Till last year, Sharoon Thomas and Rituparna Panda, co-founders of the startup Fulfil.io, were on a predictable path – planning to move to the United States. As the immigration climate got muddied during the 2016 US Presidential election, they did find themselves in a North American nation, except that they arrived in Toronto last October.
“Cracking the US immigration system is very hard,” Thomas, who hails from Kochi and is the startup’s CEO, said. The main issue is, there is “no stability.”
So they opted to immigrate under the Canadian Startup Visa or SUV programme, due to the “clarity” it offers. The logic is simple – building a startup is challenging enough without the added “risk” of maintaining immigration status.
They now work out of the office of Extreme Accelerator. In an interview with the Hindustan Times at its office in downtown Toronto, Extreme Accelerator’s co-founder Sunil Sharma saw an opportunity in the concern over the immigration policies of the Donald Trump Administration south of the border.
He said, “Many founders from many countries such as India, are either in the United States on a temporary immigration status or are desiring to go to the United States. Our feeling is that both of those scenarios are now at greater risk than in the past with new policies that are relooking at immigration, including the coveted H1B visa. With that situation now more difficult to predict with any certainty, there is a very strong case for Canada to step forward and try to bring some of those founders here where we have a much more open and transparent immigration programme and policies.”
In fact, he plans to announce a dedicated fund aimed at enticing such entrepreneurs to Canada soon. Sharma believes Indians, whether in India or in Silicon Valley, are among “the world’s most prolific creators of startups” and wants to attract some to Canada, as he said, “We think India is a great country to co-create startup companies with. The concept is to create mini multinational companies, where there’s a Canadian headquarters and an Indian operation and teams in both countries.”
The fund has already been soft-launched and brought in five teams of founders, including two from India. The SUV programme allows for up to five co-founders of a company and their immediate families to immigrate to Canada.
While the SUV is a pilot programme scheduled to end in 2017 and offers 2,750 visas, the new opening could give it a more permanent shape.
Sharma is also chair of the Canadian Accelerator and Business Incubation Association, which has the “mandate to manage the startup visa list and programme for the Government.”
The effort is now to show the government the programme is “working” and needs to be strengthened.
The uptake of the SUV has been low since its launch, but its proponents hope the new environment will make the number of applicants grow appreciably.
Panda, who is from Delhi, found Canada “very welcoming”.
Fulfil.io offers a business suite for retailers to compete with giants such as Amazon, and two of its co-founders, Prakash Pandey and Tarun Bhardwaj, are in Bangalore.
Thomas and Panda are hopeful their India-based colleagues will also “eventually” make their way to Canada.