The "Silicon Valley", for several years now, has retained its charm with aspiring startups and entrepreneurs, globally - all seeking growth, glory and striking gold. However, it has increasingly become difficult for startups from elsewhere, and with little connects, to access the U.S market. More importantly so, it is difficult to access talent, funding, customers etc

Often referred to as 'Silicon Valley North', Canada and its tech ecosystem has been there for much longer than some of the other startup hotbeds. From the first ATM machine being deployed in the 1960's to more recently being home to tech companies such as Nortel and BlackBerry, which spurred several offshoots in the aftermath of them going down; to more recent and large success stories such as OpenText, Shopify, Wave, Kik, Wattpad, Thalmic Labs, 500px and HootSuite.

Over the past 5 years, the Indian startup ecosystem has multiplied ginomorously. More startups are building for the global markets, and many of them aspire a beachhead in North America. This has brought about a need for a market access program that can help easing a startup into a new market, by leveraging established connections.

Zone Startups is the global brand of tech accelerators operated by Toronto based Ryerson Futures Inc., with large operations in Canada and India.

The Next BIG Idea Contest is an annual feature of Zone Startups India's ecosystem development activities, that engages the pan-India startup ecosystem stakeholders, and seeking to discover India's 5 most hi-tech and high-potential startups that are looking to leverage a soft-landing opportunity in Canada as a gateway to North America. The selected startups get access to a bespoke market access program includes mentorship, industry connects, investor meetings and a great international exposure. The contest was launched in 2013, as a joint initiative of Zone Startups India and Government of Ontario, Canada. Over the years, several other partners have come onbaord, and this year it includes Global Affairs Canada, Government of British Columbia and Government of Alberta.

Related - 6 Winning Indian Tech Startups of Next Big Idea Contest 2016 By Zone Startups and Govt. of Ontario, Canada

"Seeing the Canadian and Indian startup ecosystem simultaneously and closely, we could see a natural fit and an opportunity to be an enabler. I'd call the Next BIG Idea Contest our gateway to India, as the 1st edition was launched right after we announced our India market entry. Today, being an established and leading tech accelerator in India, we see the annual Next BIG Idea Contest as our give-back to the ecosystem, by exposing a handful of startups to the Canadian ecosystem and fuelling their international aspirations and enabling the same" says Ajay Ramasubramaniam, Director (India), Zone Startups.

Over the past 5-years, the Next BIG Idea Contest roadshows have been to 16 startup hubs from across the country, and attracted over 1,700 applications, from which 27 startups have been soft-landed in major Canadian cities.

“It was very encouraging to see how numerous high quality grant/visa programs funded by Governments (Canadian Provinces) have been successfully utilized by worthy startups” says Soubhagya Sahoo, CEO & Co-Founder of Gray Routes who won the Next BIG Idea contest 2017 & participated in 2- weeks market access program in Canada last November.

The Next BIG Idea contest boasts of an illustrious alumni, that includes startups such as CitrusPay, Sokrati (selected in 2013 but, chose not to go in the midst of their funding round), Heckyl, Vidooly, ShieldSquare, Plackal, Flip Technologies, AdSparx, Konotor (acquired by FreshDesk), Data Resolve, Uncanny Vision, Gray Routes, Sequretek etc.

As an extension to Next BIG Idea contest, The Aditya Jha Entrepreneurship India Award was introduced in 2017 to recognize social entrepreneurs who have translated their innovative and impactful ideas into technology driven businesses. The award and a grant of INR 5 Lakhs is presented by Mr. Aditya Jha himself, an Indo-Canadian philanthropist & serial entrepreneur.

Jordan Reeves, Consul General of Canada says “Canada nurtures businesses that push the limits of technology. That’s why we’re world leaders in artificial intelligence. Canada is a country built on diversity that welcomes entrepreneurs from all over the world. Indian companies easily fit in and have instant access to markets in North America and Europe. We’re pleased to be partnering with Zone Startups on the Next Big Idea Competition and are excited about showcasing top Indian companies in Canada. Next Big Idea is one more example of the amazing support Zone Startups provides to Indian businesses.”

The next few weeks will see Zone Startups India host roadshows across 20 Indian cities, to launch the contest pan-India. Programs like Next BIG Idea contest allows a number of promising companies to understand the North American Market fit for their products when founders participate in roadshows, go through multiple rounds of selection process & speak to global jury members. The applications for the contest will be accepted online from 29th June 2018 till 15th September 2018.

In recent years, a lot of Indian Startups are now choosing Canada over the US due to later's visa uncertainty trouble, cracking the US immigration system nowadays has also become a very difficult task, a feat which only a lucky few are able to achieve. Canada has emerged as a popular immigration choice amongst Indian entrepreneurs after the US due to the clarity the country offers under its Canadian Startup Visa or SUV programme.

In February, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeu along with his convoy visited India and this is when Zone Startups has been chosen by the Canadian Government and Indian Government to establish a new bi-lateral program to support entrepreneurs from both countries, through a market access program. Read - How Trump’s Stricter Visa Rules is Killing ‘Startup Dreams’ of Indian Entrepreneurs

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