Immigrant entrepreneurs growing tech startups in N.L. with specialized visa

Entrepreneurs from around the world are building promising businesses in St. John's through a federal program.

Start-up Visa, which launched in 2013, is open to innovators with semi-developed companies that have the potential to compete on a global scale and create local jobs. 

To be eligible to immigrate, entrepreneurs need to be endorsed by a support letter from one of about 60 designated business incubators, venture capital funds or angel investor groups in the country. 

"That letter itself kind of validates that someone wants to talk to you or someone thinks you're working on something that may be profitable, might be worthwhile in the future," said Isaac Adejuwon, founder and CEO of Metricsflow.

Memorial University's business incubator, Genesis, has given out seven letters — including Adejuwon's — in the two years it's been a designated organization. 

The Genesis stamp

In order to get the Genesis stamp of approval, entrepreneurs have to be willing to live and work in Newfoundland and Labrador.

They're enrolled in the incubator's three-year enterprise program, designed to foster new businesses with entrepreneurial programs, mentorship and a collaborative work environment. 

Katie Breen/CBC

"It is allowing us to attract and retain world-class talent to build technology companies that compete globally that hire and retain wealth here in the province," said Dyanna McCarthy, talent and diversity co-ordinator at Genesis. 

Genesis has four immigrant business founders — one each from Nigeria, Bangladesh, India and South Africa — currently building their businesses in the incubator space at MUN's Signal Hill campus. 

I really enjoy the people.… It's almost been my second home now." -Isaac Adejuwon

According to McCarthy, a fifth entrepreneur who came through the program folded his business and is now working locally in the tech sector. 

She said two other applicants abroad have been given Genesis approval and are waiting for the federal government to process their immigration applications so they can move to the province. 

Metricsflow

Metricsflow is the kind of company the visa program was created for.

The startup is looking at expanding in the coming months and growing from four staff to around 20.

It's in a fundraising phase right now, approaching private investors, venture capitalists and angels. Adejuwon says top investors have already committed a significant amount of money, and there's other interest.

Metricsflow has essentially created online analytics that don't require "cookies" — data that tracks a person's internet usage.

Adejuwon and team developed a tracking code that companies can place on their website the same way they would with any analytics tool. 

"The difference that we bring to market is we're able to not assign any tagging ID on these users of these websites," Adejuwon said. 

"Instead, we collect data points and fit that into our proprietary algorithm on cloud." 

The information the algorithm pumps out gives companies insights into potential customers so they can better understand and target them.

Pilots are being run right now. Adejuwon says Metricsflow is working with St. John's tech firm Verafin and is in the early development phase with Rogers Communications. 

Nigeria-born, Newfoundland living

Adejuwon came up with the idea while he was studying engineering at MUN. 

He came to the university 10 years ago from Nigeria on a student visa. 

When he graduated, he decided to apply for the startup visa and pursue Metricsflow full time.

He's now almost finished the three-year enterprise program and was just recently given his permanent residency.

He says the early support, skills and go-to-market strategies required to help startups succeed are available in the province.

"I have not seen a reason why companies cannot build their tech companies here," he said.

Once he finishes up his time at Genesis, he plans to stay in St. John's, and move into his own office space.

"I intend to continue to live here," he said. "I really enjoy the people.… It's almost been my second home now."

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