Entrepreneur helps immigrants succeed with new business ventures

Mario Escoto Damas built a successful company after moving to Canada in 2019, and has since been named executive director 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 build their own businesses while putting Thunder Bay on the map as an emerging hub of innovation.

“I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs,” 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 the Canadian market. LatAm Startups opened the door for him to move under the Startup Visa program, a federal program aimed at attracting entrepreneurial talent so they can build their companies in Canada, create jobs and generate wealth.

According to the official statistics of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 1,860 people were accepted as permanent residents through the Startup Visa between 2015 and March 31, 2022. According to Sobirovs Law Firm, the program has a success rate of more than 75 percent.

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In three years, Escoto Damas built a successful company here and was recently appointed executive director of the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Center.

“This is a way in which my journey has come full circle,” he said. “I mean, I spend a lot of time mentoring and coaching entrepreneurs. But still, my main job is to run my company and manage our family business operations, both in Honduras and for our Canadian expansion.”

For Escoto Damas, the visa approval process was fraught with obstacles. First, the system collapsed in 2020 due to the pandemic. Then he has to overcome his doubts about moving to a new country.

“My intention, initially, was not to immigrate to Canada. I saw it as a business opportunity, as a way to expand our operations and access a thriving marketplace,” he said, adding that after much deliberation, and even though he has a comfortable life in Honduras, he chose to take the step and become 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.”

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Escoto Damas took advantage of the digital transition happening in 2020, and launched BeltecHub, a technology-driven manufacturing hub for conveyor belts, timing belts, and other equipment. The technological component has been critical for the company to thrive in Canada, and it has been a success story of the Startup Visa program.

“We have already employed five people directly and four people indirectly, all Canadian citizens or residents, so we have fulfilled one of the goals of the Startup Visa program, which is to create jobs,” he says.

In addition to running his company, one of Escoto Damas’ passions has always been to mentor new entrepreneurs. It’s something he’s done since he started working in the family business in Honduras. He is especially interested in helping newcomers because he understands from his own experience how exhausting the adaptation process can be.

However, he never expected that his passion for mentoring would be the key to opening doors to a new phase in his career.

“I feel grateful that we can be an example of how we can contribute and in my case, I’m really fortunate because now I use that experience to help others who are in the same shoes that I once was.

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“And I look forward to helping more newcomers get well in their business.”

As he spoke about Thunder Bay’s potential, Escoto Damas added. The Northwest Innovation Center already has success stories like 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 develops creative ways to absorb waste contamination.

“Thunder Bay offers significant possibilities, for example, in fiber optic, in mining, and many other sectors. And our goal is to match these with the talent that is coming in,” said Escoto Damas.

“A lot of international students come to Thunder Bay, either Lakehead or Confederation College. Right now, most of them are leaving, but our goal is to have them stay, to show them the opportunities that exist and say, ‘ Here’s a place for you to build your future, and contribute to the community.’


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