Guest post by Véronique Hynes
When the largest contingent ever of entrepreneurs met on Parliament Hill, government officials were quick to re-assure businesses they are on their side.
Canada has opened its fourth call for tenders for its Build in Canada Innovation Program (BCIP), said Minister of Public Works and Government Services Diane Finley.
Finley made the announcement at Startup Canada Day on the Hill, when 450 people met to promote entrepreneurship on Nov. 21.
She was one of four cabinet ministers to make an appearance at the Ottawa event and reassure Canadian startups they are on their side.
The federal government spends $40 million a year on this program for businesses looking to get their first government contract.
For the first time, the program will have a component for military contracts, Finley said. Contracts can be for anything from providing military equipment, to uniforms, to supplies.
“We’ve got great ideas right across this country. We need to make sure our innovative entrepreneurs are getting a chance to have their products evaluated prior to commercialization. And it’s a good way for government to tap into the benefits of new, innovative products,” Finley said.
The federal government is taking some of the right steps to support startups, but their policy “is fitting our needs into the existing programming,” according to entrepreneur Chris Johnson.
“I think that they’re investing in the last eight steps that it takes to commercialize, and they’re not investing in the first two steps,” he said.
Programs like the BCIP can be a boon to a startup that has already established itself, but Johnson said there is very little support for people who want to start a business.
More businesses means better businesses, which would mean they could do more with any funding they get through a government program, he said.
Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander was also present at the event to talk about plans to bring more foreign entrepreneurs to Canada.
The Startup Visa program is designed to attract foreign entrepreneurs with promising business ideas.
Their applications are processed much more quickly than regular ones, but the statistics are not available to see determine if any have been granted yet, said Remi Lariviere, a spokesman for Immigration and Citizenship Canada.
This program accepts two and a half thousand applications a year for start-up entrepreneurs who can secure a minimum investment of $200,000 from a designated venture-capital fund, or a minimum investment of $75,000 from an angel-investor group.
The program is the first of its kind, Lariviere said. While other countries have programs that provide temporary visas for entrepreneurs, the Startup Visa is the only that provides permanent residency.
“Conditional status has led to entrepreneurs starting smaller, safer enterprises (e.g. convenience stores) in order to meet conditions related to incremental job growth. By granting permanent residence up front, the Start-Up Visa Program will allow entrepreneurs to innovate and take risks while building their enterprises,” he said.
The ministry also plans to launch a new system for applications in 2015, he said.
Canada’s Expression of Interest Application System is based on a program in New Zealand: prospective immigrants fill in an online form and list any skills that would make them stand out, like language proficiency, work experience and education credentials, Lariviere said.
The candidates who best match Canada’s needs would be invited to submit a fast-tracked immigration application.
This reform is part of a shift from traditional immigration programs to ones that give employers some authority on the immigrants who come to Canada, according to Patti Tamara Lenard, who teaches migration and political theory at the University of Ottawa.
Government authorities are concerned on finding immigrants who will “contribute to Canada,” and so will look at a variety of factors, including an applicant’s age, language, and education, Lenard said.
On the other hand, employers are concerned with profits, not national interests.
“I think as a general move in immigration policy it’s moving too far in the direction of one dimension, rather than a holistic view of what kind of immigrants are contributing to the Canadian cadence,” she said.