By Hailey Eisen
The challenges facing immigrants are ever evolving, but for the most part, support for newcomers typically remains offline. Kushi Kaur, a young entrepreneur with a first-hand understanding of the trials and tribulations of immigration, hopes to change that with the development of an online platform and app targeting a global audience.
Kushi and her family emigrated to Canada in the years following 9/11. She was born and raised in India and moved to Libya in North Africa before settling in Toronto. “As a young minority Indian family, adjusting to life in Canada was tough,” she recalls. After studying business marketing at Humber College, Kushi got her first job in marketing working for an IT company.
Around that time, Kushi’s cousin came to Canada from India as an international student. “My cousin was living with us and I tried to help her out, to navigate the immigration system,” Kushi recalls. Her cousin ended up facing visa and work permit concerns, moving from Ontario to Calgary in pursuit of permanent residency based on the advice of an immigration advisor, and spending thousands of dollars on advice that got her nowhere.
Witnessing her cousin’s struggles and feeling quite helpless, Kushi decided she had to do something about it. “I was always passionate about technology and I had an understanding of globalization from my own experiences and those of friends and family,” she says. “I realized that what was needed was digital support.”
Kushi left her job and started taking courses in digital entrepreneurship. She began planning for Joint App, with a goal of helping immigrants navigate the immigration process, gain reliable information about visas and permits, and connect with a vetted, hand-selected group of lawyers and advisors — all in the name of saving time and money.
“I’m a learner, and as I started to plan things out, I was looking for ways to build my skill set,” Kushi explains. “There weren’t a lot of accelerators helping woman founders — not just with business advice, but with tech advice as well. When my friend told me about the Tech Undivided program, I eagerly applied.”
“Tech Undivided empowered me to seek mentorship and advice regarding raising capital, and my mentors pushed me to put myself out there.”
In the summer of 2020, Kushi joined the second cohort of Tech Undivided, a program run by ventureLAB, which focuses on woman-led tech founders. Through the program Kushi gained access to industry experts, strategic mentorship, and investors. “Tech Undivided empowered me to seek mentorship and advice regarding raising capital, and my mentors pushed me to put myself out there.” Kushi notes that as a woman founder, she’s amongst the minority raising capital for a tech startup.
Another benefit of being part of Tech Undivided, Kushi says, has been the opportunity to work with the other members of the cohort — all women founders building breakthrough solutions. As a group, Kushi explains, the women have helped each other with applications, hiring, preparing to raise capital, and so much more.
Armed with the right support, Kushi was ready to bring her idea to life. Before she could even get her app into production, demand for her services were greater than she could have ever imagined. “I was getting emails and LinkedIn messages daily from students looking for help and support,” she says. In January 2021, Kushi realized she needed to create something that she could launch quickly — and thus, MangoVisa was born. This web-based community connects American and Canadian students living abroad on study permits and work visas and those trying to gain permanent residency. There are currently hundreds of members accessing the free services provided by MangoVisa.
“I think COVID really helped us grow, because when the pandemic hit, immigration became even more complex,” Kushi explains. Distributing information, connecting students, and sharing stories are among the services currently provided by MangoVisa — but Kushi has even greater plans which she hopes will be realized with the launch of the app by the end of 2021.
Ideally, Kushi says she’d like the technology to be so accessible that anyone can access it — from students looking to attend school in Canada to people in rural towns across the globe who have to walk miles to access a lawyer, and risk rejection as a result of simple paperwork errors.
Armed with growing confidence and a strong sense of urgency to help improve the immigration process, Kushi is excited to see what happens when the app launches. “The market is hungry and I think our launch will be explosive,” she says.
As an entrepreneur, Kushi believes inner strength is key to success. While she says her family couldn’t imagine her — an Indian girl — at the head of a tech company, they’ve been supportive none-the-less. “They don’t have anyone to look to, to understand what I’m doing,” she says. That’s something she hopes will change.
“I’m really paying attention to the innovators of the world right now, trying not to worry about competition, but really hoping to break the industry apart.”