‘India, here we come!’ Ottawa entrepreneur expands talent agency to Mumbai

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With the help of foreign investment, an Ottawa-based entrepreneur is hoping to make his models the faces of Indian advertising by expanding his talent agency to Mumbai.

 “Mumbai is the new Miami,” says Viresh Pujara, who first opened the Ottawa-based CoverModels talent agency 15 years ago this month.

Now with approximately 60 models working with for agency and four full-time staff in Ottawa, Mr. Pujara is looking to take advantage of a booming Indian market. Long famous for Bollywood fashions, he says Indian companies are now looking to North American models to brand their products for sale overseas.

“Indian brands want to make their brands multinational,” Mr. Pujara says.

While Brazilian and Russian models have been the standard for years in Asia, talent from Canada and the rest of North America are increasingly finding the asset of speaking English gives them an edge when landing speaking roles in commercial spots.

Mr. Pujara has already made a name for himself in Asian markets, helped in part by his Indo-Canadian ethnicity and ability to speak Hindi. He says agencies in major North American cities, such as New York, Miami, Toronto and Montreal, now come to him to place their models in Asia, earning his agency half of the commission on any gigs.

Work in fashion meccas such as Paris, while high-profile, is few and far between, Mr. Pujara says. That’s why getting his models work in Asia, where work is plentiful and lucrative, has been important for preventing his talent from becoming jaded as well as keeping the agency afloat.

Any foreign firm looking to expand into India requires sponsorship from a local company, and Mr. Pujara has found his in a Bangalore businessman whom he met while shopping for investment in the area a couple of years ago.

While he prefers not to disclose the total investment figure, he says it’s significant – enough to cover office space for himself and five employees, three apartments for model accommodations in Mumbai, regular airfare between Canada and India, and more.

Mr. Pujara is also hoping to leverage his client portfolio of celebrity chefs in India, including Masterchef Canada’s Claudio Aprile. He says he has been in talks with networks VH1 and ViaCom about launching television presences for both his models and chefs.

Mr. Pujara has also secured an ownership stake in India Designer Week, and is populating the event with premier Canadian fashion leaders, such as designer Christopher Bates and show director Hans Koechling. Though the show will feature designers and talent from major centres like India and Italy, part of his goal will be to show off Canada’s goods.

“Our Canadian designers are very, very talented, and sometimes our Canadian designers do not get the spotlight that we deserve,” he says. “Here we go India, here we come!”