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Montreal’s AI-Focused Startup Ecosystem Takes Flight

How Montréal become a Challenger startup ecosystem with multiple thriving sub-sectors.
Sofia Kousa
on July 10, 2019

Montréal is home to one of Canada’s most dynamic startup ecosystems. The city is ranked as one of the best cities in the world for university students, with comparatively low tuition and rent prices. Not only is the city inexpensive for students to live in, it also presents opportunities for innovation and inspiration.

As a cultural capital of Canada, Montréal is bursting with outlets and events showing off its creativity. One of these events is the annual Startupfest, hosted every year in early July. Startupfest is described as a “music festival for startups” and gathers together a large number of innovators and investors from North America. 

Montréal is growing into a great startup hub and our 2019 Global Startup Ecosystem Report even calls it a Challenger startup ecosystem. In fact, Montréal has become known as one of the leading centers for AI research. The Montréal Institute of Learning Algorithms (MILA) connects AI researchers from McGill University and The University of Montréal. With the high concentration of AI scientists and the largest group of deep-learning researchers in the world, it will come as no surprise that Montréal is seeing success in sub-sectors such as Advanced Manufacturing, Robotics, AI, Big Data, and Analytics.

One notable AI startup in Montréal is Element AI, co-founded by Jean-Francois Gagné and Yoshua Bengio, Anne Martel, Nicolas Chapados, and Philippe Beaudoin, along with Jean-Sébastien Cournoyer of Real Ventures. Element AI helps large multinational companies chart AI within their organization by connecting them with local startups. The company received $102 million in a series A round in 2017.

Another success story comes with the recent IPO of Montréal-based Lightspeed, led by founder and CEO Dax Dasilva. Lightspeed is a point-of-sale solution and an e-commerce provider that raised $160 million in 2017 in funding – one of the biggest investments ever in a Canadian startup.

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In our 2019 assessment of the Montréal startup ecosystem, we highlighted: 

  • Montréal is among the top 5 ecosystems in the early-globalization phase with a $3.4 billion in ecosystem value.

  • The early-stage funding of $374,000 per startup exceeds the global average of $284,000. Local startups include Kinova, which raised $25 million; Mnubo, which raised $16.5 million; and Vention, which raised $17 million.

  • Montréal is the #3 ecosystem for aerospace behind Seattle and Toulouse.

  • Research-intensive startups are able to leverage R&D by a factor of five with the help of national tax credits.

Montréal’s sub-sector successes are complemented by local interest and investment in community building and internationalization. That is where forward-thinking organizations such as Centech, Real Ventures, Ville de Montréal, and Bonjour Startup Montréal, our local members, come to help.

Centech is helping improve Montréal’s startup ecosystem by providing funding and programs that help deep-tech startups accelerate and collide in the global market. Centech offers innovation cells that help major corporations communicate with startups and the entrepreneurial ecosystem to find mutual benefits.

Real Ventures is backing entrepreneurs by providing funding and connecting startups with local and national ecosystems. They are a strong contributor in Montréal’s thriving startup ecosystem.

Bonjour Startup Montréal provides guidance to startups through every step, from providing inspiration at early stages to helping achieve growth in later stages. They intend to put Montréal amongst the top 20 startup ecosystems in the world. 

Would you like to become a startup ecosystem ambassador for Montréal? Please get in touch with us!


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Our data shows that collaboration is at the core of the fastest growing startup ecosystems. We work with forward-looking organizations who understand that joining the global startup economy is key to to drive innovation and spur economic growth.