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Bonjour Startup! How Montréal Attracts World-Class Talent and Companies

Bonjour is part of the image of Montréal, a colorful and welcoming metropolis. So it came as no surprise when it was time to brand the ecosystem the choice was unanimous: Bonjour Startup Montréal.
Cédric Tawil
on May 02, 2019

Bonjour is used to greet people in French. It means good morning and good day, and it can be used in both formal and informal context at any time of the day. 

As a cosmopolitan city, Montréal stands out for its favorable relationships with Toronto, Boston, and New York, and is the natural gateway for the entire French-speaking world to North America. Large enough to be a dynamic and competitive metropolis, Montreal is a city on a human scale. The cost of living is affordable for both students and families and its artistic and cultural offerings make Montréal a vibrant city all year round. 

Montréal’s startup ecosystem has grown considerably in the past few years in different areas of the city: The south west, the mile end, and the Ville-Marie area (downtown). With the creation of four new hubs: Fintech, Creative, AI, and Life Sciences, Montréal's startup ecosystem is ready to enter its scaleup phase.

 

The Creative City
As a host to over 250 festivals year round and as the birthplace of some of the world’s most creative companies (Moment Factory, Cirque du Soleil, Felix & Paul), Montréal's tech ecosystem reflects the long legacy of creativity in the city. In the past few years, several programs were created to help creative entrepreneurs build and scale startups.

Launched in the past few months, MTLab is an incubator and innovation hub specifically targeting the tourism, culture, and entertainment sectors, and it is backed by major players in the industry. There is also a creative accelerator, La Piscine, whose services are designed and supported by a team committed to making a positive impact on cultural and creative entrepreneurs in Montréal, across Québec, and in international markets. Finally, the latest addition to this sphere is Zú MTL, an initiative created by Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil with the goal of helping creative entrepreneurs in the entertainment sector develop world-class innovative projects.

 

A World-Class AI Ecosystem 
We cannot talk about Montréal without mentioning its world-class AI scene. As the home of Yoshua Bengio, one of the founding fathers of Deep Learning, Montreal has consistent announcements of new companies and projects establishing themselves in the city; a research talent pool that is unmatched elsewhere in the world; pledged government support; and a startup ecosystem that is exploding. 

But what some would say is even more exciting is that Montréal has become the best place in the world to build an artificial intelligence startup. This avalanche of startup activity started when Element AI raised the largest Series A ever for an AI startup. In addition, Stradigi AI is another flagship startup company and has leveraged its expertise by building a partnership with multiple renowned accelerators like leAD, the Sports Startup Accelerator Program by the Adidas family. 

Working alongside these new startups are some of the best accelerators for AI companies in the world. Montréal is also home to the Creative Destruction Lab, where you can get guidance from Patrick Pichette, the former Chief Financial Officer of Google. NEXT Canada has also launched the NextAI program in Montréal, delivered in partnership with HEC Montréal providing high potential founders with entrepreneurial training. Recently, Thales, in partnership with Centech, has released an AI accelerator track to support startups and they give privileged access to Thales's international digital and commercial ecosystem. And last but not least, when Techstars – arguably the top accelerator in the world – chooses your city to launch its first AI-focused accelerator, it’s safe to say that Montréal is the best place to launch an AI startup.

 

A Growing Fintech Ecosystem
With 24% of Canadian Fintech startups established in Montréal, the Fintech ecosystem in the city is growing at unprecedented speed. In the past three years, Montréal has begun to offer full support for Fintech startups no matter their stage. Fintech Cadence is helping democratize and train the future workforce on Fintech, while the Holt Accelerator is helping entrepreneurs in the ideation phase and launched their first cohort in Fall 2018. Add to that the Montréal FinTech Station, which will soon be a major hub in the city where startups will be able to scale in the right environment.

Witnessing the emergence of the Fintech scene in Montréal, VCs launched Luge Capital, a new $75 million fund targeting early-stage Fintech startups. Also, Montréal's first unicorn is a Fintech startup!  Montréal-based Lightspeed went went public in March 2019 with a $1.36 billion valuation. With the recent growth and support the city’s Fintech ecosystem is witnessing, Montréal has all the right tools for Fintech startups to grow and scale for many years to come.

 

Life Science Health and Deep Tech Hub
Montréal is among the main East Coast sciences and entertainment business corridors with the strongest and closest Life Sciences hubs, such as Boston and Toronto. With more than $10 billion recently invested in cutting-edge infrastructure, including research centers and new mega hospitals (McGill’s CUSM, University of Montréal’s CHUM, and the pediatric hospital CHU Sainte-Justine), Montreal has a reputation of fostering collaborative public-private partnerships. Incubators like Neomed, concentrating on biological products and vaccines, and Cité de la Biotech, concentrating more on pharmaceutical industry and medical and research devices, provide world class equipment and support to their startups. Also, university backed incubator District 3 provides access to a wetlab to its startups.

The Centech is one of the major players in the Montréal startup ecosystem for Deep Tech startups that are focused on B2B. Over the past few years, the Centech has grown to offer three specialized cohorts per year welcoming eight to 16 tech startups in Healthtech, Smart Cities, and Aerospace. Another leading accelerator, TandemLaunch, develops some of the best tech startups in the world by seed funding science-based companies and building business teams around them.

 

Urban Tech
Perhaps the less talked about sector, Montréal’s startups are reinventing the city. In 2014, the city of Montréal, in partnership with OSMO Foundation, have launched Inno Cité, the first smart city accelerator in Canada. These collaborations between the city and the startup ecosystem have allowed the city to position itself as the "smartest city in the world" a few years ago. Startups such as Breather, Sonder, Netlift, and Smarthalo are reshaping space and mobility. Shaping the cities of the future, technologies and startups focused on urban systems are drawing more attention with their goals of disrupting and optimizing efficiency in the cities.

Since the vibrant cultural metropolis that is Montréal hosts over 100 festivals per year, it comes to no surprise that the annual international startup conference is Montreal is startupfest, an outdoor festival gathering thousands of techies in July. 


Closing Thoughts
With a reputation of the European city of North America, Montréal is a place where young, creative and globally-minded people want to live, since it was considered best city for millennials and for students in North America (Nestpick 2018, QS Best Student Cities 2018). Bonjour is part of the image of Montreal, a colorful, welcoming, and alive metropolis. Which is why it came to no surprise when it was time to brand the ecosystem the choice was unanimous: Bonjour Startup Montréal!

To follow Montréal's startup journey on social media, follow along via the hashtags #bonjourstartup and #MTLMOMENTS.

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