Canada has long been referred to as a land of immigrants. That trend continues today, particularly in the technology sector as immigration plays a key role in attracting the world’s best and brightest minds.
In parallel, entrepreneurs and small businesses are the backbone of the Canadian economy. It’s no surprise that immigrant-led technology startups are carving a niche role for themselves and helping to position Canada as a technology powerhouse.
As a percentage of the population, Canada now boasts six times as many skilled immigrants as the United States[i]. As a result, Canada has established a deep expertise in emerging technology areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, 5G, medtech, and fintech, to name a few.
Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada’s (IIRC) Start-up Visa (SUV) program is helping to fuel this innovation by granting permanent residency to applicants who meet the eligibility requirements. But securing an SUV is a time-intensive process that requires expert guidance and insight that goes beyond simply filling in the paperwork.
This primer introduces immigration consultants and lawyers to the behind-the-scenes business and product expertise required to set themselves – and their clients – up for success. It begins with an overview of the startup landscape in Canada and the typical pitfalls associated with the SUV application process. From there, it discusses how to overcome these challenges, including a checklist with the characteristics of a strong SUV company.
EdgeCollab is a business consultancy and technology development firm that specializes in assisting businesses in relocating to new markets. We help businesses find opportunities in foreign markets and adapt their unique value proposition and innovation to effectively position the new offering. The company leverages its expertise to help businesses successfully relocate and foster long-term growth. Furthermore, one of our main areas of focus for foreign business relocation is the Canadian start-up environment.
We hope you will find this both an interesting and informative read.
Shobeir Abbaszadeh and Saeed Zeinali
As the cornerstone for economic development in Canada, strategic immigration provides a competitive edge by enabling technology entrepreneurs to earn a visa if they plan to start and nurture a business in Canada. The federal government’s SUV program is playing an important role in Canada’s emerging technology sector dominance. At the program’s core is a desire to cultivate innovative, economically viable, and globally competitive businesses to fuel the country’s economic engine over the long term while contributing to the country’s rich social fabric.
SUV: Immigration with an Impact
- Economic Impacts:
- INVESTMENT AND EXPORT OPPORTUNITIES resulting from cultural fluency and knowledge of their home markets
- BIGGER, BETTER TALENT POOL brings different experiences to the table, generating new ideas
- ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT that can be tapped for future ventures
- Social Impacts:
- FOSTERS DIVERSITY, EQUITY, & INCLUSION that extends beyond the job and into local communities
- MORE ROLE MODELS AND MENTORS to enforce the mindset “if you see it, you can be it”
- PROMOTES LIFELONG LEARNING that is passed down to future generations
The SUV program began in 2013 as a five-year pilot, gaining permanent program status in 2018. The following year, IIRC approved 523 SUVs – representing an increase of nearly 600% when compared to 2015 approvals. The decrease in the number of approvals within the next two years was caused by the pandemic and is not an indication of applicants’ waning appetites, as 2022 topped 2019 with 583 approved SUVs.[ii]
The Canadian government has indicated significant growth of their target federal business immigrations in coming years, further validating the growth prospects of the SUV program. Specifically, the federal government has indicated a target of 3,500 immigrant under federal business (which includes Startup Visa) in 2023, 5,000 in 2024, and 6,000 in 2025.[iii] This proves a continuing commitment towards start-up immigration programs from the Canadian policy makers.
Did You Know? In 2015, the majority of SUVs were granted to applicants from India. In 2021, most successful applicants originated from Vietnam.[iv]
While the success of the SUV program has been buoyed by increasingly restrictive immigration policies in the United States, earning an SUV is by no means easy. Applicants must meet a strict set of criteria. In addition to having a qualifying business, meeting language requirements, and having enough money to be self-sufficient until the business is profitable, applicants must also secure a Letter of Support (LOS) from a designated entity.
Typically, a designated entity is a venture capital fund, angel investor group, accelerator, or a business incubator that provides critical access to capital, mentorship, coaching, and infrastructure. The LOS is evidence that a business idea is viable and demonstrates validation for the initiative. To get to this stage, applicants work with designated entities and their industry partners to create a comprehensive business plan that covers the following elements.
- Market Analysis: Industry overview, market size, and risk factors
- Key Competitors: History, offerings, and pricing
- Company & Product: Description, roadmap, key differentiators, unique IP, team, ownership
- Go-To-Market Approach: Target personas, channels, business model
- Financing & Financials: Financing, capital requirements, hiring, exit options
Challenges and Pitfalls
There are several barriers to achieving a successful SUV outcome. These stem from a general misunderstanding about what the program is and what it is not, resulting in misguided expectations of everyone involved. In the absence of this knowledge, the SUV application process can be time-consuming, expensive, emotionally draining for applicants, and harmful to a firm’s reputation.
