Last Updated on December 31, 2020

Small and medium-sized businesses in Canada are looking to spend more on technology as the Covid-19 pandemic draws to a close and that will spell opportunity for immigrant entrepreneurs in the Start-up visa program.

“Nearly 40 per cent of Canadian SMEs plan to invest in technology in 2021, which should benefit the sector,” writes Pierre Cléroux, vice-president of research and chief economist at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), on the financial institution’s website.

“Overall, the technology sector is projected to grow by 1.1 per cent in 2020 and then by 2.2 per cent in 2021.”

After being hit hard by Covid-19 in 2020 and suffering what may be the worst economic contraction since 1945 – a drop estimated at 5.5 per cent of its GDP – Canada is expected to bounce back this year and largely offset last year’s losses.

“Strong consumption and a rebound in exports will give the Canadian economy a boost,” writes Cléroux.  “Bringing forward government investment projects should also provide a tailwind to Canadian economic growth.”

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The widespread distribution of vaccines to protect Canadians against the coronavirus is fuelling this optimistic outlook. The BDC is forecasting GDP growth of 4.5 per cent for Canada in 2021.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government responded quickly with financial aid programs for Canadians and the country’s businesses during the pandemic. Those programs helped recoup jobs lost early in the pandemic and have put Canada on a more solid footing than the United States in terms of consumer spending.

“Canada should see a favourable export environment, and consumption should be supported by a resilient labour market as well as continued household support programs,” says Cléroux.

With the economy poised to rebound, immigrant entrepreneurs may well be able to profit by coming to Canada under the Start-up Visa program.

In the past few years, Canada has seen a steady rise in the number of new permanent residents through the Start-Up Visa Program.

Started as a three-year pilot, it was made a permanent part of Canada’s immigration system in March 2018. Since then, the total number of new permanent residents approved admission under the program has soared.

Last year, admissions to Canada under the Start-up visa program more than doubled, to 510 from the 250 welcomed in 2018.

The program targets innovative entrepreneurs and links them with private sector investors in Canada who will help establish their start-up business.

Candidates can initially come to Canada on a work permit supported by their designated Canada-based investor, before qualifying for permanent residence once their business is up and running.

There are three types of private-sector investors: 

  • an angel investor; 
  • a venture capital fund, and; 
  • a business incubator.

A designated angel investor group must invest at least $75,000 into the qualifying business. Candidates can also qualify with two or more investments from angel investor groups totalling $75,000.

A designated venture capital fund must confirm that it is investing at least $200,000 into the qualifying business. Candidates can also qualify with two or more commitments from designated venture capital funds totalling $200,000.

A designated business incubator must accept the applicant into its business incubator program.

While consumer and tech spending are likely to be strong this year, immigrant entrepreneurs will want to be aware that not all sectors of the Canadian economy will be equally robust. 

“Some service sectors, particularly those dependent on tourism, such as accommodation and food services, will experience a second difficult year,” cautions Cléroux. “The pandemic is expected to limit their activities during the first quarter before partially recovering as spring returns. The distribution of an effective vaccine will dictate their prospects for the end of the year.”

The real estate sector, apparently immune to the pandemic in 2020, is expected to stagnate or worse this year as the decline in immigration in 2020 makes itself felt on the demand side. The BDC head of research is also warning of possibly tighter mortgage practices as lenders try to offset their downside risks, particularly in big cities.

The rule of thumb for business start-ups this year is that regions of Canada hit hardest during the pandemic are those expected to experience the greatest gains this year. 

“Ontario, which had the strictest health restrictions in 2020, could experience the country’s strongest economic growth in 2021,” says Cléroux.

“New investment in the automotive manufacturing sector is expected to give an additional boost to the province’s manufacturing sector. A resurgence in immigration should also revitalize the economy, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area. Growth of 4.5 per cent is expected in Ontario.”

Other provinces expect to fare well are British Columbia, Quebec and Saskatchewan. All of them are forecast to see economic growth of four per cent this year. 

“Alberta was hit doubly hard in 2020 by the lockdown and its impact on oil prices,” says Cléroux. “The province will benefit from better control of the pandemic on both fronts. Growth is expected to be below average, 3.5 per cent, given the low level of investment expected in the oil sector.”

Manitoba, too, is expected to see subpar growth of 3.5 per cent. Atlantic Canada, which weathered the pandemic better than the rest of Canada, is forecast to see growth of two to 2.5 per cent.

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