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If you’re an international student studying in Canada and are wondering if you can start your own business, the answer is yes!
First and foremost, it is paramount to understand the eligibility requirements to be able to work – even if it is for yourself – in Canada as an international student.

Eligibility to work off-campus as an International Student

Working for yourself is recognized as ‘working off campus’ by the Government of Canada. You can start working off campus in Canada only once you have started your study program – you cannot start working for any employer or even yourself without starting your study program in Canada. 


Working without a Work Permit as an International Student

As an international student, you can work off-campus with an employer or for yourself without a work permit if you meet ALL of these requirements:

If you don’t meet even one of the criteria set above, you cannot work off campus without a work permit in Canada as an international student. If you are studying part-time, there are separate eligibility conditions applicable to work off campus.


How many hours can you work on your business as an International Student in Canada?

During regular school/semesters, self-employed students are allowed to put in 20 hours a week into their own business. You will have to track your own hours and may be asked to prove it. Hours for a self-employed student are calculated as time spent doing any of these: 

Violating the 20-hour rule during semesters can lead to you losing your student status, and you may not be approved for a study or work permit in the future. You may also be required to leave the country. 

The only exception to the 20-hour rule applies to scheduled school breaks, like winter or summer breaks; at this time, you are allowed to work on your business full-time. ‘Full-time’ is not capped by any number of hours.


Steps to launching your business as an International Student in Canada

As a student entrepreneur, you’re working with limited resources, funds, and time. We recommend using the Lean Startup methodology to make the process more manageable. The Lean Startup methodology emphasizes rapid experimentation and customer feedback to create a sustainable and scalable business model. It includes identifying an opportunity, developing a minimum viable product, testing it, iterating and pivoting, and scaling the business.


Developing a Business Idea:

The creation of a business, in the simplest terms, is the creation of value that can be monetized. If you’re business-inclined, then you may already be swimming in ideas. If you are an enthusiast looking for opportunities, there are many ways to go about it. 

Here are some tips that can help get your entrepreneurial juices flowing

1.Identify your skills and interests

2.Find a gap

3.Solve a problem

Here are some tips that can help get your entrepreneurial juices flowing:

  1. Identify your skills and interests:  One of the quickest paths to a viable business idea is leveraging your existing strengths that people see value in and developing a business that aligns with them. Start by identifying your unique skills and interests. What are you passionate about? What are you good at? 
  2. Find a gap: Are you attracted to a particular market, maybe an upcoming one, or one in which you already have experience? Start conversations with the accessible market around you to identify any gaps you could fill. This could involve conducting market research, analyzing competitors, or identifying emerging trends to find an empty space that you can plug your idea into.
  3. Solve a problem: Another effective starting point to identify a business idea is to solve a problem. It could be a problem you or the people around you are facing. Troubleshoot a solution and develop a product or service that makes lives easier, saves time, saves money, or improves the quality of life.

Once you’ve identified your opportunity, this is the right time to vet it using strategic frameworks. Strategic frameworks you can use to sharpen your business idea can vary from the Business Model Canvas, SWOT Analysis, to the Positioning Map. You can read more about these frameworks in this detailed blog How to vet business opportunities using strategic frameworks.

Validate the Idea:

Once you have a business idea, you’ve got your hypothesis. Now it’s time to test it before investing more time and money into it. This step helps you identify any potential issues and refine your idea before working on it further.

Did you know Dropbox initially only created a video demo of its product to test demand and gather feedback from potential customers? They then used all the comments and feedback to build their MVP. 

Here are some ways to test your business idea

1.Create a prototype or an MVP

2.Collect feedback

3.Stay Agile

Here are some ways to test your business idea:

  1. Create a prototype or an MVP: If you’re developing a physical product, consider creating a prototype to test its functionality and usability. This will help you identify any potential design or manufacturing issues. If you’re working on a service-based business, give out trial services for free to test out the service. 
  2. Collect feedback: Reach out to customers for feedback on your product prototype or service. Collect quantitative and qualitative data points to refine your product/service.
  3. Stay Agile: The lean start-up method forces you to return to the drawing board to consistently edit and improve your product/service before scaling.


