#ImmigrationMatters in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

Two immigrants in Newfoundland and Labrador partnered up to build HeyOrca, a thriving tech firm that now employs 25 people and contributes to the St. John’s start-up community.

Innovating and hiring on the Rock

Joe Teo (left), Sahand Seifi (right)

Joe Teo arrived in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, from Malaysia in 2009, while Sahand Seifi arrived from Iran in 2012. Both were international students at Memorial University. They met in 2015 and quickly discovered a mutual interest in entrepreneurship. With post-graduate work permits in hand, they set out in search of a problem to solve that might offer the beginnings of a business.

Their first step was to interview business owners. Joe and Sahand discovered from these discussions that a number of companies needed help with social media. An idea was born: they would develop a business to help marketing agencies work with their clients on their social media campaigns. Soon after, the pair launched their social media start-up, HeyOrca.

HeyOrca helps digital marketing agencies organize and schedule social media content for their business clients. The ability to preview content eliminates the potential for errors, helping marketing agencies build trust with their clients.

“They’re both thought leaders, and they give back considerably to the community. They often speak at panels, show up at hack-a-thons and spend their weekends working with other entrepreneurs.”

Michelle Simms, President and CEO, Genesis

Today, HeyOrca counts more than 500 marketing agencies as customers and has 25 employees, many of whom are recent Memorial University graduates in their first professional position.

“Our goal is to contribute to the local technology ecosystem, hire locally and cultivate talent. We are paving the way for other start-ups to bring new perspectives to the region,” says Sahand.

Michelle Simms, President and CEO of Genesis, a Newfoundland and Labrador company that helps tech start-ups get off the ground, is grateful for Joe and Sahand’s support of budding entrepreneurs. “The HeyOrca story has added a whole lot to the Newfoundland and Labrador tech scene. Joe and Sahand are hands-on in supporting the growth of the technology sector, and they have encouraged others to join them.”

Joe sits on the selection committee for Genesis’ prestigious Enterprise program, which offers workspace and partnerships to promising entrepreneurs. He and Sahand also mentor a number of Genesis clients.

Sahand, who sits on the Board of Computer Science Co-op Committee at Memorial University and the Industry Advisory Committee at College of the North Atlantic, says he’s “personally interested” in helping any computer science student.

“I want to help them look to the future, get a job and take risks,” he says. “HeyOrca plays its part by fostering a start-up community here in St. John’s. We are mentors, entrepreneurs and an evolution opportunity for Newfoundland to shift its focus to technology.”

When Joe first arrived in St. John’s 10 years ago, he thought he would return to Malaysia after university. But with HeyOrca’s success, he began to appreciate the impact he was making on the community and local economy, and he realized he wanted to stay.

“For me, it’s about learning as much as possible, cultivating talent, bringing new perspectives and using HeyOrca to give back,” he says.

Immigration profile: St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador (Census Metropolitan Area)

Quick facts:

  • Immigrants in St. John’s represent 4% of the population.
  • The United Kingdom is the biggest source country of immigrants in St. John’s, followed by the United States and China.
  • More than half (53%) of all immigrants who came to St. John’s between 1980 and 2016 were economic immigrants. The other 46% of them were an even split of family-sponsored immigrants and refugees.

Did you know?

  • Immigration from outside the United Kingdom to Newfoundland and Labrador is not new. Chinese, Lebanese and Jewish immigrants also arrived in the province during the late 19th century.

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