It Takes a City to Raise a Startup

Startup accelerators in Montreal increasingly working together and they’re getting help from local universities and the municipal government.

“We are not in competition with each other,” says Richard Chénier, who runs the Centech startup incubator at École de technologie supérieure, an engineering school. “We want to put the Montreal ecosystem on the map.”

In early June, six Montreal-based startup accelerators and incubators, held a joint demo day, showing-off around 20 local startups.

Events like this allow accelerators and incubators to pool their resources and get startups in from of a bigger group of investors, says Beatrice Couture, the general manager of InnoCité MTL, a startup accelerator supported in part by the city of Montreal.

“The question isn’t why, but why not,” she says.

Montreal is particularly well-suited for startups, says Xavier-Henri Hervé, the director of the District 3 Innovation Centre, an accelerator at Concordia University

“Montreal is a huge centre for research, it’s the biggest after Boston, in terms of number of universities and number of research centres, I think in Montreal we have a lot of raw material,” he says. “All the universities are full of people that are there to gather knowledge, to learn. So there’s a lot of young people that are learning knowledge and because of that, they end up having a vision for something.”

For accelerators, particularly those based at universities, like D3, part of the goal is to help turn those visions into products and service.

And they’re doing it by bringing institutions together with the public sector and the private sector.

“There’s been a change,” says Alexandre Dion, an economic development commissioner with the City of Montreal. “The academic sector has been jumping on the bandwagon, we’ve invested in InnoCité, which is really a big project for us … I think we can act as a spark but after that, the private sector, professionals, the VCs, all of the stakeholders in the community have to take a part of the pulling.”

On June 10, the City of Montreal announced a partnership with 23 venture capital funds, financial institutions and large enterprises that will make $100 million in private capital available to startups in Montreal.

“We recognize that one of the greatest assets that we have is the grey matter, the ecosystem, the creativity, the intellectual property that’s being created right now,” says Harout Chitilian, a Montreal city councillor and vice-president of the mayor’s executive committee. “Once you realize that, you have to be a player in that ecosystem, we don’t need to dictate the rules, we don’t need to even take an aggressive stance on specific matters, but we need to support it, we need be, sometimes, a middle man, we need to sometimes be in a supportive mode, in a facilitator mode. What I’m seeing today is an amazing opportunity for the city.”

And, so far, it appears to be paying off.

“I think it’s much more alive than there to five years ago” says Hervé. “We’re all learning very fast.”

Other cities in North America could learn from this approach.