Create a Business Plan:

Once you’ve validated your MVP within a smaller focus market and polished your product/service for a larger market, it’s time to design a longer-term roadmap. A business plan should outline your goals, target market, market analysis, marketing and sales strategies, financial projections, and more. 

Creating a solid business plan can help you secure funding, make informed decisions, and stay on track as you launch and grow your business. But remember, a business plan is a living document that should be revisited and updated regularly. Be sure to set realistic goals and timelines, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or seek advice from experts in your industry, which brings us to the next stage.


Seek Mentorship and Networking:

As an international student, you may not be very familiar with the Canadian business landscape but don’t let that stop you from optimizing your business launch to the North American market. Seeking mentorship and networking opportunities can help you learn from experienced entrepreneurs, make valuable connections, and get advice on launching and growing your business.

Here are some ways to seek mentorship and networking opportunities in Canada

1.Attend networking events

2.Reach out to your school's entrepreneurship centre

3.Apply to Start-up Incubators

Here are some ways to seek mentorship and networking opportunities in Canada:

  1. Attend networking events: Attending networking events can help you meet other entrepreneurs and professionals in your industry. These events can be a great way to make new connections, get advice, and find potential partners or collaborators. Bookmark our blog: Toronto Startup events to attend in summer 2023 to ensure you’re in the right place at the right time!
  2. Reach out to your school’s entrepreneurship centre: Many Canadian universities and colleges have entrepreneurship centres that offer mentorship, workshops, and other resources for student entrepreneurs. Reach out to them with your business plan and learn more about the programs and services they offer.
  3. Apply to Start-up Incubators: Startup incubators like TBDC in Canada cater to immigrant entrepreneurs. Many of their programs are tailored towards providing foreign entrepreneurs with the resources to startup or expand their businesses in Canada. Start-up incubator support can include being a bridge between the entrepreneur and the government, access to world-class mentors, access to investors and funders, a wealth of information on Canadian government grants/programs, and more. 

You can read more about the North American Mentor and Funding ecosystem here


Registering your start-up

In Canada, there are three types of Business Structures: Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, and Corporation. 

Sole Proprietorship is the easiest and fastest method, hence is a popular choice for students or first-time entrepreneurs. However, it should be noted that both Sole Proprietorships and Partnerships are unincorporated businesses. The business and its owner are viewed as one entity by law and tax authorities, and the owner is expected to assume full personal liability. 

Depending on which province you operate in, you must register with your province or territory. You can register online for Ontario here. You will now be registered for a 9-digit Ontario Business Identification Number (BIN) from Service Ontario, which you can use in the future to incorporate, create an import/export account, and register for an account with the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA, where you are assigned your Business Number – BN)

If you expect to make more than C$30,000 per year, you must register for a GST/HST number.
Service providers in Ontario, like
OWNR and Good Lawyer, have start-up-friendly packages that handle all these services end-to-end.


Source: BDC

Programs that help immigrant entrepreneurs startup, buy, or expand their businesses in Canada:

Ontario Soft Landing Program: TBDC’s Ontario Soft Landing Program is a 9-month startup incubation program that helps immigrant entrepreneurs relocate and grow in Ontario, Canada. Selected start-ups are issued a Letter of Support that can help them apply for a Work Permit and Permanent Residence. 

Land & Expand: TBDC’s Land & Expand Program is an in-depth 3-week program designed to equip both international and first generation immigrant founders with the tools necessary to build a strong foundation for their start-ups to expand in Ontario. Selected start-ups will have access to workshops, training and mentorship.

Are you an international student looking to grow your start-up in Canada?

We are TBDC, Canada’s premier start-up incubator. We are your bridge to the North American market. Successful companies like Ibentos and Ayottaz have graduated from our programs and scaled through North America and the world. To learn more, click here.

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