Attracting Immigrant Start-Ups

I have never fully understood why many New Brunswickers are suspicious of people and companies that are not from here.   Maybe it’s because of our small size or because so many people leave to find opportunity elsewhere.  Maybe we just don’t trust the motives of people looking to invest or move here.

I have heard the phrase “Why would any company want to move to New Brunswick?” more than a few times in my lifetime.

For whatever reason, we don’t like people and companies that “come from away” and that is too bad because it is keeping New Brunswick from reaching its full potential.  If I was sitting in the big chair up in Fredericton, I would throw the doors wide open and attract in great companies and all kinds of talented people.

We have lost tens of thousands of highly skilled workers to careers elsewhere and billions of dollars’ worth of our savings to investments in other parts of the world over the past few decades.  I’d like to get a little of that back.

I was thinking about this last week when reading about “Chilecon Valley” in the Economist magazine.   A Chilean businessman has set up a program called “Start-Up Chile” to attract people from around the world who have good start-up ideas.    These immigrant entrepreneurs move to Chile, are given the equivalent of $40,000 (U.S.) and are put through a program to validate and develop their business concept.

The Economist reports that since the program started in 2010 approximately 900 entrepreneurs from  37 countries have taken part.

One of the main reasons why the public and private sector got on board with Start-Up Chile was the perceived need to foster a technology-based start-up culture in the country.  It seems to be working as almost 40 percent of the recent round of applications were from Chilean entrepreneurs.

These days it is very hard for ambitious immigrant entrepreneurs to get into the United States. Chile has jumped into the breach and offered them an interesting alternative.

Why couldn’t we do that in New Brunswick?  We are a lot closer to the lucrative than Chile.  We share a common language and have similar laws.  In addition, Chile apparently has limited venture capital and what the Economist calls a “harsh bankruptcy regime”.  Seems like New Brunswick would be a far better choice for aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs.

Setting up a similar program in New Brunswick would be easy.  Government and private investors would give Trevor MacAusland over at PropelICT a few million dollars which he
would use to promote a Start-Up New Brunswick competition – not much different than his current program only targeting folks from outside the province and around the world.

We would bring in hundreds of aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs and hopefully dozens would stay and build their businesses here.   As in Chile, it would likely spur much more entrepreneurial spirit among the local population.

When the former Canadian telecommunications giant Nortel went through its massive restructuring a few years ago, I recommended that Business New Brunswick staff should go to Ottawa and stand outside the firm’s
head office with placards reading “Dumped by Nortel and thinking about starting your own business?  Come to New Brunswick”.

No one took up my idea then and it is very doubtful any kind of immigrant start-up competition will be developed now because of the attitude described above.  People will say “that money should be given to New Brunswickers” or something to that effect.

We have to start looking at the big picture.  The flow of investment and talent has been overwhelmingly outward for decades.  We must begin to reverse the flow if we hope to have a sustainable economy moving forward.

6 thoughts on “Attracting Immigrant Start-Ups

  1. Hey, we’d a been a lot less congratulatory about your ‘promotion’ if we knew it meant you were only going to ‘work here’ once a week!:)

    This is one of those ideas where both sides have a point. However, if you NEVER get involved in politics then you can’t be surprised if government doesn’t jump on your ideas. EVERYBODY has ideas, and government has enough trouble with the ones who are protesting outside, let alone hunting them down.

    But I’d suggest a compromise. First, why start a *&^%storm by having a multimillion dollar program that SPECIFICALLY excludes people ‘from here’? A good idea is a good idea. People DO have a point-why WOULD somebody ‘go’ to New Brunswick? The answer, more often than not, is ‘there’s free money there’. Which people then take and leave. It’s not like it used to be, but everyplace in Canada has that inferiority complex. Remember when “The Newsroom” was coming on and everybody was so excited because the guy who wrote/starred in it had writing credit on “Airplane 3”, the stupidest movie ever made, but it was a Hollywood movie.

    It’s a neat idea, the biggest problems are always political. Like Radian6 the government LOVES touting equity positions that go well, but if you advertise them before the fact then the political fallout is, well, less than desirable.

    I would suggest a show like ‘Dragons Den’ but for entrepreneurs. A certain amount of money would be appropriated, and people would come in and make a pitch. There could even be voting from at home. And like Dragons Den there would be a benefit for just appearing even if you didn’t get money. Only equity positions would be allowed, because nobody wants the government to take over the company, but there could also be information available for the public at home to not only vote but purchase shares or buy into the company.

    That’s MY idea, but again, I know full well that if I don’t actually try to PRODUCE such a show, then it won’t get done, and I can’t really fault the government for that.

    I might add that I’d almost make it a requirement for ANY company that has gotten government money to come on a show and ‘pitch’ their company. The benefit of that is there is then much less chance of political interference in the business dealings of government -you may have noticed the recent report that showed how much more expensive it is to maintain roads in NB than in Quebec, a province where organized crime seems to have a good hold (if your prices are higher than organized crime then there’s a REAL problem).

  2. I commented on Twitter and on the radio. It’s a disappointment but I am told the firm will still have close to 300 staff in New Brunswick. The firm will not recieve the payroll rebate dollars that were associated with the additional staff – the benefit of backended incentives they come with no risk as they are not paid out until the firm creates the new payroll.

  3. “We have to start looking at the big picture.”

    No we don’t…. how about the “small picture”? Government hand-outs to the select few. In some areas signage is strictly regulated and to put the icing on the cake: employee communications in 2 languages. Business in NB? Don’t make me laugh.

  4. Cyrille….

    What don’t you understand? Any employee in NB can demand written communication from his/her employer in the “official language” of their (the employee’s) choice.

    And if you find that one difficult to understand try this: In this province we have certain places dictating on how a business chooses to advertise itself.

    These are “small picture” indicators that potential employers can plainly use to gauge the “atmosphere” for start-up business establishment.

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