I was planning to start a business in Silicon Valley after graduation. Then Donald Trump happened

I was planning to start a business in Silicon Valley after graduation. Then Donald Trump happened

Raya Bidshahri, 22

Job: Founder of Awecademy, an online educational platform
Education: B.S. in Neuroscience from Boston University
Moved from: Boston
Moved to: Downtown Toronto

I was born in Iran, but I moved to Dubai with my family when I was two years old. My father is a businessman, and I must have inherited the entrepreneurial gene, because at age 19 I struck out on my own. I moved to the U.S. to study neuroscience at Boston University.

Trump Dodgers

While I was finishing up my degree, I spent a few months networking in the Bay Area, where I was hoping to found a startup after graduation. After Donald Trump was elected, I honestly didn’t think anything serious would come out of it.

Then, a few days after his inauguration, I got an email from Boston University saying that there were rumours that he would be signing an executive order that would ban travel to the U.S. by citizens of certain countries, including Iran. The email said not to leave the country. It was really dramatic. That’s when it hit me that things might be different now that Trump was in office.

When he did sign that executive order, a few days later, it was very upsetting. All of my classmates were American. I was thinking, “Why am I being singled out?” I worked as hard, if not harder, than they did. It felt unfair.

Growing up, you have a certain vision of the United States. You think of it as a place where you make your dreams come true. All that was taken away from me in an instant. But it’s like entrepreneurship: you have to adapt to changes in circumstances. I was already taking a huge risk with my career by going into business for myself right after university, and it didn’t make sense to take on the same amount of risk with immigration.

I have friends and family in Toronto, and I had visited a few times while I was in school. I was texting with one of my Canadian friends, telling him how upset I was, and he was like, “You should just move here.”

The more I looked into it, and the more I learned about the local startup ecosystem, the more it seemed like a viable option. I hired a lawyer and applied for a temporary residence permit and a work permit. I arrived in June and rented a condo downtown, in a nice, central location that lets me be near work and family.

My startup, Awecademy, is a Canadian business now. We’re an online educational platform for high school students, currently in beta testing. We’re planning to launch in November. Toronto has been amazing so far. There are lots of conferences and events here, and everyone I speak to is helpful. I think this city could be the next Silicon Valley if it plays its cards right.


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