in Canada, StartupVisa

Blueseed or Canada?

I was recently asked to comment on Blueseed. And I have not been following the issue very closely. I have held a number of non-resident visas during my stay in the US as a student, employee and entrepreneur. I have held at various times during my time in the US an F1 visa, H1B visa, TN-1, B-1 and been an applicant for permanent residency. So I understand the intricacies of working with INS and making sure that I hold the appropriate entry documentation at all times. So I understand for many foreign entrepreneurs the bureaucracy that drives an initiative like Blueseed and the reforms for the StartupVisa initiative when trying to get access to the US.

But why do Canadian entrepreneurs care? If you can’t get into the US on an appropriate visa, should you care about an offshore community.

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For Canadian entrepreneurs and founders looking to immigrate to Canada, we have a number of very similar benefits to the US, and we are probably an even better place for most people to live. There are a number of benefits just based on our proximity to US cities with strong startup ecosystems.  Vancouver is in the same timezone as the Bay area. Toronto, Waterloo, Montreal are in the same timezone as Boston and New York. I think that Canadian startup ecosystems are amazing and I’m not alone (see Startup Genome’s report and their methodology). Toronto placed #4, Vancouver #16 and Montreal #25. We have strong story of investments (Hootsuite, WaveAccounting, Fixmo, ScribbleLive, Kik, Wattpad, TribeHR, Achievers, etc.) and exits (Dayforce, Rypple, Varicent, Postrank, PushLife, Bumptop, SocialDeck, Cognovision, Radian6, etc.). The next 5 years look like a great time for startups in Canada.

Canada is a great place to live

Mercer cites Vancouver (5) followed by Ottawa (14), Toronto (15) and Montreal (22)  as having the best quality of living. The Economist cites Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto as #3, 4 & 5 best places to live (see’s_most_livable_cities). We have a ways go to improve compared to places like Norway (Canada #20 on best place to be a mom). All in all, the quality of life in Canada is amazing. The access to health care, education, culture, capital, security, is unmatched (in my opinion). Sure it’s a little cold but man it just makes patio weather so much more valuable.

Connecting beyond Canada’s borders

We have a growing expat support community with The C100. With strong ties in the Bay area, NYC, Boston and now the UK. We have a Canadian government that is starting consultation on a new “startup visa” for new immigrants.

Canada is an awesome place to be an entrepreneur. And we offer a high quality of life. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

  1. I’m an American software developer, highly experienced, very much a start-up sort of person, and would LOVE to live and work in Canada.  But there’s essentially no way to do so short of already having a job offer in hand.  The “skilled worker” category for immigration is laughable, the last time I checked the only software-related people they’d look at were high-level managers.  From a brief perusal of the Canadian “startup visa” proposal, I don’t think they’ve got it right.  Too much of it focuses on money and investors.  What I’d like to see is the ability to plunk myself down in, say Montreal, for a year or two with a couple of shallow-pocketed hackers and create the Next Big Thing.  I don’t want a job, I can’t guarantee my ability to hire people – the reality is that startups generally fail!  What I want is the chance to create a company and product out of nothing from my Canadian garage, the only investment being in a pallet of Ramen.  I can go to San Francisco or NYC or anywhere in the States and do that right now, why can’t I do it in Toronto?

  2. The quality of life and the growing robustness of the startup ecosystem make Canada a great place for entrepreneurs to work and live. Not to suggest it’s perfect but there are a lot of good things happening.

    cheers, Mark

  3. Strongly disagree. Blueseed may not be much better based on my experiences though. 

    I chose to come to Canada as a dollar store substitute for the US for startup purposes. Unfortunately I can only recommend that coming here IS a possibility to fight your way out of the minor leagues but there are SIGNIFICANT risks that will drain your effort , productivity and capital as they have mine speaking from both a Toronto and Vancouver perspective. The key problems are poor internet infrastructure and regulatory environment (the US is worsening in this regard however), un-entrepreneurial culture, immigrant population and language/cultural barriers especially when it comes to working from home and entrepreneurship and lastly socialist financial regulations that can impede raising capital or exits (one major restriction has been removed from my knowledge but still an uphill battle). Govt regulations also restrict getting business internet at home/residential areas and plans are usage capped and throttled just like residential plans anyway.

