As the U.S. seems to be hell-bent on making itself less attractive to immigrants and visitors, its neighbors to the north are sensing an opening and going the other way in an effort to attract the smartest tech entrepreneurs. The country launched its startup visa program a few years ago and even though growth was slow (maybe too slow) in the early years, it's now ramping up. To apply for a startup visa, entrepreneurs had to first secure a minimum investment of at least $200,000 from a Canadian venture capital fund or $75,000 for a Canadian angel investor.
Launch Academy, the Vancouver-based not-for-profit startup accelerator, is starting a new program in partnership with the Canadian government that does away with this requirement. Instead, Launch Academy and its advisers will vet applicants and recommend them to the Canadian government for the visa and permanent residency process. Because of this, it's not just an option for startups but also for founders of more mature companies that want to put their roots down in North America.
Successful applicants -- and their families and core team -- will be immediately eligible to apply for work visas and permanent residency. Those visas should arrive within weeks (and potentially faster) and the residency process should take about six months.
The team is especially looking for companies that work in AI, VR/AR/MR, blockchain, fintech, data science, quantum computing, healthtech and cybersecurity, though others can apply.
Entrepreneurs will also get access to the Launch Academy network of mentors and support and services from companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Google (mostly in the form of cloud credits). Sadly, entrepreneurs will not receive a lifelong supply of delicious poutine.
The fact that both family members and core employees are included here is key, especially given that most U.S. visas only allow the primary applicant to work. For many entrepreneurs, that can be a deal breaker, both because they want their spouses to be able to work and because they want to stay close to their team. This also means that if the startup fails for whatever reason, they can still stay in Canada.
The Launch Academy team tells me that it received about 100 pre-applications with more than 20 promising candidates. Geographically, they hail from all over the world and include Harvard, Yale and MIT grads, as well as former Google and Facebook employees.
It's worth noting that this is a paid program that is paid by the applicant company. As Launch Academy CEO Ray Walia tells me, the cost of the program will be $30,000 (Canadian, of course). "In that time frame we help the program participants acclimate their business to the North American marketplace and integrate their business into the community and connect them with resources to also help their families settle in to their new lives in Canada," he explained. Launch Academy says it will reinvest all of the program's proceeds back into the Canadian tech and talent ecosystem and it won't take a stake in the companies.
Clarification: It's worth noting that the Startup Visa Program itself is free to apply for. The paid program is Launch Academy's Acclimation Program for companies that are looking for support in moving their company and families to Canada. "The Launch Academy Startup Visa program is free to apply to for companies with a preexisting relationship with Launch Academy," Walia explained to me. "If you have not previously participated in any Launch Academy programs and are an international company looking to make the move to Canada we highly recommend participation in our Acclimation Program. The Acclimation program is a 6 month program and offered as a support program for Startup Visa applicants. The Acclimation program will help participants acclimate their business to the North American marketplace and integrate their business into the community and connect them with resources to also help their families settle in to their new lives in Canada."