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  • Writer's pictureNiv Lobo Gajiwala

Immigrants of Tech- Jay Krishnan

Updated: Dec 4, 2022

Our newest feature Immigrants in Tech highlights incredible stories of newcomers who are making a big impact in the Canadian tech ecosystem.

Meet Jay Krishnan, who we helped to place as CEO of the Accelerator Centre.

-- Jay brings with him a wealth of global experience from India, the US, and Europe. Here he shares more about his foray into entrepreneurship, what excites him about Canada, and his advice for companies looking to hire newcomers.

What's your story?

I grew up in India and in the late 90s, the idea was to “go west young man” so that's what I did. I went to the US for my grad school and I got my first foray into startups in the late 90s through my grad school. I moved into the Boston area and I worked there for about a decade. I joined a startup that eventually merged with Dialogic- Intel. I had this itch to come back to India to start my own thing, which led me to Bangalore in the late 2000s. My then-partner from school and I started a startup in the IoT space. We built it for three years and the company got acquired.

A few years later, I was hired as the first CEO of T-Hub, which is now India's biggest startup incubator. Then I had the opportunity to build a fund based out of the US - an early-stage venture capital fund, but halfway through that COVID hit and I had t

his realization that I really thrive in an operational role. I didn’t want to be a fund manager. I wanted to work with entrepreneurs. I thought, “I want to go back to the west”. I did not want to go back to the US for reasons that are geopolitically obvious these days.

In late 2020, I reached out to someone who had a connection with the Accelerator Centre board who at that time was looking for a CEO and that’s how I came in touch with Artemis.

I wanted to look for a few characteristics:

  1. Was there a startup ecosystem that was extremely unexposed to the rest of the world, but had great supply-side characteristics, great IP, academic pedigree, etc?

  2. Was there an immigrant story in the ecosystem?

  3. And third, generally being extremely non-altruistic, can I be the one individual who has built two ecosystems in different parts of the planet? For myself, I wanted to check the box. And Waterloo as an ecosystem, or as a town really, was appealing on the basis of those characteristics. So that's how I ended up in Waterloo.

What led you to choose Canada as the place that you wanted to build in?

I think at some point in your life, you sort of weigh the pros and cons for anything related to a career move. The cons with Canada are easy, ie. contextually speaking, small market, and long winters and if you compare it to other ecosystems, like Estonia, etc. the tax structure is not necessarily conducive for an entrepreneur to do something. But the pros significantly outweigh the cons- quality of life, the pedigree of tech, and proximity to a large market (US) that will eventually drive valuations of technology.

So the way I looked at it, if you want to build and leverage the startup ecosystem, the best way to think of it is something Kauffman (Kauffman Foundation) said - you can think of problems through the lens of engineering and there are complex systems and there are complicated systems. In complex engineering problems, you over-engineer to perfection. Therefore, when the product meets the market, there's very little room for imperfection. A classic example is the mission to Mars, a very, very complex engineering problem. If you look at the startup ecosystems and organizations that build startup ecosystems like the Accelerator Centre, we fall into the complicated systems bucket. There is no script, you cannot over-engineer for imperfections. You optimize for the best outcome with the script that you write. A typical example is parenting.

Waterloo & Canada have some appealing characteristics for someone like me, who’s been exposed to multiple ecosystems across the globe.

  • The amount of money that Canada spends on R&D compared to some of the other countries is interestingly low depending on where you look in the value chain: Canada’s contribution is lower than the OECD average (Source). Herein lies the opportunity to do more with little.

  • The ethos of the community. The value system of Canada and its community-based ecosystem building is very appealing.

  • And it is, regardless of partisanship from the geopolitics side, very immigrant-friendly, especially in today's world. I think the fact that it's long-term makes it even more appealing. As far as building and entrepreneurship is concerned, you want to be able to attract the best and immigration is the best tool to attract the best talent.

  • A good mix of diversity in an ecosystem lends itself to success, and it's really about diversity of thought, diversity of race or gender, diversity of design meets science meets engineering meets product meets technology, You can make a case that specifically Waterloo does not have as much as let's say Toronto, but I think therein lies the opportunity. The fact that there's an appetite to build it makes it extremely amenable for someone like me to say, “I want to be there right before the wave takes off”

  • Lastly, momentum. You can make a case that if you belong to an ecosystem that has a good pedigree, the momentum in that ecosystem will drive all things closer to success than, let's say, an emerging ecosystem. So India falls in the emerging ecosystem category where you take the next big social commerce platform and the likelihood of it touching the valuations that the same IP would fetch in North America. Leveraging that to your advantage, I figured go to an ecosystem where there's tremendous momentum or potential to build momentum

What advice do you have for newcomers who are looking to break into the Canadian tech ecosystem?

I think for entrepreneurs, you need to have an incredible amount of grit, a fair amount of resilience, a good amount of energy, and lastly, a sense of optimism. If you come here in December, the likelihood is that the sun sets at 3pm and over the next 100 days, being cold will probably set you back and make you measure your resilience. But by the same token, you can be optimistic about the amazing summer, the topography and the countryside that beckons.

The greatest learnings in game theory come from the amount of risk that you take which leads to success. Risks often lead to failures, but those mini-failures ought not to be the reason why one doesn’t take the entrepreneurial plunge; there’s nothing worse than a lack of action compared to hedging against risks.

I think institutions and organizations in Canada are extremely welcoming of the need to take a stance on diversity, equity and inclusion as a strategic pillar. When we took it upon ourselves as an organization to use DEI as a strategic pillar, it was really to make sure that we stay transparent. Our findings were a bit of a revelation, but we decided to be transparent and publicly hold ourselves accountable for the goals that we set for the next few years. I think that the community and the ecosystem in Canada is very conducive to taking a stance that allows you to realistically achieve those goals. I would struggle to find another country or city that makes it easy to change. I think it's another interesting thing about Canadians. It's the traits of friendliness and humility that lead to empathy and community building.

What advice do you have for startups or companies that are looking to hire newcomers?

The first is to stay hungry. As Darwin says, it's not the most intelligent that survives, or the fastest, it is the one that is the most adaptable to change that survives. And of course, he was attributing it to the origin of species but I think it’s the same for the entrepreneurship journey - not the amount of money or the highest collective IQ, I think it's the most adaptable that makes it out alive.

And the beauty of embracing first-time immigrants is that it brings with them the enablement of being consciously aware that you need to adapt as an organization. That is the fabric of thinking that I think will keep you ahead of the curve.

Immigrants subconsciously bring an element of striving harder, automatically putting in a fair bit of additional effort to drive their professional growth. They come with an intrinsic subconscious to work harder.


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