“It made perfect sense for us to come to Canada,” immigrant entrepreneurs say

August 31, 2017

By Financial Post |

It’s been a true globe-trotting entrepreneurial journey for Sharoon Thomas and Rituparna (Ritu) Panda. They’re the co-founders of Fulfil.io in Toronto, an AI-based platform that specializes in connecting sales, fulfilment and purchasing functions through a single source.

Toronto wasn’t their first stop on their quest to found a company. Thomas and Panda started Fulfil.io in India in 2015, and within two months were accepted into an accelerator program in Silicon Valley.

When the program was finished, Thomas says there was no clear visa path for immigrant entrepreneurs in the U.S. The only option for getting a visa would be to reduce their majority equity holding and give up control to a board.

So when Extreme Venture Partners (EVP) sent them an invitation to consider Canada, they decided to try their fortunes here. EVP is a Toronto-based VC firm whose most recent fund is focused mainly on immigrating international startups to Canada.

“It made perfect sense for us to come to Canada,” Thomas says. “Our largest partner, Shopify, is headquartered here, and our biggest competitor is based out of Waterloo. We realized if we wanted to build a large company, we could do it from here.”

Their trajectory has been impressive since they started their move in September last year. Not only have they experienced constant growth, the team has been accepted into the Communitech Rev program, which is focused on companies with a vision and process to scale to $100 million in sales.

A key concern when choosing the country of choice was ensuring the right talent would be both available and secure, Panda says. “If we want to bring someone in, we don’t want them held up at the border. So much could go wrong.”

The idea of immigration risk is increasingly becoming an issue for entrepreneurs running a business in North America, says Ray Sharma, EVP’s CEO and founder. “The last thing startups need is immigration risk. How can you grow a business if you don’t know if the country will kick you out?”

Long before the threat of travel bans, Hamid Akbari, founder and CEO of BlancLabs, a digital innovation consultancy in Toronto, says he chose Canada when many of his friends were heading to Silicon Valley. He says processes on the immigration front for entrepreneurs starting out in Canada have improved even more since he arrived from Iran in 2005. “Canada truly celebrates diversity not just in work, but in regulations that are good for innovation and economic prosperity.”

Diversity also plays a key role in his global branding efforts, since Akbari can find the skills within easy reach. “It’s easy to build a company that wants to operate globally. The greatest thing is you have talented people who can come in and help build the economy that also have bridges to commerce at a global level. If I need to figure out how to crack the Columbian market, I can find top-notch Columbian people here.”

Immigrant entrepreneurs are becoming an increasingly prevalent force in the Canadian economy thanks to strong government support and more welcoming immigration policy. A MaRS annual survey of Ontario-based startups shows that in 2015, more than 54 per cent of MaRS supported ventures had a foreign-born founder, up from 42 per cent in 2013.

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