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This article was published 2/8/2018 (614 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg's Manitoba Technology Accelerator (MTA) has been added to the list of Canadian entities designated by the federal government to participate in a newly revised program to attract immigrants with startup business ideas.
And the MTA plans to use the Start-up Visa Program to make Winnipeg a destination for international entrepreneurs looking for a place to launch their startups.
In April, the federal immigration program targeting quality startup business entrepreneurs was made a permanent program after a three-year pilot, with a three-year budget of $4.5 million.
The program requires the applicant to pitch a business plan to a venture capital fund, angel investor group or a business incubator program and then have those firms sign a commitment certificate or letter of support.
When it started in 2014 it was the first of its kind in the world.
Marshall Ring, MTA's chief executive officer, said since its inclusion on the listing of designated agencies a few weeks ago, it has been getting 10 to 15 inquiries per week. He believes the MTA's inclusion in the program is further acknowledgement of the healthy ecosystem that exists in Winnipeg for new business startups.
While the number of participants across the country in the pilot program was modest — there were 16 after the first year and a half — Ring believes there are significant potential benefits to the city including helping to beef up the city's reputation as a great place in Canada to do startups.
"We're getting some good traction and we're pretty excited about the potential that's there," he said. "We think it can help fill some of the talent gaps in the city."
He said if the program continues to attract quality applicants, there is the chance MTA could add about 30 new enterprises per year to its client company base.
Startups supported by business incubators are exempt from minimum funding requirements but need to be self-financed. (Applicants seeking venture capital of angel group endorsement must secure funding from them for at least $200,000 or $75,000 respectively.)
MTA would charge market rates to provide support and mentoring. This program would be like a new international business stream for the incubator which currently receives federal and some provincial operating funds that effectively subsidizes the fees that existing clients of MTA currently pay.
In only a few weeks after officially becoming part to the program MTA has signed contracts with one company from Russia and another from Brazil (via the U.S.) Another one from China is in the works.
"We will definitely need to expand our footprint and we do have plans to double our size," he said. MTA was the incubator that helped grow Skip the Dishes from a tiny startup from Saskatoon into what is now an international operation with close to 2,000 Winnipeg employees.
Dayna Spiring, the CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg, believes it could be a good new tool to attract businesses to the city. Her organization's marketing and outreach arm, Yes! Winnipeg, has already committed to helping to market the program.
"Winnipeg is getting a lot of traction these days because of companies like Skip, Bold and 24/7 Intouch. It's exciting," she said. "Marshall is the perfect guy to shepherd this in. He has a great feel for the startup community and what it looks like. We are lucky that he is championing it."
Yuri Navaro, the CEO of the National Angel Capital Organization, administers the program on behalf of Immigration Canada for the business incubator and angel capital intake streams. He said the program has always been market driven in that the government has relied on incubators and the angel network and venture capital firms to be the ones who actually do the front end of the work to select the companies that would participate.
"The incubator will vet the company on the merits of the business, before immigration officials," Navaro said. "If they decide to accept them into the program at that point, they will write a certificate of acceptance and invite them to apply for immigration."
The program does not allow the incubator to charge a fee for the vetting process and Ring said unlike the local companies in its roster, the MTA will not invest in the international startups that it agrees to work with.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.