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Odyssey Interactive puts Canada's two-week visa program to the test

Odyssey Interactive, a gaming startup located in Waterloo, put Canada's Global Talent Stream immigration program to the test. Here's what happened.

Good things can happen quickly.

Just a few weeks ago, gaming startup Odyssey Interactive announced plans to open a brand-new studio in Waterloo. What we didn’t report was that the company came together at record speed.

In February, the company’s initial founder – Richard Henkel – moved to Canada. In March, he had calls with venture capitalists who might consider investing in his team’s vision for games. In April, he’d locked down the company’s seed funding with a seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz.

From idea to reality in just two months.

As Henkel built out the founding team – three friends he’d made while working at Riot Games including Eric Lawless, Dax Andrus and David Capurro – a new problem arose: two of them (Andrus and Capurro) weren’t Canadian. He’d heard about Canada’s business-friendly immigration programs but didn’t have much experience with them. The programs promised as little as two weeks from application to work permit, which seemed unfathomable. His new company, before it even really got started, was going to have to put Canadian immigration to the test (during a pandemic, too).

For context, Henkel hadn’t had the best experience with immigration in the past.

“When I went down to the [United] States it was a nightmare,” he said.

The first time he tried to accept a job in the United States it took seven months to get a visa. When he tried to switch to the troubled H-1B program, it took a year and he was ultimately rejected. When he tried to renew his initial visa, he came within days of getting kicked out of the country. All this time, Henkel’s spouse struggled to get a visa that let her stay in the US. She was never able to work there.

With that in mind, here’s what the timeline looked like for getting his co-founders into Canada:

Late-April – Odyssey begins working with KPMG

Having limited knowledge of how to bring international talent into a country, Henkel and his co-founders got in touch with consulting giant KPMG. Their lawyers – Naumaan Hameed and Zohra Jaffer – helped identify relevant immigration programs, complete necessary paperwork and collect supporting documentation. Through the process, they learned that spouses could immediately apply for a work permit, too.

“That’s huge! For people going to the [United] States, unless you find the perfect set-up, you have to assume you’re living on a single income in one of the most expensive parts of the country. The idea that your spouses were eligible for work permits by virtue of being connected to another work permit holder blew my mind given the struggles my wife and I had,” said Henkel.

May 5 – Connected with Waterloo EDC

Shortly afterward, KPMG and representatives from Canada’s federal government in California connected the Odyssey team with Sean Smith at Waterloo EDC. Sean is the lead for helping California-based companies come to Waterloo and Waterloo EDC is a referral partner for the Global Talent Stream program, which can provide a work permit and visa in as little as two weeks.

To do this, Waterloo EDC must submit a referral form that confirms the visa applicants meet necessary requirements to access the program.

June 25 – Waterloo EDC submits Global Talent Stream referral

After collecting the relevant information, Waterloo EDC submitted the referral on behalf of Odyssey Interactive and received a confirmation that the company was approved to access the program within two hours. This meant that Odyssey had the greenlight to submit their final visa application.

July 9 – Odyssey submits the final paperwork

After “about a month” of preparation, Henkel and his co-founders submitted their application to the government for consideration. One day later, he participated on a follow-up call that further discussed the application.

July 23 – Approved!

That’s right – two weeks. Richard and his co-founders received the good news – that their application was successful – within two weeks of submission. They then had the choice to wait for a work permit to be issued (which can take a bit longer) or simply enter the country and request a work permit (after showing their documentation) at the border. They chose the latter.

August 25 – Co-founders come to Canada

When Henkel’s co-founders showed up on August 25, they encountered no problems. It took about 20 minutes for customs officials to review the documentation and issue work permits. An hour later they were in Waterloo at Richard’s house for a two-week quarantine.

“We just had to wait for [customs officials] to read through the documentation. I think they spent the most time asking about the two-week quarantine plan,” said Henkel.

And that’s it. Really, after the preparation it was a two-step process, a positive decision and a border crossing. “The process is super simple,” said Henkel. “Remarkably simple.”

As Odyssey Interactive begins to grow its team, the unprecedented access to international talent will provide substantial advantages in building a good product.

“Talent exists everywhere and being able to access it is huge,” says Henkel. “Right now, we’re able to interview people from Malaysia, Colombia, and Japan – places most companies won’t look for talent – and seriously consider bringing them into our team. We have a dream to make games for people from all over the world, and ultimately the best way to do that is to build a team that reflects the diversity of the audiences we hope to serve. With different countries come different cultures and life experiences. With those [differences] come nuances in approaches to problem solving and creativity that can lead to experiences that resonate across borders, languages, and time zones.

The plan is to add 20-25 team members in the next 2-3 years, and for Odyssey, it’s comforting to know that they can recruit from a global talent market without the uncertainty that comes along with American immigration programs.

Reflecting on the experience, Henkel gave the following advice to companies planning significant growth:

“[If you] need to grow and hire very quickly, well, great talent isn’t always available in the local market. The visa application process being so streamlined in Canada helps you grow your team so you can support rapid product growth. If you’re an American-based company, it’s probably worth considering having a secondary office in Canada that could act as a global talent hub.

Do you want to learn more about expanding your company into a new country? Check out this Q&A with the founders of Insticator and Faire– two companies that have done it. Or, contact our team for custom data and information.

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