Relocation Nation: How Immigrant Tech Founders Boost Canadian Innovation

The outsized impact of immigrant entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs are the catalysts of Canada’s economy. The new businesses they create are outsized job creators, with 35.8 percent of the country’s net employment growth coming from small businesses between 2014 and 2019. But even among this dynamic group, immigrants play an outsized role. First and second-generation entrepreneurs undertake 34.7 percent of all early-stage entrepreneurship in Canada — significantly higher than most other comparable economies in the European Union, Group of Seven and Group of 20.

According to Statistics Canada, immigrant-owned firms in Canada are younger on average than those owned by Canadian-born entrepreneurs, which means they tend to grow faster and have higher rates of job creation. Also, research has shown that immigrant-owned businesses are more likely to enter global markets, and that immigrant entrepreneurs “can mobilize their diverse socio-cultural networks in helping to overcome market-size limitation and commercialize innovations in the world market, either through export or transnational new ventures.” This is key to addressing the chronic commercialization gap in Canada’s innovation economy.

Given their disproportionate economic potential, Canada needs to work to attract and retain the most promising immigrant entrepreneurs and their ventures. With Canadian help and resources, they can scale up, attract capital and create jobs here for the benefit of all.

Canada does immigration well and is committed to it. But things aren’t moving fast enough for the startup world, which requires lightning growth for survival. Canadian programs designed to accelerate the arrival and success of foreign entrepreneurs have not been keeping pace during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For example, the federal Start-up Visa Program’s approval process for permanent residence was promised to take six to 12 months. It’s now pushing three years, deterring entrepreneurs from coming here at all. That means less talent, less job creation, less innovation, less culture and — most crucially — a less competitive Canada.

There are solutions to this immigration problem, however. And the entrepreneurs and innovation experts showcased in this report tell that story.


of all early-stage entrepreneurs are first- and second-generation immigrants

3 years

the average wait time for permanent residence via the federal Start-up Visa Program

1.2 million

internationals expected to arrive in Canada from 2021 to 2023

  • Author: Nora Underwood | Freelance Writer
  • Data and Analytics: Nigel Biggar
  • Editor: Guy Nicholson
  • Executive Editor: Karen Mazurkewich