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December 11, 2009 / Danny Robinson

Startup Visa Canada

Bootup Labs will inevitably choose companies from outside the country to invest in.  These companies would work for a minimum of 8 months with us in Canada.  In the case of our January cohort, potentially 3 of the 6 founding teams are moving here from outside the country, and all 3 companies have proactively indicated that they have no intention of leaving Vancouver after they have completed their time at Bootup Labs.

Bootup Labs has neither the time nor resources to work through the immigration red-tape every time.  I have to believe that reversing the brain-drain has to be a priority for the government.  So, I am asking for your help.  Let’s make Vancouver (and Canada) an easy place for entrepreneurs to set up shop!

The startup community in the US is rallying behind a way to streamline the immigration of foreign startup founders.  I say, let’s take advantage of Canada’s nimbleness (relatively speaking of course) and beat the Americans to their Startup Visa concept. This is how is could work for us:

  1. VC Firms and Investors apply to become “Sponsors”
  2. Founders apply to Immigration Canada along with an accepted Term Sheet from the pre-approved VC Firm
  3. A temporary work visa is approved for the founders with certain conditions:
    1. They incorporate a canadian company within X days of Landing in Canada and become employees of that company.
    2. They close on the financing.
    3. They cannot work for another company.
    4. They can apply for a more permanent status after a “probationary period” of some amount of time.

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comments? support? suggestions?  let’s get started.


  1. Dave / Dec 11 2009 10:46 pm

    Get Paul K on board. He's a big backer of the US version.

  2. Brad Feld / Dec 11 2009 11:06 pm

    Awesome Danny! Hugely supportive of the idea (obviously) and would love to see the Canadians motivate the Americans a little!

  3. Boris / Dec 11 2009 11:27 pm

    To be fair, we have a few advantages over the US. We don't require visas for regular visits for many more companies, and if you've got a degree, it's fairly easy to make it into Canada.

    In BC, we're even lucky enough that directors don't need to be residents.

    It's still going to take red tape, and we've got to find a way to make this easier.

  4. Parveen Kaler / Dec 11 2009 11:44 pm

    We are also more lenient with respect to tourist Visas for Commonwealth Citizens. It's one of the few advantages (probably only advantage) of still being a constitutional monarchy.

  5. Colin Percival / Dec 12 2009 1:36 am

    It seems to me that the right answer here is NOT to create a new visa category; rather, to broaden the existing Entrepreneur Program. All you'd need to do is remove the "two years of business experience" requirement and allow VC financing to count towards the "$300k of net worth" requirement; the first might take a bit of work, but the second should sail through easily given that the net worth requirement exists just to make sure you have enough capital to start a business.

  6. Stewart Marshall / Dec 12 2009 1:43 am

    Just a note of caution. Processing times. Work Visas are relatively quick, but should the individual want to stay permanently it takes a long time, often years in fact.

    A new type of startup visa could be a good idea, but if it ends up being a practical short cut to getting into Canada, it may be that the value of the pool of entrepreneurs coming through will not be a good as intended.

  7. Maher Arar / Dec 12 2009 6:49 pm

    This is a very good idea. It will encourage smart entrepreneurs from all over the world to consider establishing their start-ups in Canada.

  8. davidcrow / Dec 12 2009 7:09 pm

    Combining Danny's suggestions and @Colin Percival of the existing visa structure is a great plan. Having local funding sources qualify to count towards the "$300k net worth" requirement is a great idea, actually structuring it at a minimum sweat equity plus local investment starting at $300k.

    Canadian cities (like Toronto and Vancouver) already have some of the most diverse populations in the world. In Toronto with over 50% of the residents born else where it creates a great creative tension between differing viewpoints. It would be fantastic to continue to demonstrate Canadian openness and acceptance by the creation or modification of existing visas to allow/encourage immigration of skilled workers by extending the definition of "skilled worker" to include entrepreneurs.

    Fantastic stuff guys!

  9. Jason Boyle / Dec 13 2009 6:26 am

    Here is a duplicate of my comment posted on Techvibes.

    Great intention Danny.

    But first, fix the VC situation in Canada first before trying to attract others. As is, local Canadian residents are having a hard time convincing local VC, especially on cutting edge new technology. Majority of VC's in Canada are too afraid to risk investing on new technology. Very opposite view from VC in the south.

    Here is my solution: Before we bring in more people, why don't we take care of startups here in Canada. Fix the VC's here in Canada first. Make sure they are knowledgeable with the current technology and willing to take the risk. Think Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon. They are successful (or will be) because VC in the US took the risk and saw the potential when no one else did.

