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Martin Basiri
CEO and Co-Founder - ApplyBoard
Part of the Spotlight on Waterloo: Mid-Sized City and Booming Tech Town

Waterloo: An Entrepreneurial City

Takeaways

  1. The academic institutions of Waterloo make it a breeding ground for high-quality talent, especially in tech. 
  2. The culture in Waterloo is attuned to startups, making it a lively and comfortable environment for new businesses and innovators.
  3. The collaborative spirit among companies in Waterloo make it much easier for new businesses to succeed.

Action

The government of Canada has been wise to implement a number of support systems and programs for new companies, such as incentives or grants. On top of that, Canada is doing a good job of attracting global talent to our shores through our relatively flexible immigration programs and educational opportunities. The government should continue to improve on supports, incentives and grants to keep Canada competitive in attracting talent and companies in the long run.


What makes Waterloo an attractive place for foreign investors? 

Waterloo is a very entrepreneurial city and we have a lot of access to good talent. The whole ecosystem is entrepreneurial. There are certain businesses in the area like manufacturing, insurance, tech companies, and even farmers. It was always about starting new businesses and the city, no matter what businesses were around, was collaborating together. Waterloo is one of the most perfect places in the world to start a new tech company. 


Why did you choose the Waterloo region to launch your company? 

I came from Iran to Waterloo and then my brothers came to Waterloo to study. We happened to be here and then the University of Waterloo gave us free office space in Waterloo in Velocity Incubator. Our company happened from there. It grew so fast that we never started thinking of other places and this became the headquarters. That being said, we have employees in 20 different countries and it is a perfect combination of global talent and local talent here in Waterloo. 


Why does the Waterloo region have a world-class tech and innovation ecosystem? 

Of course, the institutions in the Waterloo Region are very good. We have the University of Waterloo creating a lot of tech talent, Conestoga College, and Wilfrid Laurier University. It is an academic city, and it brings a lot of talented and energetic people to the market so that allows us to grow. Waterloo has a variety of ingredients that we need in talent from the hands-on to the analytical and research-based. Also, there is a long history of almost 40 years of tech companies. When I started, a lot of the knowledge stayed in the area and a lot of people from other regions came to Waterloo for those companies, so now we have access to those people as well. There are a lot of good companies such as Google and Shopify in the area, which bring a lot of their own flavour to the city. 


What do Waterloo’s academic institutions contribute to the regions business ecosystem? 

The University of Waterloo plays a very important role and it is because of the co-op programs that these students get work experience while they are studying. They have experience working in different companies and that is very valuable. That being said, in the last couple of years, Conestoga College has grown fantastically and the level of people we are getting from Conestoga College is also fabulous, especially in sales, marketing, and business administration. I am very happy about their progress as well and that is what makes the future even brighter because you have the engineering talent from Waterloo and other talent, and Conestoga is doing a very good job in that regard. 


What is the business culture in Waterloo? 

I have lived in many countries and many different cities, and one of the best things about Waterloo is that almost everyone in Waterloo knows what a startup is and they promote that, and it is a good thing. For example, I used to live in Ohio and if you tell people I am in a tech startup, it was a little foreign to them, but here almost anyone’s family member or cousin is working in that. It is good because you get a lot of good feelings in the city—when you walk downtown you see a lot of people wearing their swag. Waterloo is a good entrepreneurial city and I like that a lot. Also, the other good thing about Waterloo is that it is so close to Toronto so you have access to that huge region for anything that you need, but on a day-to-day basis, it is a smaller area so you have the advantage of not dealing with heavy traffic or those things that very big cities bring. This makes you more efficient and productive. 


What government supports and incentives are available to companies in Waterloo? 

For our company, the first check we got was not from a venture capitalist, but we got $30,000 from Accelerator Centre, which is good. There are programs like the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) and the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED), which are extremely good for the first couple of employees and for research and development (R&D).

During COVID-19, the government was very helpful to ensure companies can basically ride the wave successfully. We are still in the middle of it so it has required the government to keep helping, and for the community to help each other. The collaboration in the Waterloo region is very good between the companies. Companies know each other and when a company faces some challenges, the other companies try to somehow help, for instance, by finding jobs for their employees. I am proud that we are here. 


How does Canada compare to other countries in terms of attracting foreign investment? 

I like Canada a lot. Canada is new, especially for a tech company, so we are just in the early days of growth. Canada has a very good immigration policy and we bring a lot of smart people into the country. Kudos to the government for pulling off such smart immigration, because Canada’s future is very dependent on the type of people we bring. As you know, we are a massive country with a small population. Whatever you see about foreign investment into Canada, these are very early days and we are going to see the next 20 to 30 years boom in Canada, especially in the tech sector. 

I am very optimistic about it and hopefully government can adopt a couple of the changes that they need to do to make the system a little better for international companies to come here. As you know, especially now that COVID-19 accelerated technology adoption as well, all companies almost from day one have to be global companies. What we want in Canada is programs like Startup Visa, from which I got my permanent residency to Canada through the Global Talent Stream.  

“We are going to see the next 20 to 30 years boom in Canada, especially in the tech sector.” 

We want anyone in the world who is thinking about making the next big company to think of Canada for their headquarters, even if the majority of employees are going to be from different places. You have to be global but you want them based in Canada as their first home, and Canada is a welcoming country. We always welcome smart ideas and smart people to the country. This is a good place for them and their families to grow and have a wonderful time. 

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Martin Basiri
CEO and Co-Founder - ApplyBoard

Bio: Martin Basiri is the CEO and Co-Founder of ApplyBoard. He co-founded ApplyBoard in 2015 in the Waterloo Region. Originally from Iran, he came to Canada to pursue his master’s Degree in Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at the University of Waterloo, where he was also a research assistant. After his education, he worked as a mechatronics engineer and controls engineer at Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems in Ohio, United States.  

 

Organization Profile: ApplyBoard is an online platform that empowers students around the world to access education by connecting international students, recruitment partners, and academic institutions on the platform, working with over 4000 recruitment partners. It is headquartered in Kitchener, Ontario, with over 400 staff spanning 20 countries. To date, ApplyBoard has assisted more than 120,000 students with their educational journey.