How can Indian and Canadian student entrepreneurs learn from each other? The Indo-Canadian Entrepreneurship Exchange (ICEE) — a collaboration between U of T and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB) — is one way.

The program takes place between the University of Toronto Entrepreneurship and the Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at IITB. The program officially started on May 28 with the first of four webinar speaker series events. 

Speaker series

The first speaker series event featured a group of panellists and a keynote speaker who spoke about their experiences working in the Indo-Canadian business landscape. 

The keynote speaker, Arbinder Pal, highlighted important connections between Canada and India. According to the Canadian government’s website, Canada and India have strong political ties that are evident through the regular working groups between the two countries that focus on countering terrorism, security, agriculture, education, and science and technology.

Pal also noted the educational ties between the two countries. “The largest cohort of foreign students in Canada comes from India,” Pal stated.

Pal concluded her speech with words of praise for programs like ICEE. “International exchange programs, such as ICEE, offer unmatched opportunities and help students to be globally aware and globally proficient. They create an ecosystem where different cultures, backgrounds, [and] languages intersect.”

Panel discussion   

Terrie Romano, a senior advisor in International Relations at the National Research Council Canada, led a discussion where panellists also shared their personal experiences working in both the Canadian and Indian business landscapes.

Devashish Sharma, the country head in India for Wattpad, cited time differences as a big barrier to doing business between Canada and India.

“One thing we have to do as a team is we have to not only work within our local timezone, but also figure out how [to] coordinate with the mothership.” Sharma explained, in reference to coordinating between the Canada and India offices.

Ajay Ramasubramaniam, the chief executive officer and founder of Startup Réseau, expressed that more Canadian startups should seek to strengthen their relationship with India. “The challenge that a lot of Canadian early stage technology companies face is [lacking the] ability or keenness to prioritize India,” Ramasubramaniam explained. On the other hand, more Indian startups are taking their businesses to Canada. “The teams might be small, but they might be doing really bleeding edge or cutting edge work,” Ramasubramaniam said about Indian startups in Canada.

Devdatt Shah, an investor and advisor at Unicorn India Ventures offered some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: “Be curious. Be always curious about what’s happening in the world, [and] in the marketplace… not only in your area, but also the peripheral areas that may someday be your competition.” 

Shah also reiterated the importance of looking to India when starting a business. “India is a fantastic market; it is a very warm, open society. People are open to innovation [and] are highly digitized,” Shah explained.

Program details

Jon French, director of U of T Entrepreneurship, spoke about the launch of the ICEE program in an interview with The Varsity.

The ICEE program is open to all undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in entrepreneurship. No prior entrepreneurship or business venture or experience is required. French said that ideal candidates would be “Student[s]… [at a] very early stage with regards to company formation, excited about the innovation ecosystem globally, and [who want] to educate themselves and surround themselves with other like-minded business leaders, inventors and innovators,” French said. 

The ICEE is planned to be run once a year and last for about two weeks, where participants would spend one week in Canada and the other in India. Plans for an international exchange have been paused due to COVID-19, but the program is still on track to take place virtually. Applications are set to open in late 2021 or early 2022.

In the virtual program, students can expect to connect with their peers and industry experts over Zoom and other online platforms. There will be multiple speaker series events to allow students to hear from professionals in both the Canadian and Indian economies. Students will be able to network over digital platforms with entrepreneurs, investors, their peers, mentors, business leaders, and government representatives. 

Entrepreneurial education

“The University of Toronto has always had a very strong relationship with IITB,” French explained. “In 2018, the federal government did a trade mission to India. And one of the 66 deals announced on that trade mission was an academic partnership between IITB and U of T.” The idea of a cultural entrepreneurship exchange between the two academic institutions was announced at U of T’s Entrepreneurship week last year.

ICEE is intended to be an educational opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs. French noted that he hopes to one day see a group of ICEE alumni who have gone on to build successful organizations, and that the program will help students develop critical problem-solving skills. 

“Being able to [solve problems] and identify opportunities and pitch a solution to a problem — whether it’s a company or something that you came up with — those entrepreneurial skills are really valuable for U of T graduates, regardless of whether they start a company or not,” French said.

French also hopes to see the program expand in the future to other countries.

Interested students are encouraged to check out part one of the speaker series on YouTube and stay tuned for the next upcoming webinar.