    Have a litmus test for VC in Canada. How many of them have a LinkedIn account? If they don't they should be replaced with someone more competent and in touch with current technology. Again, lets help startups who are currently in Canada first before we bring in others. The change has to come from VC's in Canada. This will also encourage our entrepreneurs to stay in Canada than partake on the US Startup Visa.

    • davidcrow / Dec 13 2009 3:03 pm

      Hey Jason,

      Rather than just crap on our VCs, do you have data to back up the "too afraid to risk investing on new technology"? Yes, the CVCA data shows a reduction in the number of deals and the size of deals for the past 2-3 years for Canadian VCs, however, this doesn't show a fear of new technology, it might equally show a combination of the market realties and the state of corporate development of startups.

      Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn are exist in their own unique market conditions. I'm not sure that the Canadian marketplace will ever give rise to a venture that looks like these. We have created a few HUGE companies, we have at least 2 billion dollar companies hiding in Waterloo (RIM and OpenText).

      Before we condemn Canadian VCs, maybe we should base our decisions on data not just opinion. Is the Canadian VC world perfect, hell no, there is a lot of room for improvement. However, they may not be the root cause.

    • davidcrow / Dec 13 2009 3:06 pm

      Why is having a LinkedIn account any sort of litmus test for a VC? WTF!

      How about a track record of successful exits? Sales to US or international interests? High IRRs? Follow on rounds from US or international capital?

      This starts to sound like an entrepreneur that has an unfundable company complaining that the money people won't give him money for his unfundable idea.

  10. chrisarsenault / Dec 13 2009 5:52 pm

    Great initiative, synergies are needed in any environment but most importantly the need for a dynamic an open environment to let innovations flow. I think the visa opportunity/issue is more of a US one than a Canadian one, yet I support the initiative and think it can only help build a stronger web of knowledge, entrepreneurs and investors alike.

    The “broken VC model” comment is soooooooooooooooooooo old and out of context that reading “empty comments” about it truly irritates me now. Like any other business or industry, the Venture Capital business model needs to evolve or it will eventually die. It’s not more broken then it was in the bubble years or in the ‘80’s when you could count the number of active privately managed VC funds on one hand!

    • davidcrow / Dec 14 2009 2:13 pm

      RE: Canadian VCs

      @chrisarsenault you've hit it. It was decisions from 1997-2001 that we're just seeing bubble up now, i.e., that's how long the returns for LPs (well it's probably a little long but it's a close approximation based on fund lifecycles). But the comments condemning VCs are out of context and inappropriate. I wish more entrepreneurs would realize that they (and the entrepreneurs who came before them) are partially to blame.

      I love seeing the development of BootupLabs, Xtreme Ventures, BaseCamp Partners, Lead to Win and others. They are an attempt to reform the risks and capital for very early ventures.

      The discussion of a Startup Visa. It's great. Continuing to lead the world on immigration and openness would benefit the Canadian economy. Danny and Boris are on to something here.

  11. chrisarsenault / Dec 13 2009 5:52 pm

    David Crow: your comments ROCK, you are right-on!

    Advice is welcomed, I invite anybody to get in touch with me with ideas, constructive comments or opportunities to sound board. Meanwhile, I applaud initiatives such as Danny’s startup Visa Canada, ACTING instead of sitting back and complaining.

    If you want change for the better, then get up and make it happen, you’ll be surprise of how much support you’ll get from the community.

  12. Steve Thomson / Dec 13 2009 7:56 pm

    I also commented at Techvibes

  13. Steve Thomson / Dec 13 2009 8:08 pm

    I already commented at Techvibes, but I'll weigh-in here too.

    As has been cited, Canada (BC and several other provinces) already have the Provincial Nominee Program – Business Immigrant program.

    With the PNP, you get to be a landed immigrant and we give you free healthcare, free education for your kids (including affordable post-secondary education) and a genuinely nice place to live. That's not a bad deal.

    I think the comments above about VC sponsorship should count towards the $300K in equity required, but I would argue that the VC/Angel investment needs to be a multiple of the $300K figure, like $900K or $1.5 million, not a lesser amount since the equity really belongs to the company and not the 'entrepreneur'.

    $300K won't buy an immigrant a taxi cab in Vancouver. Do we really want to lower the bar for 'entrepreneurs'?


  14. Brendon J. Wilson / Dec 14 2009 4:21 pm

    I think the real question here is "what problem are you trying to solve"? Is the problem that there aren't enough local entrepreneurs with the motivation to pursue their idea, and we need some external people to show them how it's done? Or is the problem that there aren't the right combination of skills locally to successfully execute a startup, and hence we need to import some talent? I'd guess the problem you're trying to solve is the former – there's lots of technical talent in BC, but it hasn't yet become socially acceptable enough for this talent to actively pursue entrepreneurship.

