business plans and to effectively launch their companies through a variety of tailored programmes. TBDC and its affiliate organisations provide advisory support to budding entrepreneurs and even individuals currently receiving social assistance, and persons with disabilities.
The corporation aims to support over 10,000 Indian entrepreneurs/startups in ramping up their growth trajectory by setting up their base in Canada by 2025. Shedding light on TBDC's future plans, Esha says, "In 2021, we are expecting to rope in more entrepreneurs working in fields like artificial intelligence/machine learning, HealthTech, SaaS, B2B solutions, CleanTech and FinTech. In March 2021, we had supported around 130 women entrepreneurs in growing their businesses."
TBDC's unique initiatives have attracted several startups from across the country, with the most traffic coming from Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Hyderabad.
“In recent times, we have seen more and more startups working in areas like remote working tools, business resiliency services and HealthTech that have immense potential in markets that are limping back to normalcy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she adds.