Immigrants play an outsized role in creating jobs in Canada. First- and second-generation entrepreneurs undertake 34.7% of all early-stage entrepreneurship in Canada — significantly higher than most other comparable economies in the European Union, Group of Seven and Group of 20.
Given their disproportionate economic impact, Canada is working to attract and retain the most promising immigrant entrepreneurs and their ventures. Parag Goswami, founder of Clik.ai
, and co-founders Arunabh Dastidar and Gaurav Madani of SoulRooms
, are three prominent entrepreneurs who took different paths to starting a tech business in Canada, all eventually landing at OneEleven
’s downtown Toronto hub.
The Start-Up Visa (SUV) Program, one of several federal pathways for new immigrants to Canada, targets people with the potential to build innovative businesses in high-growth sectors that create jobs here and compete globally.
Clik.ai founder Parag Goswami
came to Canada as part of the SUV in 2017. Before this, he was in India, running a consulting business, a boutique consulting shop for commercial real estate and real estate finance, based on mortgages and underwriting. He started Clik on the hunch that all of this work could be automated, and eventually done so with the literal click of a single button.
Because the market and all of his initial customer base was in the US, the natural next step for him was to be somewhere in the US, so he began by researching US immigration pathways. However, as a small company, figuring out the immigration route was an uphill struggle for him.
Around the same time, he got in touch with the Canadian consulate in Bangalore, India, where he met with one of the trade commissioners. They recommended the SUV program to him.
“There are only a handful of companies that had gone through the SUV program. The goal of this program is to bring entrepreneurs from outside of North America to North America.
These entrepreneurs should have a product and business which is aligned with the North American markets,” said Parag.
“I thought it was a brilliant next step for me and my immigration coming from Southeast Asia,” he remarked.
On one of his trips to Toronto, Parag met with DMZ’s Ryerson Futures unit. He met with the partners there and they provided him with a formal letter of intent. The SUV program requires a letter of intent from the accredited investors or accelerator programs in Canada. Anyone who can source it can immediately apply for the SUV program.
“The SUV program is a fast-track permanent residency process, so you can get operational here. I applied for a work permit initially which got approved in 2 weeks. I waited for about 6 months to a year and got my PR as well,” he said.
Talking about the challenge of doing business in Canada, Parag said it becomes challenging to do business as an immigrant since you have to leave your network behind. This coupled with a limited number of VCs in Canada hampers the opportunity for a startup to grow quickly.
“Building a network again, understanding the lay of the land and navigating through that, might take more time than usual. We have our sales and marketing here and have built the management here as well, which helps,” he added.
Meet Arunabh and Gaurav
Arunabh Dastidar and Gaurav Madani, co-founders of the proptech company SoulRooms, have faced similar challenges in doing business as immigrant entrepreneurs.
They came to Canada initially as MBA students. Along their journey to starting a business in Canada, they found it challenging to be aware of relevant resources and programs to get the support they need.
“The government has great programs for immigrants. We’ve heard about the SUV program but we didn’t know about it before. That’s the one challenge in general when you’re new to the country,” said Arunabh.
“By being in the right place, you get to proactively know about the resources available,” Gaurav said. “OneEleven has given us access to a brilliant network. We get to see startups at different points in their journey. We see people 6 months ahead of us and we talk to them, learn about what they’ve done and act accordingly,” said Gaurav.
“The programming, in terms of bringing in experts for skill development at OneEleven or having events where you can get access to investors and potential customers have also been really beneficial to us,” he said.
Echoing similar sentiments, Arunabh said, “OneEleven is the best place an immigrant can be, as a founder. There’s a big gap in knowing how startups work as immigrants and if you are among the best companies in Toronto or in Canada, you can’t miss a nugget of knowledge that is floating around.”
This is a TechTo feature article, contributed by OneEleven Managing Director Matthew Lombardi.