Trump’s ban on immigration could help Canada’s tech industry thrive

by | Apr 13, 2017 | Biz/Tech

Irina Kouchnir

U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent travel bans and his executive order on merit-based immigration has resulted in a stream of foreign talent into Canada, according to widespread media accounts.

Canadian venture capitalists predict that this influx of highly educated immigrants will give Canadian startups a big boost.

Carol Leaman, CEO of Waterloo-based tech firm Axonify, observed, “we’ve got an opportunity here to take advantage of it.”

Historically, Canada has been sitting at the lower end of global innovation, as many talented citizens sought jobs in the United States. Even if Canadians are responsible for several billion-dollar start-up companies such as Hootsuite, Shopify and Uber, the problem is most Canadian start-up founders no longer live in Canada, having moved to the U.S. for its wider opportunities.

But since Trump has tightened U.S. borders, many professionals have begun to seek employment in Canada, particularly in Toronto, which has been happy to welcome the new influx of foreign talent.

“We just hired a new director from India who passed Silicon Valley job offers in favour of the job in Toronto,” said Mark Organ, founder and chief executive of Influitive, a marketing Toronto-based startup. “Global talent abhors uncertainty, and Canada is just a beacon of stability.”

With strong science and engineering programs in Canadian universities and with the new influx of talent, Canada should be strengthened as a tech hub, reflected in the 70 per cent application increase University of Toronto has reported seeing since Trump won the presidency.

Richard Florida is an economist and professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, and says in order for a city to attract a “creative class,” three T’s are required: talent, tolerance, and technology.

Toronto appears to be excelling in all three areas.

In terms of expansion, the Canadian tech hub is predicted to grow from the two factors.

First, by the creation and growth of in-house startups, propelled by Canadians and international immigrants, who prefer the social and political environment of Canada instead of the tense U.S.

Second, by the migration of foreign employees of already established firms to a friendlier Canadian environment.

When a Canadian immigration website crashed after Trump’s election, Christopher Reid’s Kitchener-based tech startup company posted ads on Facebook inviting unhappy U.S. citizens to apply.

“Thinking of moving to Canada? Sortable is hiring!”

Dennis Pilarinos, a former Microsoft executive who owns Vancouver-based Buddybuild, sees opportunity for Canadian firms as well.

“I think it’s really sad and horrible from a political landscape perspective, but very selfishly it’s an incredible opportunity,” he said.

In addition to U of T attracting more international applicants, Kitchener- Waterloo has also been receiving a significant influx of immigrants who are skilled workers and students.

With University of Waterloo positioned as what Stanford University became to Silicon Valley, a primary engine in the nurturing of talent and knowledge, and with Toronto, which has a respected startup ecosystem of its own, Canada looks ready to expand its creative class and grow the tech industry.