Mario Escoto Damas built a successful company after immigrating to Canada in 2019, and has since been named CEO of the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Center.
Mario Escoto Damas came to Canada to expand his family’s business. Now the Honduran-born entrepreneur is helping other newcomers develop their own businesses while putting Thunder Bay on the map as a thriving innovation hub.
“I grew up in a family of businessmen,” said Escoto Damas. “My parents, who worked in the fields, moved to San Pedro Sula in search of opportunities. There was no work, so they started their own company.”
In 2019, Escoto Damas landed in Toronto to participate in an immersion bootcamp offered by LatAm Startups, an accelerator that helps international companies scale in the Canadian market. LatAm Startups opened the door to emigrate under the Startup Visa program, a federal program that aims to attract entrepreneurial talent so that they can build their companies in Canada, creating jobs and generating wealth.
According to official statistics from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 1,860 people have been admitted as permanent residents through the Startup Visa between 2015 and March 31, 2022. According to the Sobirovs law firm, the program has a very low success rate. of more than 75 percent.
In three years, Escoto Damas built a successful business here and was recently named CEO of the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Center.
“It was a way that my journey came full circle,” he said. “I mean, I had already spent a considerable amount of time mentoring and training entrepreneurs. But even so, my main job was to run my company and oversee the operations of our family business, both in Honduras and for our Canadian expansion.”
For Escoto Damas, the visa approval process was fraught with obstacles. First, the system got stuck in 2020 due to the pandemic. Then she had to overcome her doubts about moving to a new country.
“My intention, initially, was not to emigrate to Canada. I saw it as a business opportunity, as a way to expand our operations and access a thriving market,” he said, adding that after much deliberation, and although he had a comfortable life in Honduras, he opted to take the leap and become a the only one of his family to move to the Great White North.
“Even then, I planned to go back and forth between Canada and Honduras.”
Escoto Damas took advantage of the digital transition that was happening in 2020 and launched BeltecHub, a technology-driven manufacturing hub for conveyor belts, timing belts and other equipment. The technology component has been essential for the company to prosper in Canada and has become a success story of the Startup Visa program.
“We already employ five people directly and four people indirectly, all Canadian citizens or residents, so we have achieved one of the goals of the Startup Visa program, which is to create jobs,” he said.
In addition to running his company, one of Escoto Damas’ passions has always been mentoring new entrepreneurs. It’s something he has done since she started working in the family business in Honduras. He is especially interested in helping newcomers because he understands firsthand how exhausting the adjustment process can be.
Still, he never expected that his passion for mentoring would be the key that would open the doors to a new stage in his career.
“I feel grateful that we can be an example of how we can contribute and in my case, I am very lucky because now I use that experience to help others who are in the same shoes that I once was.
“And I’m looking forward to helping more newcomers get established with their business.”
As he talks about Thunder Bay’s potential, Escoto Damas perks up. The Northwest Innovation Center already has success stories such as Meaglow, a high-tech manufacturer in the semiconductor industry that counts NASA among its clients and received the RBC Innovation Award. And BioNorth Solutions, an environmental company that is developing creative ways to absorb pollution spills.
“Thunder Bay offers important possibilities, for example, in fiber optics, in mining and many other sectors. And our goal is to pair these with the talent that is coming in,” said Escoto Damas.
“Lots of international students come to Thunder Bay, either Lakehead or Confederation College. As of now, most of them are leaving, but our goal is to make them stay, show them the opportunities that are out there, and say, ‘Here’s a place for you to build your future and give back to the community.’”
Canadian New Media Initiative/Local Journalism