This past week I became a Canadian citizen. It's the end of one long journey for me, while several others are simultaneously underway. The ceremony itself was a friendly event, with a very diverse group of people who all endured different struggles to reach this point. For that moment, the atmosphere was one of optimism, of new opportunity, and happiness to forever be able to call Canada home.
So how did this journey begin for me? I am originally from Texas, and much of my extended family still lives there. My original career track was in software. As a mostly self-taught developer, I used to write code in Perl (with a decent mix of bash, korn, sed, and awk) on *nix systems. I wanted more from my career, though, and reached the decision that I wanted to become a scientist. My first choice was to study physics, and after a number of years of hard work holding down a full time developer job and going to school at night, I earned a Master's in applied physics. I felt great about that achievement, and knew I could go further and get a PhD. I began trying to figure out how to make that happen.
Through my graduate experience, I met a professor who ended up moving to Australia. He knew I wanted to do a PhD, and told me about scholarship possibilities there. He guided me on the application, and I ended up getting a full scholarship. At that moment, the heavy weight of reality set in: I was embarking on one of he biggest journeys of my life -- not only a PhD, but one in another country. How could I say 'no' to such an experience? But reality is always messy.
My wife and I (mostly her, as I had a deadline by which I had to be in Australia) sold our house in Texas, and moved to Australia. The way the PhD program there worked, I had up to three and a half years to complete my PhD research (for perspective, in USA the typical PhD takes 5-7 years). It's probably good I wasn't as intimidated as I should have been. We struggled to settle in to our new home, but we quickly made new friends which helped enormously. A lot of Australians are exceptionally nice people, and we loved the overall culture there. The country itself is stunningly beautiful, with pristine beaches, rugged wilderness, rain forest, grasslands, and desert. Hiking became one of my favourite pastimes.
I managed to work through the massive amount of stress and frustration and complete the PhD in the time allotted. By that time, I really wanted to stay in Australia, but the right opportunities weren't there. I wasn't ready for this new experience to be over, and reflected on ways to extend the journey. Coincidentally, my wife is originally from Canada, so we decided to move there. This is where my next struggle ensued: immigration. While I started on the procedural side of this, I was also job searching.
By luck, we chose to locate to the Kitchener-Waterloo area, as my wife had family nearby. I don't think I could have been luckier in this choice, as KW is the Silicon Valley of the North, with a very robust startup scene. Since I didn't have much of a network here, my job prospects were limited. But I always did want to start my own company. And helping entrepreneurs is one aspect where Canada really shines.
I connected with local entrepreneurs and slowly built up my network, all the while trying to figure out what my startup would be. I kept going back to my core skill sets, both software and my PhD specialty -- which was 3D printing of polymer materials. I decided my strength was on the science side, so I sought to leverage that knowledge into a startup idea. I launched, validated, and bootstrapped Structur3D Printing with Andrew.
Canada provides funding to startup incubators like Communitech, and local investors fund accelerator programs like HYPERDRIVE (now Communitech Rev). The free services of the Startup Services Group at Communitech are available to anyone wanting to launch a company, so I started there. We were encouraged to apply for HYPERDRIVE, and we did. To our pleasant surprise, we got in, and I haven't looked back since. I knew at this point Canada was going to be my new home.
I filed my citizenship application as soon as I met the residency requirements, and in early December 2014 I got the notification to take the citizenship test. I passed the test, of course, and was on my way to completing this part of the journey. As I look forward now, and Structur3D Printing continues to grow into a larger company, I am keen to give back to the community and country that helped this all happen.
--Charles Mire, CEO of Structur3D Printing