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  • Writer's pictureTara Stevens

Immigrants of Tech - Ingrid Polini

Meet Ingrid Polini! Ingrid is a Partner at Maple Bridge Ventures. In this interview she shares more about what inspired her to invest in immigrant founders, why Canada is a great place to build and how to build a trusted network as a new founder.

Tell us a bit about your current role and what you're working on.

I’m currently a Partner at Maple Bridge Ventures. We’re on a mission to invest in immigrant founders. As a startup founder myself and someone that immigrated from Brazil seven years ago, I am close to the firm's mission. 

I was invited to join by the Founder and Managing Partner Eric Agyemang, also an immigrant who moved here from Ghana 15 years ago. In our different positions over the last decade (me as a startup founder and mentor and him working at the EDC for 10 years), we both identified that there was a gap in funding for immigrant founders despite their prevalence in Canada. Furthermore, when we talk about fundraising for startups, I believe the stats are around 2% if not less for female founders. But when you look at Latinx women, black women, or other marginalized groups, that number drops even more. So that means a huge part of the population with incredible ideas doesn’t have access to funding. That’s untapped potential.

What inspired me to get into this today? I was a founder in Brazil, started my company (SafetyDocs) there, moved to Canada to brave the North American market, and had to start from ground zero. I always make this joke that I didn't know anyone in Canada to the point that my emergency contact was my Airbnb host. Needless to say, I had no connections to tap into and it was very challenging.

The Canadian tech ecosystem is a small, tightly-knit community and it's hard to break into. I was already living in Victoria, BC which made it more difficult because it wasn't one of the main tech hubs and I struggled to find events and make connections. Once I started gaining momentum in building my network, I was invited to mentor companies through acceleration programs. One of the reasons for that is that immigrant founders wanted to have access to mentors that understood their lived experiences. A significant proportion (35%) of startups in Canada were founded by immigrants. When you look at billion-dollar companies in the US, an even larger proportion (55%) of them were founded by immigrants. We could see the potential, but there is an incredible gap in funding.

When Eric invited me to join the firm after I left the operational side at SafetyDocs, I thought to myself “this is everything I've been talking about… I’ll get a chance to make a difference and create the change in the VC market that I would like to see!”. Eric's experience was also a huge driver for me to join. He comes from the EDC, but he also did a lot of volunteer work around newcomers with organizations such as OCISO (Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization) so he deeply understood the challenges that they experienced. His background and experience compliment mine quite well, and as the only two partners for Maple Bridge Ventures, you need that strong connection. 

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

Canada was a great opportunity in terms of being able to access different markets. Canada has trade agreements with 51 countries! The access to the US market is a huge benefit. There is bias when a product comes from Latin America to North America, whereas it’s much easier to close a deal when it’s coming from within North America.

Something else that was important for me was quality of life. I lived in New Zealand before but after I started my company, the timezone with New Zealand wouldn’t have been a good fit because most of my team was in Brazil. Canada had the right timezone and it would give us access to Latin American markets, we could still hire people across the Americas and have access to the US market. 

On a personal level, I resonated with Canadian values and felt like the quality of life aligned with what I was looking for.

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

I have a friend in the US that started a construction business at a very young age. She is also BIPOC, which further increased her barrier of entry to the market. She gave me great advice, which has always stayed with me: “Always be there”. After I initiated plans of expanding SafetyDocs to North America, I was at every single event talking to every single person I possibly could. Networking is important to everyone, but when you move to a new country, you’re starting from ground zero and it’s even more important. When you look at the Canadian market, most people, (at least that I've heard of ) have had more success landing great roles via referrals rather than applying directly. Another consideration is that many Canadians still don’t have the same appreciation for international experience. Cultivating a trusted network, where you have people within the Canadian ecosystem to vouch for you becomes quite important. 

I would always caution trying to connect with people in a transactional way. I think that happens a lot, and that puts people off. But truly connecting people and learning what they do, even if it's not exactly your industry, is always a good idea. Be curious. That has opened so many doors that I didn't expect for me. In fact, I met Eric through one of the connections I made years before and that wasn't directly related to my business!


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