Entrepreneurs straight out of school
As international graduate Sid Tikoo explains, the key to achieving success in his outdoor yoga business was “implementing the idea in a way that it became a successful venture right away”. Luckily for Tikoo, he had a lot of help from his community – with local newspapers keen to feature the new company right from its start.
While most international students see their Canadian university degrees as a way to help them gain local employment, residency and/or even citizenship in Canada later on, a few see the experience with a bit of a twist; specifically, as an important step towards one day starting and running their own companies.
The number of self-employed individuals in Canada has increased significantly over the past three decades – and in no group is self-start-up more common than the immigrant community.
According to Statistics Canada, by the end of 2009, about 19 per cent of immigrant workers were self-employed, compared with about 15 per cent of their Canadian-born counterparts.
Anshul Gupta is just one such success story.
Originally from Chandigarh, India, Gupta graduated from Ontario’s University of Windsor in 2011 with an Honours degree in Computer Science with Applied Computing. After a brief stint as an employee in the city of Waterloo, he says he got tired of feeling like he was “just a number”.
Frustrated, he left to do his own thing.
“To begin with, I worked as a private contractor for a few months in an accelerator centre for start-up companies called Communitech,” Gupta explains.
“There were 600 start-up companies under one roof. I was ecstatic to see the potential and people in my age group doing such amazing things, working for themselves. I always wanted to do something on my own, but never had enough courage to do so until I was part of that community. That gave me insight, and support from seasoned professionals gave me hope that I could do something on my own. Hence, I opened a company and within two weeks I had 19 clients.”
The company Gupta co-founded, called Bellman-Ford Consulting Ltd, was geared towards helping out other start-ups, specializing in those people who need tech assistance on a limited budget. Although Bellman-Ford was quickly absorbed by a larger company (good news for Gupta!), he says helping others achieve their own start-up dreams was a highly rewarding experience.
“During the inception and evolution of the company, I was getting clients from various start-up events across the city and helped them have a strong foundation of their tech product,” says Gupta. “Whether it was the architecture, the tools/language to use, or the platform to best develop on, I provided them with market research, risk assessments and industry knowledge of how the future of their product/company would look like had they gone down the path they were going, as opposed to my suggested path.”
Today, Gupta is broadening his skills working as a Mobile Application Specialist for a Toronto-based company. And although it has been a very quick ride – from a new graduate to a successful entrepreneur, and now to happy company employee – Gupta credits much of his success to the experience he gained during his time at the University of Windsor. Even though the university’s Computer Science program is not as highly regarded as some of its Canadian competitors like the University of Waterloo, Gupta says he could not have asked for a better program, particularly considering its personal touches and flexibility for mixing programs – something he has not seen in other universities.
According to Gupta, he was even encouraged by his Windsor professors to use his bachelor’s thesis project as a way to develop his very first entrepreneurial company and product – an Android application which he called DroideGo, for which he maintained all intellectual property rights after graduation.
“When I talk about University of Windsor, people sometimes look at me as if I had an inferior education,” he admits.
“But when they look at what I have achieved, where I have gone, and see that I am interested in investing money in start-ups, it changes their opinions.”
Another international graduate turned entrepreneur is Sidarth Tikoo – who, just like Gupta, credits much of his success to his Canadian education.
“Saint Mary’s University (SMU) provided me a platform from which I could launch into the business world,” explains the Bachelor of Commerce graduate. “I got opportunities there to enhance my leadership and communication skills, creativity and team work. Courses like new venture opportunities taught me how to write a business plan and present it in front of business leaders and venture capitalists – which really motivated me and gave me the confidence to start my own business. I feel the entire curriculum in the business program prepares you for the real world, and the faculty and staff are really supportive.”
Originally from New Delhi, India, Sidarth – or Sid – is now the co-founder and CEO of his own outdoor yoga business, called Jubilee Junction Yoga.
Located in SMU’s hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Tikoo says Jubilee Junction’s mission
is to promote health and recreational activities in the Halifax Regional Municipality Waterfront Area, by introducing people to outdoor yoga.
“Our vision is to give our community an ideal environment in which they can exercise, relax, and rejuvenate their body and mind,” he says.
It is also this feeling of “community” that Tikoo says compelled him to stay in Canada post-grad in the first place.
“What really inspired me to stay in Canada were the opportunities the country provided me. Everybody around me was supportive of my initiatives which really motivated me to do well. Canada became a home away from home.”
“As an international graduate I didn’t find it challenging to enter the Canadian business world at all,” he continues.
“The business community is really supportive for young entrepreneurs. I had to go through the routine of registering the business like any other local businessman would, but the best part of the entire process was that it was very streamlined, and as an international graduate I had to put in no extra efforts. Everything went as planned.”
Tikoo’s advice to any other international students interested in becoming an entrepreneur in Canada?
“Believe in yourself and the business idea you have,” he says.
“If implementing the business idea is becoming a challenge, talk to people around you. There will be a lot of support from the business community and local people.”
– Arwen Kidd
• Arwen Kidd currently serves as Communications Director for the Canadian University Application Centre and its parent organization, Higher-Edge. A Canadian university graduate herself, Arwen has spent most of the past five years working and travelling overseas. Among her credits are various documentary film and photo journalism projects in Eastern Europe, Australia and West Africa. Arwen is currently based in Liberia.
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