Entrepreneur helps immigrants succeed with new business ventures

Mario Escoto Damas built a successful business after immigrating to Canada in 2019 and has since been appointed as the Managing Director of the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre.

Mario Escoto Damas arrived in Canada to expand the family business. Today, the Honduran-born entrepreneur helps other newcomers build their own businesses while putting Thunder Bay on the map as a booming center of innovation.

“I was raised in a family of entrepreneurs,” Escoto Damas said. “My parents, who worked in the fields, moved to San Pedro Sula in search of opportunities. There were no jobs, so they started their own business.

In 2019, Escoto Damas arrives in Toronto to participate in an immersion bootcamp offered by LatAm Startups, an accelerator that helps international companies evolve in the Canadian market. LatAm Startups opened the door for him to immigrate under the Startup Visa program, a federal program that aims to attract entrepreneurial talent so they can build their businesses in Canada, create jobs and generate wealth.

According to official statistics from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 1,860 people were admitted as permanent residents via the starter visa between 2015 and March 31, 2022. According to law firm Sobirovs, the program has a rate success rate of more than 75%.

In three years, Escoto Damas has built a successful business here and was recently named CEO of the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Center.

“It was a way my trip came full circle,” he said. “I mean, I had already spent a lot of time mentoring and coaching entrepreneurs. But still, my main job was to run my business and oversee the operations of our family business, both in Honduras and for our expansion into Canada.

For Escoto Damas, the visa approval process was fraught with pitfalls. First, the system got bogged down in 2020 due to the pandemic. Then he had to overcome his hesitation to move to a new country.

“My original intention was not to immigrate 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 even though he had a comfortable life in Honduras, he chose to take the plunge and become the only one of his family to settle in the Great White North.

“Even then, I had 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 center for conveyor belts, timing belts and other equipment. The technology component was essential for the business to thrive in Canada, and it became 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’ve achieved one of the goals of the Startup Visa program, which is to create jobs,” he said.

Along with running his business, one of Escoto Damas’ passions has always been mentoring new entrepreneurs. It’s something he’s been doing since he started working in the family business in Honduras. He is particularly interested in helping newcomers because he understands from his own experience how grueling the adjustment process can be.

Yet he never expected that his penchant for mentoring would be the key to opening the doors to a new stage in his career.

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

“And I look forward to helping more newcomers settle into their business.”

As he talks about Thunder Bay’s potential, Escoto Damas straightens up. The Northwest Innovation Center already has successes such as Meaglow, a high-tech manufacturer in the semiconductor industry that counts NASA among its customers and received the RBC Innovation Award. And BioNorth Solutions, an environmental company that develops creative ways to absorb contamination spills.

“Thunder Bay offers significant opportunities, for example, in fiber optics, mining and many other sectors. And our goal is to match those with the talent that’s coming in,” Escoto Damas said.

“Many international students come to Thunder Bay, whether it’s Lakehead or Confederation College. For now, most of them are leaving, but our goal is to make them stay, show them the opportunities that exist and tell them: “This is a place where you can build your future and contribute to the community” .

Canadian New Media Initiative/Local Journalism