Transnational Entrepreneurship: Hire Immigrants Q&A with Howard Lin

Howard with transnational entrepreneurs in Toronto

The movement of people back to home countries is typically associated with “brain drain.” It’s considered a loss of talent. But Howard Lin, co-director of the Canada-China Institute for Business Development at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management, thinks otherwise. He argues that when skilled workers move back but maintain trade or other business ties, it contributes to a “brain circulation” and gains for the countries involved. Cross-border activities increase the circulation of knowledge.

For countries like Canada that see relatively poor performance on innovation, and particularly on commercialization, transnational entrepreneurs present an opportunity. The challenge for policy makers and industry is how to sustain and better leverage the innovation happening in global value chains.

Hire Immigrants: Who is a transnational entrepreneur?

Howard Lin: Transnational entrepreneurs (TEs) are immigrants who conduct business across national borders, normally involving host and origin country. The business could be trade, investment, and innovative business ventures.

What problem can transnational entrepreneurship fix?

For host countries such as Canada, TEs help overcome geographic, institutional, and cultural distances as well as market and resources limitations, thereby capturing economic opportunities in the international space because they have privileged access to information and resources at multiple locations, usable border-crossing experience, and often greater risk tolerance than locals do.

What are the requirements of a good environment for transnational entrepreneurship?

A key requirement is a change in mind-sets. At the societal level, TEs need appreciation for their contributions to our economy and society. Government should recognize transnational entrepreneurship as a viable and positive mode of immigrant economic adaptation.

What one or two key policy changes are needed to create this environment?

As I have proposed over the years, Canada needs to build some kind of transnational incubators to facilitate transnational entrepreneurship. One option would be adding a transnational component to existing incubators.

What is the role of business or investors in boosting transnational entrepreneurship? 

While Canadian businesses may form partnerships with TEs when entering international markets, TEs are likely to be more effective when they have non-immigrant partners in their founding team with enhanced access to local and professional networks, resources, and credibility.

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