    As others have pointed out, getting into Canada isn't hard. I'm sure with the right legal finangling, incubators such as Bootup could enable entrepreneurs to use either the Federal Skilled Worker Program to immigrate, or even NAFTA if the founder is from the US or Mexico ($50, a letter of offer of employment, and proof of experience at the border gets you a visa almost instantaneously). This would probably be on par with the amount of work/time associated with the Startup Visa.

    I'd argue that getting motivated people with great ideas is only one part of the solution to building a viable technology innovation community in Canada (and BC in particular). Another part is finding a way to re-attract skilled expatriate Canadians – they were ambitious enough to leave to pursue their career, they've been exposed to situations and skills that they likely couldn't get by remaining in Canada, but at some point they might be lured back, if given the right set of incentives. As I see it, the challenges that exist right now are the high cost of housing, the relatively low level of pay versus other jurisdictions, and the relatively small size of the tech community. However, we have the advantage better work-life balance, and could credibly offer these Canadians the chance to return and make a significant impact to the local community (i.e. to "change the world" in some small way). That might be enough.

    • DannyRobinson / Dec 14 2009 7:33 pm

      Hi Brendon. I always love our debates.

      The 'problem' is clearly stated in the blog post. Bootup Labs wants to invest in, and move foreign teams to Canada to start companies, and the problem is that I can't (very easily). We pick the best teams that apply, period. This time around, we found that some (not all) of those teams happen to be from outside the country.

      We'll probably use the NAFTA program for our US teams, but we also have a team from Europe, we'd like to bring in. And, as part of the NAFTA program, they have to fully intend to move back, which is a little backwards, to say the least. That term is in the NAFTA program to avoid giving up local jobs to immigrants. But founders starting their companies in Canada, are actually CREATING jobs for locals that otherwise wouldn't be here. Why would we ever want them to leave???

      Lastly, your argument for a more targeted approach to getting expats to move back, seems to compromise our simple requirement of picking the best teams we can find, without prejudice what-so-ever. Social housing and salary levels, are is not the problem i'm trying to solve.

  15. Dave McIntyre / Dec 14 2009 5:50 pm

    What some folks seem to be missing is the point of view of a fund. Canadian VCs don't exist to fund Canadian companies – that would be (and has proven to be) mostly suicide. Obviously, the vast majority of the companies you fund are going to be close by, but the biggest issue for Canadian VCs in the past has been funding the BEST deal in a space, not the Canadian deal in the space (and hence the crap returns for most Canadian VCs). If, via this kind of visa or some other mechanism, Canadian VCs can gain visibility and access to a great pool of talent/potential investees, it seems likely that those VCs will perform better. Better performance by a VC means two things: more money, and being sought out by smarter companies. Having VCs with more money and being seen as desirable funders is good for the whole industry. Right now we have the exact opposite problem – the industry has been nuked due to poor performance so VCs are crapped on and have no money. When VCs get attacked, and have no money, they don't fund or sponsor anything and that's not good for anybody. Pretty simply actually.

    And as an aside, if I hear one more comment about VCs and not thinking about big web companies …. aaaaggghhhh. The old VC model is mostly applicable to the other 50+% of things VCs invest in and make money on. You may have heard of them: biotech, cleantech, semis, etc.? The investment world does not, and need not, revolve around the internet. Just because a VC doesn't do "web" deals doesn't make them bad. As the above listed groups are showing, to do "internet" investing properly looks like it takes a new model. I hope it works out for everybody.

    Cheers from an old model ex-VC.

  16. Steve Thomson / Dec 14 2009 7:41 pm


    I would recommend working with the BCTIA to help lobby the Province to make changes to the PNP rules (at least as a pilot program) in-line with your suggestions around sponsorship by investors. Frankly, I have no faith in petitions (they're usually not work the paper they're written on). However, the BCTIA has been very active in this area and has a lot of credibility with the government. Working with them to help the government improve the PNP program would be the most expeditious route to solving this problem.

    Personally, I tend to side with Brendon Wilson that the real issues that need to be solved in Vancouver are affordable housing and salary levels. But, as you cite, that is perhaps for another day and discussion.

  17. Brendon J. Wilson / Dec 14 2009 10:16 pm

    (Weird, Danny's response to me doesn't appear here – see it at

    To be clear, I agree that removing red tape is a plus – no one wants the border to effectively disappear as badly as I do. However, when I asked "what problem are you trying to solve?" I was actually trying to offer you the opportunity to expound on the "bigger picture" vision for entrepreneurship in BC/Canada, on the assumption that your interest in the issue is not merely predicated on being able to fill the pipeline for Bootup Labs.

