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In the global competition for entrepreneurial talent, Ottawa is hoping a new kind of immigration program will help attract the next Google founder – not just more convenience store investors.
Federal immigration minister Jason Kenney was expected to announce in Toronto on Wednesday the next step in launching a “Startup Visa” program, one that would attract entrepreneurs who are rich in ideas rather than cash.
While the details were vague, Kenney and Dragon’s Den TV star and venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary were to announce the government’s intention to create “a Startup Visa program,” according to an advisory put out by the minister’s office late Tuesday.
The minister’s office was unable to provide further details Tuesday.
Kenney has previously mused on Ottawa’s desire to attract the kind of entrepreneur who comes with big ideas that create jobs and help boost the economy. People like Steve Jobs, he has said, referring to the founder of Apple Inc.
Canadian venture capitalists who have been pushing the government to introduce this kind of program said the idea is to attract immigrant entrepreneurs who have the backing of Canadian investors.
“The people I back from my fund can go anywhere. They’re smart, they’re bright, they have ambition. If they’re going to relocate, why not have them relocate here,” said Chris Arsenault, managing partner of Montreal-based venture capital firm iNovia Capital.
Canada has a lot to offer high-tech entrepreneurs, he said, noting the country is rich in information technology skills, from e-commerce to mobile applications.
“If one of the keys to putting a successful business together is bringing (the entrepreneur) here, then let’s have the tools to do it. It doesn’t mean we’re going to import a thousand entrepreneurs to build a thousand companies,” he said.
Other countries, such as the United States, are looking at launching a similar program, Arsenault noted. If Canada fails to act, it could get left behind in the global competition for talent, he said.
Canada has already lost out in some cases, he said. The U.S. born founder of Localmind, a Montreal mobile app creator, ended up moving the company back to San Francisco.
The Romanian-born founders of Summify, a Vancouver-based online news service, were about to see their Canadian work visas expire when the company was bought out by Twitter, he added.
A Startup Visa program would likely allow such entrepreneurs to eventually remain in Canada permanently.
Canada’s existing entrepreneur immigrant program has been criticized for attracting people with lots of money but limited vision, who end up buying convenience stores and other small businesses.
In contrast, the Startup Visa program would be aimed at people “rich in ideas,” Arsenault said. “We’re talking about smart people who aren’t rich in cash, they’re rich in terms of ideas.”
The minister is expected to officially announce the program before the end of the year, after consultations with industry players.