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Canada rolls out the red carpet for Indian entrepreneurs

Vikram Khurana, who is in India for the G20 meetings, said TBDC has recently launched a new initiative that promotes entrepreneurship, innovation and economic growth in both India and Canada.

March 17, 2023 / 02:34 PM IST

India is the top source for immigrants in Canada, which is offering a raft of incentives for budding and established entrepreneurs from the Asian giant.

Moneycontrol spoke with Vikram Khurana, a Canadian entrepreneur and chair of the Toronto Business Development Centre (TBDC), a leading business incubator that has been internationally recognised for its efforts in nurturing the growth of new and emerging businesses in the Greater Toronto Area.

Khurana, who is in India for the G20 meetings, said TBDC has recently launched a new initiative that promotes entrepreneurship, innovation and economic growth in both India and Canada. This initiative aids potential immigrant entrepreneurs in identifying business opportunities within the province of Ontario, and provides experienced entrepreneurs with a pathway to permanent residence in Canada by either starting a new business or acquiring an existing one.

TBDC plans to facilitate the arrival of 100 entrepreneurs from India who are willing to invest $200,000 or more in either buying or establishing a business within Ontario. Edited excerpts from the exclusive interaction:

Indians have a long history in Canada.
The oldest gurdwara in British Columbia is now 100 years old and serves as a testament to the longevity of the diaspora from India. The Gujarati and Punjabi communities comprise the largest groups within this diaspora, with their attraction to moving overseas being logical.

Tell us about TBDC.
TBDC is a not-for-profit organisation established by the Department of Economic Development and other departments to aid in the understanding and improvement of entrepreneurship, mitigate risks and create awareness and attraction for those who wish to pursue entrepreneurship. Our objective was to introduce the concept of entrepreneurship to students and the general public, including those who are differently-abled or who were looking to start a business.

Our core mandate was born out of the Canadian government's creation of the Start-Up Visa Program in 2013, the first programme of its kind in the world. The programme aimed to attract immigrant children, also known as "dreamers", who were brought to the US from Mexico or Central America as refugees. The objective was to bring these individuals, many of whom were founding enterprises such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook, to Canada to help them succeed by providing capital and resources. Initially, the programme was launched in 2013 with a limit of 500 entrepreneurs, but in 2019 it was made permanent and has since expanded to encompass entrepreneurs from all over the world.

TBDC focuses specifically on India. We run an awareness and attraction campaign in India with the goal of creating a mutually beneficial relationship between Indian entrepreneurs and the Canadian economy.

What are the gains to the Canadian economy from such a programme?
In Canada, due to the pandemic, numerous businesses have been forced to shut down, resulting in a decrease in the number of potential buyers for those businesses. By attracting more investors, the pool of potential buyers increases, allowing for the preservation of business assets. Secondly, the desire for growth in mainstream businesses is significant, as new developments are continuously taking place, resulting in the need for more businesses to service the growing population. Lastly, the government's decision to allow 500,000 immigrants per year for the next three years will undoubtedly increase the demand for businesses, further emphasising the need for continued growth and development.

Do you encourage only established startups or you can start from zero?
Startups can be at the idea stage and are still welcome, or they may be mature businesses run by entrepreneurs. Companies which have 50 or more employees and are already established would not be considered startups for migration. However, if we assess that the entrepreneur owns at least 10 percent of a non-publicly listed company with the rest of the equity held in private equity or non-listed entities, then they would be eligible for consideration.

How many businesses have been helped by the programme so far?
The TBDC Startup Visa Program has supported the establishment and growth of over 9,000 domestic and international businesses in Toronto and Ontario.

Our Global Entrepreneur Incubator programme is specifically designed to support international startups through the Start-Up Visa Program, offering resources, networking opportunities, mentorship, investment prospects and workspace facilities.

Also read: Oh Canada! Warmer times for immigration in the Great White North

Following the successful completion of our flagship startup visa incubator programme, applicants will be granted permanent residence status and provided with the necessary resources and tools to launch their startup ventures in Canada with confidence and efficiency.

What is the threshold of investment that one has to make in Canada?
There are different programmes to support business migration. Two such are the federal Start-Up Visa Program, which has a higher threshold for investment, and the provincial nominee programmes, which typically focus on mainstream businesses such as trucking, auto body, physiotherapy and gas stations.

Our organisation is currently running a pilot programme for the province of Ontario that focuses on micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and requires an investment of $200,000 or more and a minimum net worth of $400,000. We are working to create awareness and education campaigns to promote this programme.

For the Start-up Visa Program, applicants are expected to possess sufficient personal funds to sustain themselves and cover additional expenses. TBDC can assist with the fundraising process and facilitate introductions to potential investors, including angel investors and other prominent figures interested in supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs.

What do you look for when you choose one proposal over another?
Our primary focus is on innovation, with a particular emphasis on patents, disruptive ideas and being the first mover in a given field. We also value serial entrepreneurship, substantial financial resources and the ability to tackle difficult problems through sheer determination, as exemplified by the likes of Bill Gates. These are some of the key traits that we seek in potential candidates.

What kind of interest are you seeing now? We also had the intervening pandemic years during this time.
There is currently a considerable backlog of 15,000 applications for the Start-Up Visa Program, which was initially designed to accommodate only 1,000 applications under its first iteration. However, due to its immense popularity, the programme has significantly exceeded its projected capacity.

Also read: Indian-origin Ranj Pillai to become premier of Canada's Yukon

Applications for startups are being received from Tier 2 cities such as Bhopal and Gwalior, as well as smaller centres in Himachal and Jammu and Kashmir, in addition to metropolitan areas in both the north and south of India. However, startups from urban centres may have an advantage.

Startups are also an area of focus for the current G20 meetings in India.
A startup panel for G20 leaders will discuss common definitions and align financing networks, diversity and inclusion, and mobility. To achieve these goals, a series of sessions are scheduled to take place in various locations over the next few months. The focus will be on aligning global standards for startups and addressing issues such as intellectual property protection and technology migration, particularly for new inventions such as drones used for irrigation or pesticide management. The G20 hopes that this effort will leave a lasting legacy for the participating countries.

India has a vibrant startup ecosystem as well. Some might worry about brain drain.
Most people believe that if there is a vacuum in a centre, air from the surrounding areas will rush in as per the laws of physics.

Western economies have been encountering population decline, record unemployment rates, labour shortages and a significant requirement for immigrants to maintain consumption and GDP growth. In contrast, you've got India, the most populous country, which has the advantage of being an English-speaking country with the rule of law and a generally self-aware, educated democratic population that can adapt to various skills and contribute to the economy.

Indians make money due to their hard work creating significant economic value. Therefore, it is not a brain drain because inward remittances hit $100 billion in December 2022.

Are there any fiscal incentives on offer?
To attract investment, some provinces offer various incentives such as tax credits for payroll expenses, among others. Additionally, the country offers substantial research and development tax credits, making it an attractive jurisdiction for research and development investment. For every dollar invested in research, nearly 60 cents can be recovered through tax credits.

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Mrigank Dhaniwala
Mrigank Dhaniwala is Associate Editor - Economy at Moneycontrol. Mrigank has 16 years of experience as a reporter, copy and news editor across print, online and wire media. He has reported on Indian and Southeast Asian economies, monetary and fiscal policies, and the bond and FX markets.
first published: Mar 17, 2023 02:23 pm