    1) Vancouver – easy to rent a roomshare to start off. The city has a lot of self employed web designer types who work from home so landlords are familiar with that, internet on west coast is better than east coast (more on this later) but Vancouver has a dearth of bachelor housing and office space to accomodate growth. There are also sky high property prices that would put any founder at big financial risk and burdens if the startup should falter or have some down periods. All entrepreneurs should be keeping their costs low at least for the first 3-5 years imo. These circumstances also make it undesirable to really put company roots down and headquarter there long term

    2) Toronto – WORST city to rent in by far. Landlords are more than willing to wait months to find the “perfect tenant” in part due to Ontario rental laws and the apparent difficulty of evicting a poor tenant. VERY hard to just to rent a place quickly and work. Toronto has Canada’s oldest immigrant population and most can only understand “work” and “student”. You cannot explain startups to them and many will insist full payment of at least a 1 year lease if you don’t “go to a job”. It’s a similar scam played out on new immigrants in general that can often cost much more than just a year lease. Internet infrastructure is also unsuably poor throughout the city, especially on DSL. Canada has usage caps (DSL can be very small even by international standards) and throttling as standard, and uptimes are far worse than the States. “Independent options” that function more like American ISP’s are still controlled by incumbent monopolies essentially requiring their permission to accommodate new business or improve the quality of their  service and the regulator is very weak/corrupt in ensuring that these guys are viable in the marketplace.

    In both these cities there are strong and LARGE immigrant populations that don’t speak very much English or French and depending, some are consciously making an effort not to and do not see themselves as Canadian. Think the “mexican problem” in the States but multiplied across every other nationality. They do things their way, run complexes or households exactly like things were back in their home countries. This extends to doing business and interactions as well. This point could easily be a book in itself, but I would probably say that this is the largest factor outside of the internet that can impede your progress. Especially if you are trying to rush to market by a certain date and cannot wait long periods to resolve “cultural issues”. Do NOT take this issue lightly. Mountains are made out of small molehills very easily over things that would be ridiculous in any other western country.

    Lastly, if you use want to use the financial markets outside of Canada (especially the US) to raise some capital or day trade to cover day to day costs, there are regulations preventing Canadian residents from opening up accounts or doing so. Yes there is no startup visa, but there is an “entrepreneur exception” to the skilled worker visa. It IS possible to operate in Canada, but if you do come here you may appreciate the whole environment in the US a lot more, not just business.I would think with Blueseed you have the risk of being stuck on a ship if anything happens, and I wouldn’t be convinced of the quality and stability of the internet just yet. Not to mention the control over your business and travel that the Blueseed guys would have over you but there are also benefits of being there with other like minded individuals solving similar problems.
    Cavaet Emptor on both.

  4. I also want to clarify, doing a startup in Canada isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re a Canadian. Nearly everything in Canada is govt funded but non Canadians companies will not have access to these options, or the healthcare for that matter. The VC environment is still thin and sorry guys, giving equity to you guys does not provide nearly the same networks, cache or press exposure as better established US VC’s. This may change with your own homegrown successes but with this weakness means that the funding is only good for built-to-flip startups, not for long term plays and so far the success stories seem to reflect this.  Homegrown long term successes are needed so that international press will even bother with the little Northern backwater outside of RIM.

    Another factor affecting global domination minded plays are the requirements of Canadian majority ownership. in the founding corporate structure. BC doesn’t have that requirement so it can be worked around but higher costs, and not to mention federal vs provincial incorporation bla bla. Bottom line is the US has a better structure to start and bring to market global companies and why Canadian companies have to skirt this by “licensing” their tech and products to a US “parent”. 

    Startup Visa for Canada is still sorely needed, but Canada still has a long way to go.

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