Mission Accomplished – StartupVisa Canada

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Remember back in 2011 when I was xenophobic and wasn’t supporting Startup Visa? To the credit fo the incredible StartupVisa Canada Initiativea team, which I was lucky enough to join and support, the Federal Government is launching a new class of immigration visa with the participation of CVCA and NACO. Check out Christine Dobby’s summary from the press conference (it’s where all my statistics and data are from). Go read Boris Wertz’s story about Summify founders and the impetus for Startup Visa Canada.

“We believe startups to be the driving force behind job creation and prosperity,” says executive director Richard Rémillard. “We need to be pro-active in attracting foreign entrepreneurs.”

The new visa is replacing the old “entrepreneur class” visa, which required the applicant/immigrant to hire one person for one year. In 2011, the federal government issued approximately 700 of the old entrepreneur class visa. The government is making 2,750 visas, issued to immigrants based on selection and funding by venture capital investors. Immigrants receive immediate permanent resident status. Looks like a pilot program with a 5 year lifespan, with the opportunity to make permanent depending on uptake.

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My issues back in 2011 and previously, were not with the intent of the program. But in the proposed implementation details. One of the biggest assets, in my not so humble opinion, is the population diversity, with 46% of Toronto’s pouplation being foreign born. It is the creative tension between differing viewpoints that makes Canada an amazing place. The implementation of startup visa makes Canada an even more attractive place to recruit foreign born scientists, engineers and now entrepreneurs. I love it!

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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World’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.

StartupVisa – The Canadian Edition

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Photo by Eduardo Zarate

Canada is a great country. One of the defining characteristics are the forward looking immigration policies that appeal to educated potential immigrants.

Danny Robinson (@dannyrobinson), Maura Rodgers (@maurar), Boris Wertz (@bwertz) started StartupVisa.ca as a response to the StartupVisa.com created by Eric Ries, Dave McClure, Shervin Pishevar, Brad Feld, Paul Kedrosky, Manu Kumar, & Fred Wilson in the US. The goal is to modify existing Canadian immigration policy to expedite the process for entrepreneurs and change the “minimum net worth of C$300,000 that was obtained legally” to include provisions for “Canadian funding of $150,000”.

Danny was giving me a hard time the other night because I have not signed or blogged about the StartupVisa.ca efforts (unlike Mark MacLeod, Financial Post, HackerNews, NextMontreal, TechVibes and others). I agree with the efforts in principle. I think changing the immigration policy to be more entrepreneur friendly would help Canada. My issues centre around the wording of the proposed changes. I am not policy writer, I am not a policy wonk. But it feels like the proposed changes do not meet the requirements of good policy. This is where the proposed US legislation feels more robust and complete. The provisions of the existing Entrepreneur program are great and include:

  • You must control at least one-third of the equity and actively manage a qualifying Canadian business for at least one year after becoming a permanent resident.
  • The business must have created the equivalent of at least one full-time job (1,950 hours of paid employment) for a Canadian citizen or permanent resident (other than yourself and your dependants)

I would like to see provisions that include:

  • a better definition of “qualified Canadian funding” – we’ve seen attempts at this in the past including FedDev efforts for Southern Ontario, the goal is to specify funding sources to avoid potential immigration challenges of related to regulating potential groups of investors
  • further clarification about immigrant equity ownership as related to the investment dollars. Currently the criteria includes a definition of ownership of a Qualifying Canadian business as defined by meeting any 2 of the 4 presented criteria around ownership, net assets, sales, income or jobs. It is unclear how the impact of pre- and post- money valuations potentially have on the ownership requirement. My concern is that including further investment could dilute the entrepreneur and make them ineligible according to the sales or ownership criteria already defined in the immigration policy.

I was also curious at the substantive change from $300,000 to $150,000. This reduction is fairly significant. The only reason I can think is that the proposed changes are about investment per person and not corporate investment. My guess is that this requirement is reduced given anecdotal evidence of current entrepreneurs and investment levels in their company from a single angel investor, i.e., this is the investment amount in the company divided by the number entrepreneurs to get $150,000. It’s just unclear how this number was derived.

So I agree with the efforts of StartupVisa.ca crew even if I think their proposal is a little too simplistic to actually function and requires the support of policy and immigration wonks (of which I am neither). What can you do? Read the Open Letter Regarding Startup Visa Canada and if you agree endorse the petition.

Endorse Startup Visa Canada Petition »