    Yes, the immediate problem you identified is "how to get great entrepreneurs into the country", but doing so requires more than providing them with a way across the border. It requires them to have a reason to come here beyond money. As any entrepreneur will tell you, look for what else an investor brings to the table. Unfortunately, when competing in a global marketplace, BC's 'bonafide' credentials to compete on this basis are fairly skimpy. Hence my suggestion that this effort can only really be *one part* of a larger effort to not only engender an entrepreneurial culture in Canada, but also be in a position to back up that passion with an ecosystem of people with the necessary skills, experience, and connections to support entrepreneurs' companies throughout their growth, not just the first eight months.

    Any of these companies are going to need help from people who have "been there and done that". The only reason for these entrepreneurs to actually move to Vancouver is if such skilled individuals also live here; if no such skill base exists, then why would these entrepreneurs even move to Vancouver in the first place? Hence, getting entrepreneurs to come to Vancouver is only one part of the solution – you also have to get the other set of people here as well.

    Just to correct one other point – I have no interest in social housing. However, I am interested in making sure that housing prices are in line with local salaries, otherwise it prevents BC from attracting/re-attracting that second tier of skilled personnel (mentioned above) required to build the local technology community. The rise in house prices in the GVRD, fueled by predominantly foreign investors, threatens to turn Vancouver into a playground for the global rich. And if that happens, you can forget about any kind of meaningful technology community.

    • Boris / Dec 14 2009 10:25 pm

      I just got back from a really quick trip to Miami. I connected with one of the companies that applied to our January intake, but didn't make the final selection. Meeting with him and with other people there, it's clear that the region suffers from some of the same issues that Vancouver / BC suffers from on an ecosystem basis.

      Yes, we are in global competition for entrepreneurs. I asked Stewart Butterfield why he was starting his new company here, and his answer was, in essence, "because I like living here". I am actually completely OK with that as a competitive advantage for our region!

      Can we agree that we want a more "knowledge based" economy in Vancouver / BC / Canada? If yes, then we need more startups starting in Canada. I'm happy to welcome startups with great teams and ideas wherever they're coming from.

      • davidcrow / Dec 15 2009 2:28 am

        I think the "because I like living here" is becoming a mantra for an entire generation of entrepreneurs. It's the "New Argonauts" thesis by Anna Lee Saxon at UCLA, that basically says the entrepreneurs go to places like Silicon Valley or Boston, learn the culture and build the professional network, then return to the place they like to live (usually home country). And using the culture they've adopted from somewhere that has seen successes in a similar field and their professional networks they adapt new businesses according to the successful culture and local specializations.

        There are a lot of things to like about living in Canada.

      • DannyRobinson / Dec 15 2009 2:32 am

        Sounds likey my story.

      • davidcrow / Dec 15 2009 2:36 am

        And mine (but apparently I like living further east 😉

      • brendonwilson / Dec 15 2009 3:38 am

        And mine. Which is exactly my point.

        While there is no reason not to try to get every smart entrepreneur to come to Canada, some will be easier to convince than others. Efforts to retain talent as well as to re-attract some of the 2.8 million Canadians living outside of Canada will need to eventually be a part of the approach, especially in the coming war for talent accompanying the exit of the boomers. One only need to look at the various regions in China and their "sea turtle" programs to get an idea of what we might be up against.

  18. twobyte / Dec 14 2009 10:37 pm

    I believe this founders "transplanting" idea won't work. The startup (of any kind) is very cultural phenomenon, depending on such things as language, food, entertainment, etc which is, fortunately, very diverse and differs from Canadian ones. That is one of the reasons Sand Hill VCs started opening their offices around the World as opposed to just scouting the talent as big companies do.

    • davidcrow / Dec 15 2009 2:22 am

      Transplanting has worked in the past. Typically transplantation has happened around education and economic opportunity. Silicon Valley has had world class for 2 or 3 generations in both.

      Stanford, UC Berkeley, and CalTech are some of the every best in the world. And they call it Silicon Valley for a reason. It was home to a great companies, great VCs, blah, blah, blah.

      The interesting challenge is that the funding market is limited. So you can create more wealth and lower valuations by looking elsewhere, i.e., opening shops where there are similar conditions.