The SUV program is designed to encourage innovative entrepreneurs to immigrate to Canada to establish a new business, with the goal of creating jobs and competing in global markets.
TRUE. The SUV program is intended to attract talent and entrepreneurs that will generate business activity and economic development in Canada across innovative technologies such as blockchain, AI, IoT, and big data.
The SUV program is a loophole to help immigrants attain permanent residency.
FALSE. While obtaining an SUV is often a pathway to permanent residency, successful applicants must demonstrate good faith toward achieving business viability. This includes actively participating in their business to meet defined milestones and timelines.
The SUV program is an investment vehicle that does not require applicants to take an active, hands-on role in their business.
FALSE. The SUV program is about more than immigration and investment – it’s about fostering innovation in Canada’s entrepreneurship community. This requires applicants to be active in the management of their business.
All you need to complete the SUV application process is a good immigration consultant or lawyer – or both.
FALSE. Immigration consultants and lawyers are experts in immigration policy and the law. When they partner with business and technology professionals with years of cumulative experience founding and building successful businesses at scale, they maximize their clients’ potential for success.
There is no need to understand Canadian business culture – the technology will speak for itself.
FALSE. As a startup, there are other critical factors to success. Entrepreneurs must clearly understand the expectations and responsibilities associated with founding and running a technology startup in a foreign country, often with the help of a steady and experienced hand.
Average SUV processing time[v]
An unsuccessful application can be very costly, so it is crucial to get it right the first time.
If an application is rejected, the applicant may be required to repay their designated entity in full – which can amount to thousands of dollars. If they decide to re-apply, they are looking at up to six months to obtain another LOS. At that point, they are again faced with the typical processing time of up to 32 months as they await the IIRC’s new decision.
The intangible costs to both applicants and immigration consulting and legal firms during this time are immeasurable.
Stress and anxiety
Future plans on hold
Bridging the Gap
A holistic approach that taps into the right experts at the right stages of the application process is key to a successful application.
Provides legal counsel and representation on immigration issues, including interpretation of immigration law and guidance on the evolving immigration process.
Provides advice and representation on immigration matters to smooth the immigration path for individuals immigrating to Canada for business, travel, or study purposes; and companies that tap into temporary foreign workers to support their Canadian operations.
Experts who can consult on everything from ideation, incubation, and innovation, and who are well versed in the Canadian technology startup scene.
EdgeCollab falls into the latter category. As an end-to end business and software development company, we serve as a hub for innovation, referring startups to accelerator programs and collaborating with venture capital funds, angel investor groups, and business incubators. Having successfully navigated through several iterations of entrepreneurship ourselves, we have cultivated deep relationships, impressive networks, and unparalleled expertise in the Canadian startup sector that have made our partnership invaluable to SUV applicants.
Our track record of successful SUV applications has resulted in significant contributions to the Canadian economy, with new job opportunities and avenues for personal and professional advancement being created as a direct result of our efforts.
To achieve this, we have partnered with designated entities such as accelerators, venture capital firms, angel investors, and business incubators to navigate the program complexities and maximize applicant success. Together, we bring business and technology experience, commercialization expertise, and capital to give startups the best chance possible. We go beyond the LOS – applying our collective knowledge to help startups build a foundation for long-term success. In doing so, we enable our peers in the immigration consulting and legal fields to focus on what they do best while we take care of business, so to speak.
What does a strong SUV candidate look like?
- Experts in core offering
- Communicates often and openly
- Clear on roles and responsibilities
- High growth potential
- Tackles large market opportunity
- Starts a niche market
- Solves a specific pain point
- Global application
- Clear competitive advantage
- Well-defined yet agile business model
- Start small and local
- Awareness of Canadian market
- Understand regulations
- Strategic and prioritized
- Build minimum viable product first
- Validate before developing further
- Gather stakeholder input
- Learn and adapt
- Seek mentorship and advice
- Spend wisely
- Open to investment
“EdgeCollab helped us to position our business for the Canadian market and helped us to find the right designated entity to support our startup visa application. Their team supported us throughout the process. I would definitely recommend them.”
– Mohammad, SUV client
Beyond the Application
Our jobs don’t end when our clients receive their SUV – in fact, it’s just beginning. We help startups and businesses alike through the various stages of their lifecycle with services such as:
Our team builds software solutions using state-of-the-art technologies such as IoT, AI, and Blockchain.
We help our customers to develop an understanding of the Canadian and North American market.
We help our clients take their products to market and accelerate their growth.
Canada’s technology sector is booming and represents a minefield of opportunities for highly innovative, entrepreneurial-minded immigrants. A team that includes immigration consultants, lawyers, and startup specialists is key to capitalizing on these opportunities. Together, we can help nurture and grow businesses in Canada that will fuel the economy for generations to come.