FREDERICTON – As a teenager in India, Abhimanyu Grover started creating websites and apps on a freelance basis so he could pay for calls to the girl who would one day become his wife, Shriti.
These entrepreneurial teens who found innovative ways to pay for phone bills and dates then embarked on a path that ultimately landed them, and their company Test Collab, in Fredericton.
“We were childhood best friends and after some time, we fell in love. We wanted to talk on the phone all the time. But back in India, there were no unlimited plans, so it was very expensive,” Shriti said of those early days together.
Programming has been Abhimanyu’s passion since he was 12. By age 20, he had created a company that develops websites and applications for customers, mostly small businesses.
“If we wanted to go on dates, we needed money, so that’s why he founded the company basically,” Shriti said.
Shriti joined him in the company shortly after. That’s where she started teaching herself programming languages and management skills.
After getting married in 2010, the Grovers decided they wanted to develop a product that would be easier to manage than custom-made software for various clients so they could travel more. In the process of creating this product, they found a niche.
“We realized that there was no good software for testing [other] software. Even if there were, they were really expensive or too complicated for our small team. So that’s how we came up with the idea for Test Collab,” she said.
Founded in 2011, the company provides a streamlined platform where businesses can manage tasks for software or product testing.
“If you are a mobile manufacturer, and you have thousands of scenarios to test – if the password is working, et cetera – imagine you have a team of five testers. You don’t want them all to be working on the same things so you need a platform to assign work to them,” Shriti explains. “How would you know the testing is 100 per cent completed if you don’t have a place to put scenarios? [Test Collab] just helps you manage all these areas.”
Test Collab now has clients in Europe, Australia, Canada, the U.S. and India. Most of them are from the IT and pharmaceutical industries. Other than Shriti as CEO and Abhimanyu as CTO, the Grovers work with two more people through a contractor in India.
The company allowed them to work from home and travel more. In 2015, the Grovers sold their belongings and went on a year-long road-trip around India. Later they visited at least 10 other countries. They lived in Europe for a month and spent three months in Australia before coming to Canada.
It was thanks to Canada’s Startup Visa program that they landed in Fredericton. The program allows up to five founders of a company and their families to receive Permanent Residency status. The company must either receive venture capital funding, angel investment or be accepted to an incubation program with a designated partner.
This was a good opportunity for Shriti and Abhimanyu to fulfill their dream of living abroad. Their company has worked with large clients like social network AskFM, but neither had a university degree, so it was difficult for them to get a permanent visa elsewhere.
Test Collab was accepted to two incubators, including Fredericton’s Planet Hatch.
“We went with Planet Hatch because the people from there were super friendly. We could actually feel that they want to help us, and they were pretty easy [going],” Shriti said.
Adam Peabody, the Director of Planet Hatch, said his organization looks at various criteria when accepting a Startup Visa candidate.
“Some of the key things that we look at is that the startup has had some form of validation of the product or service that it’s focusing on,” he said. “They certainly would have to have a [minimum viable product]. We look at those startups that would fit into the emerging clusters and sectors that we have some competitive advantages here in New Brunswick. So ICT, biotech, engineering, cybersecurity, are some of the main sectors that we take into account.”
Peabody said Planet Hatch also considers some preferred criteria, such as startups that operate on a team basis versus a solo entrepreneur, and whether the startup would fit into the programs Planet Hatch offers.
“Broad strokes, what we really saw a potential for in [Test Collab] is they very clearly defined who their target market was. That target market has plenty of export potential that they had already gained validation by achieving sales from their home country,” he said.
Peabody said the Startup Visa is a unique offering in North America that provides an advantage for Canada, as the U.S. recently scrapped a similar pilot program and Mexico has none in place.
“It’s a real potential for us nationally to be able to attract some of the world’s best and brightest, and actually launch their businesses here,” he said. “We certainly see it as a program that can address numerous challenges for population and economic growth not only in New Brunswick but across the nation.”
Since arriving in Fredericton, the Grovers have had an “amazing” experience, Shriti said. They also travelled with the East Coast Caravan to Montreal’s Startup Fest in July for free.
“[Fredericton] is so green, the people are so nice. Everyone is willing to go further for you. It doesn’t matter if they are super rich or successful, they’re willing to help you even if you’re a small company or startup,” she said.