  19. DannyRobinson / Dec 15 2009 6:26 am

    copied from my comment on Felipe Coimbra's (@twtfelipe) Blog post in response to his tweet:

    You're the perfect example of someone we could only *hope* would want to move to Canada. I understand why you didn't offer up that you intended to start a company to the immigration officer. Starting a company is risky, and they want to make sure you wouldn't be a strain on the social system, ie health care, welfare, unemployment, etc. But really, if you come here, start a company, and employ other locals, I would think that is the best anyone could ever hope for.

    What if the local investors or VCs could sponsor these entrepreneurs under a Startup Visa? I understand the a) most web companies don't need any investment so why make that a requirement, or b) the fear that the VC would be able to hold the threat of exporting the founders if they didn't perform to their standards. I get that, but think we can find a way around both of those concerns. The reality is the VCs (at least Bootup Labs) don't want to hold that over their head at all. But we do need founders to be able to move to Canada with 2 months notice to be part of our acceleration program, which is designed and funded specifically to start a company which will employ other local residents. How do we make the founders, investors, and immigration people all happy? We're close, there has to be a way.

    a) the founder brings enough money with them (BTW, this program already exists, but I believe the founder has to bring at least $1M with them) or;
    b) The founder accepts a term sheet from a VC, but with enough funding to give the entrepreneur enough time to apply for a more permanent status in the country on their own. (say, at least one year's worth) If they decide not to apply for a longer term Visa, and they run out of money and the company dies, then they made the choice to leave.

    • brendonwilson / Dec 17 2009 6:55 am

      In Canada, Investor class immigrants only need to invest $400K (but need a net worth of $800K), although it's unclear how the investment process actually works. A simpler option is the Entrepreneur Program, which only requires showing business experience and a net worth of $300K. See… for the details.

      Which makes me wonder: couldn't we simply hack the existing Entrepreneur Program? Use some contract between the investor and the individual to allow them to effectively meet these requirements without having to get the government to make any changes?

  20. Alan Albert / Jan 4 2010 9:03 pm

    While it would certainly help to broaden the criteria for accepting new entrepreneurial immigrants, even more important is streamlining the processing of the applications. It simply takes way too long to process work permit applications.

    A quick glance at… shows that 50% of applications are processed in 63 months. Yes, that's months, not days.

    This year-plus delay alone makes the Federal Entrepreneur class unworkable for most entrepreneurs. Other classes are faster: my own family's application for permanent residency (under a different class) was processed in a speedy 20 months.

    Fortunately, the Provincial Nominee process is typically much faster, though the paperwork required of applicants is still quite voluminous and time consuming. However, successful provincial nominees are still required to then complete the process for becoming a Permanent Resident, and permanent residency acceptance is not guaranteed and still subject to multi-month processing. According to… the time to process permanent residency applications after approval as a BC provincial nominee is 8-10 months.

    If the Canadian government is serious about encouraging entrepreneurial immigration, improving processing times would be an important place to start.

  21. Ali / Apr 24 2010 7:29 pm

    I did not really read all the comments here but here are some points that I want to make.

    It is not easy to get to Canada. I run a small US based start-up operating primarily out of India and have been trying to get to Canada. We are profitable, have over 35 employees in India and I have successfully run businesses overseas.

    Coming to Canada was an option against US and I chose it over US for various factors including better quality / lower cost of living. I spent $2000 for a lawyer to prepare my visa docs, acquired office space, incorporated the company, submitted tax returns (personal) for the last 6 years, submitted tax returns official for the last 4 years and submitted full proof of my existing and past businesses. I had set up a business in Asia Pac region, hired over 50 people, raised funds before starting my current business.

    Unfortunately, all of this did not convince the Canadian embassy in New Delhi which rejected my application without even requesting for further documentation or interview. They wasted my time (45 days of passport at the embassy is no joke), money (close to $5000) and completely screwed up my business plans for establishing a sales office in Toronto.

    My take: if you're a laborer in India / China – you can fake your way and get to Canada. I've seen people with average degrees with less than 2 years of experience get a work permit.

    If you're an entrepreneur and has over 12 years of experience in running successful businesses, raised over a million dollars to run your current business, don't even try – they don't give a F***

  22. Shakib Shahriyar / Jul 10 2010 3:04 pm

    It is not easy to get to Canada. But yet I would love to go & Visit. Hope its soon.

    Webdesign München

  23. Dave / Aug 19 2010 6:54 pm

    WHye you know this idea is well intended but will not fly. What is need is more capital and this does not address that, it detracts from that compared with conventional immigration and also sets up more companies competing for the same local investment pool. I'd like to like this idea, but just don't see it…

  24. autoquotes / Mar 11 2011 10:27 am

    I think the terms you are suggesting is fair and workable

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