As a continuation of our Startup Month at Sobirovs, I had an interview with Sherry Colbourne, President & CEO of Spark Centre in Oshawa, Canada. You can watch the video of that interview below, listen to it as a podcast or read the unedited transcript at your convenience.
The main goal of my interview was to learn more about the business incubator’s perspective on the Start-up Visa Program (SUV). Spark is a designated business incubator under the SUV program, and as such, Spark selects which startups to support and bring to Canada. Spark’s perspective is critical to any SUV applicant.
What Can Spark Centre Do For Your Start-up?
Spark has its set of criteria that you need to meet before it issues you such a letter. Here’s a quick overview and my comments on each of the eligibility criteria:
- Ownership of a business that is generating revenue that is scalable, sustainable, and in the sector of technology and innovation. Your startup business should have reached a level of maturity. Spark is not interested in empty business ideas, no matter how great ideas are. Your startup business must have made progress before Spark considers it. Watch my interview with Synergy Lab’s Nova Oliphant to get a sense of what needs to be done if you have a great startup idea.
- The business model must be appropriate for this jurisdiction. Again, to fully understand what’s appropriate for Canada and what’s not, you need to learn about the Canadian market and applicable regulations.
- Submission of Business Plan, LinkedIn Profile(s), CV/Resume(s), and Demo Video. This requirement is the most substantial part of your preparation. Your Business Plan should be thorough and well-prepared for market entry in Canada. LinkedIn profiles and resumes must be top-notch and ensure you have a demo of your product or service.
- The business is financially self-sustaining. You must rely on your contributions to run the business in Canada without relying on possible investments. Spark will not invest money in your business. It will only put you through an incubation process and help you along the way.
- The applicant is willing to live and work in the Durham Region area of Ontario. That’s self-evident that Spark wants your business to flourish in its region, i.e. Durham region. But, as Sherry mentioned, if your startup is more suitable for another region within Eastern Ontario, then Spark recommends establishing and growing your business in that location.
- The applicant will allow Spark Centre to conduct a due diligence process on your business, background, education and financial capabilities. It is a very standard business practice that Spark conducts thorough due diligence and verifies all credentials of your business and the people involved.
- The applicant is able to fund business obligations for a one-year period in Canada. This was mentioned in Sherry’s interview. As a business incubator will not invest money into your startup business, you and your partners must have enough financial resources to start and operate your business in Canada.
- The applicant is able to meet the business ownership and voting rights requirements. This is something that your legal advisors like Sobirovs Law Firm and its outside experts will help you with.
- The applicant is willing to work/co-locate at Spark Centre for the first year of operation in the province and sign a one-year Spark Centre service contract. This assistance by Spark is very important as a new business in Canada, you need a place to work, and the community within Spark can help you in different ways.
An important note is that Spark works with both local and international entrepreneurs. While it is a designated organization in the SUV program, Spark services can apply to all kinds of business immigration programs that Sobirovs Law Firm chooses for you. According to Sherry, there are roughly 100 local and 100 international companies currently assisted by Spark Centre.
If you meet all the criteria above, you can send your application to Spark and expect to hear back from them within 4-6 months due to the high volume of applications.
Don’t Wait for Your PR. Get a Work Permit.
During my interview with Spark, I was surprised to hear Sherry say that some immigration lawyers tell their clients to wait for their permanent residence after the SUV application, which currently takes around 32 months, according to the IRCC website. She said that lawyers tell clients not to apply for a work permit while their PR applications are under consideration. It is strange to me.
As entrepreneur work permit experts, Sobirovs Law Firm lawyers encourage SUV clients to apply for work permits while waiting for their PR results. Work permits allow you to come to Canada and start pushing your startup forward. Focus on making your business startup successful, and immigration (PR) will come naturally.
The reality of startups is that they have to move forward fast and constantly. Startups cannot wait for 32 months to see if the founders become permanent residents and then start implementing the business project. Who guarantees that the founders will be even motivated to implement the business plan after they got their PR status in Canada? So, here’s my general tip for startup founders who want to relocate to Canada: obtain a work permit after you submit your SUV application for permanent residence. Don’t wait for your PR. Move your business forward with a work permit that allows you to work on your business in Canada!
Eastern Ontario is a Great Landing Pad for Your Startup.
By working with Spark Centre and Sobirovs team, you get connected to the Eastern Ontario Innovation Corridor (EOIC). The EOIC “connects startups and SMEs to business resources, support and learning networks across Eastern Ontario in one all-inclusive system.” Durham region where Spark is located is one of the “Landing Pads” for your startup. The EOIC “introduces the international entrepreneurs and talent to each community, highlighting their unique strengths” and “provides tools and best practices for attracting newcomers to Canada.”
If you want to discuss if your business project is a good fit for business immigration, book your 1-hour Strategy Meeting with Sobirovs and let’s brainstorm together!
Tips from the Startup Practitioners for Startup Founders.
- Location: Sherry noted that understanding where you want to place your startup in Canada is important. Knowing which incubator you want to associate your startup with is important. Incubators don’t like when you bring your startup to one incubator and then relocate to another region after you arrive in Canada. Incubators want to tell their stories through their clients’ success.
- Understanding Your Business: Understanding what market or clients you are going after and how big are opportunities present in certain locations should be captured in your business plan. Therefore, it’s important to do thorough research.
- Be Ready to Learn a New Market: International entrepreneurs, at times, have to suspend their knowledge of their markets and culture until they have really researched the Canadian market. In Canada, it’s a different world. It’s critical to get that baseline and realize that they are moving into a different world, a different culture, and they should always stay open and curious, and be willing to adapt to a new environment.
- Make Your SUV Application Package Solid: Give enough time to prepare each part of your SUV application package. Detailed business plan, necessary corporate documents, share structure and market-entry plan are some parts of your application. Each piece deserves a professional approach in preparation. If these elements are not ready, first make them prepared with the help of Canada-based professionals: immigration lawyers, sales experts, finance experts and marketing professionals. Here is a link to a template business plan designed by Spark. Read and see what incubators are looking for.
- Constantly Improve Your Startup: Getting a PR should not be your startup’s focus. A startup should focus on sales, scalability, market fitness, marketing and pivoting, if necessary. Applying for an SUV program just to get your foot on Canadian soil is not a good strategy. Presence in Canada and immigration are a part of your startup’s journey, but they should not be its No.1 goal.
What’s Your Next Step?
If you are ready for a startup journey with Canada as your final destination, Sobirovs is prepared to help you as we helped many previous clients. Let’s get to work for your success in Canada!