Ecosystem Spotlight: 5 questions to… StartupMontréal
StartupMontréal is the key point of contact for all things startups in Montréal, Quebec. We sat down with Khatidja Kassam and the StartupMontréal team to discuss the region’s singularities, strengths, and ambitions.
How was Startup Montréal born and what has been the most successful support program from Startup Montréal? Why do you think it is so successful?
Startup Montréal is a non-profit organization created in 2022 from the merger of Bonjour Startup Montréal and Montréal Inc. Our mission is to multiply the positive impact of the Montréal startup ecosystem and extend its outreach, here and elsewhere. Our vision: an attractive Montréal startup ecosystem that is internationally recognized for its performance, diversity, and impact. Our activities are based on five pillars that guide the development of our projects and programs. We work to make the ecosystem increasingly accessible, collaborative, diverse and impactful, growing, internationally connected, and recognized.
We have developed an offering complementing the resources and initiatives available in the ecosystem with projects such as the Bourse+ grant, the Fondatrices pre-accelerator, the Conciergerie, and the Impact Week, all for the benefit of entrepreneurs and the entire innovation community. We collaborate with partners in the delivery of these projects. We are funded by the Quebec government, the city of Montreal, the Canadian government, and private partners. This collaborative approach is crucial to the success of our projects.
What makes the Montréal ecosystem unique? (e.g., industry focus, founder background, technologies, fundraising, etc.) What is its biggest strength?
Montréal is a vibrant, strategically located hub that offers companies easy access to markets in over 50 countries with almost 1.5 billion consumers. In Montreal, there are about 1300 active startups, +40 coaching programs, and +20 venture capital firms. We even have our own festival focused on entrepreneurship called Startupfest which normally attracts over 7000 participants.
If we had to choose 4 facts that make the Montreal ecosystem unique, we would say that:
- Entrepreneurs are impact-driven, there are many startups that tackle social and environmental issues and support organizations dedicated to these issues. There are also funds dedicated to cleantech and to sustainable investments, such as Cycle Momentum.
- There is influence from both French and English communities: 55% of the population is bilingual (French and English), compared to 8% in Toronto and 7% in Vancouver. 20% of the population is fluent in three or more languages, compared to 4% in Toronto and 3% in Vancouver
- The Montreal ecosystem is accessible: you can easily meet investors or successful entrepreneurs at some emblematic spaces such as Notman House, Centech or Maison Alcan. Hundreds of networking events, mostly free, happen every year, where key members of the ecosystem can be found, in an informal context.
- Strong government support and investment to position Quebec and Montreal as international tech hubs. As a result, 6 out of 10 of the top VC firms in Canada are based in Montreal.
There are also sectorial strengths to Montreal’s ecosystem:
Life sciences – Investment in Montréal’s Life Sciences companies hit a record CA$685 million (US$500 million) in 2022. The 2022–2025 Québec Life Sciences Strategy will provide CA$569 million (US$416 million) to support an estimated CA$2 billion (US$1.46 billion) in direct investment. The Canadian Alliance for Skills and Training in Life Sciences will open a Biomanufacturing Training Facility. Montréal InVivo is a Life Sciences and Health Technologies cluster that includes nearly 600 organizations. Drug discovery company Congruence Therapeutics raised a US$50 million Series A in February 2022 and an additional US$15M in March 2023.
AI, Big Data & Analytics – Montréal is an AI hub, with an estimated 27,000 workers in the field. It is home to the Institute for Data Valorisation, and in 2022, a consortium of research organizations formed an International Research Laboratory on Learning Systems here. Google Canada renewed its collaboration with AI research institute Mila, providing funding and supporting efforts to increase the participation of underrepresented groups. Concordia University launched a new Applied AI Institute in 2022 and the Quantum Frontiers Lab was created.
Fintech – Montréal ranked #1 in Canada in sustainable finance in the most recent Global Green Finance Index 10. A group of Fintechs formed the Canadian Web3 Council to advance Blockchain-related policies that “balance innovation, consumer protection, and stability. Station Fintech Montréal Accelerator helps founders accelerate their growth by introducing them to large corporations, insurance companies, investors, and service providers within the Finance Montreal network.
Cleantech – With more than 200 research organizations and 85,000+ workers, Greater Montreal is a leading CleanTech hub, with sectors of excellence including Agtech, Smart buildings, and Electric and Smart Transportation. Cycle Capital, Canada’s leading private ClimateTech VC investment manages over $0.5B2 in early and growth-stage funds. Newcomer Idealist Capital also secured CA$250M (US$191M) for a new climate impact fund. In 2022, companies like Lithion and Carbicrete closed CA$125M (US$98M) and US$12M respectively in Series A fundings; BrainBox AI secured a US$30M overall in Series A financing.
What are the metrics you care most about when measuring your tech and investment ecosystem and why?
Institutional investors play a significant role in the Montreal startup ecosystem. They provide consistent funding for entrepreneurs regardless of the economic situation, leaving the ecosystem less exposed to economic crises. Montreal is a launchpad for emerging ventures with six of Canada’s 10 most active investment funds here. In 2022, VC investments added up to CA$2.4B across 138 deals.
Foreign direct investments are another good indicator. Non-Quebec investors committed CA$3.58B worth of capital to the area in 2022, according to Montreal International, the region’s agency dedicated to attracting direct foreign investment, international organizations, entrepreneurs, talented workers, and international students. It’s only the second time in history that foreign investment in Montreal’s metropolitan area has surpassed the CA$3B mark, following 2021’s record tally of CA$3.77B.
Are there startups that stand out for you in terms of the innovative solutions that they’ve built?
FemTherapeutics, is a medical device company with a mission to personalize therapeutics for women. The company has developed a data and intelligence platform that leverages artificial intelligence and 3D printing to produce the world’s first category of patient-specific gynecological prosthetics. Built to provide non-invasive solutions for pelvic health conditions, FemTherapeutics’ first product is indicated to manage the symptoms of Pelvic Organ Prolapse and Stress Urinary Incontinence. They have recently raised US$1.9M to support their next stage of product development and regulatory approvals, with the aim of building the first-ever category of custom gynecological prosthetics.
LatenceTech offers a cloud and AI-based monitoring and analytics solution for low-latency connectivity networks such as Private LTE and 5G. They generate active real-time measurements using multiple IP protocols and then perform AI/ML-based advanced analytics to detect anomalies, predict the near future, and perform Root Cause analysis with a focus on latency. They were recently at World Summit AI in Montreal to demo their AI-based real-time anomaly detection, forecasting, and root cause analysis for ultra-low latency networks like 5G and private LTE.
Haply Robotics is developing haptic technology. Their main device, the Inverse3 is the only haptic interface designed to be compact, lightweight, reconfigurable, and completely portable. Wireless tool tracking enables users to move freely through virtual environments, while their quick tool change mechanism allows users to connect VR controllers or replica instruments and tools to leverage Inverse3's unmatched power, precision, and force feedback. They have recently secured a CA$4.8M seed round to develop tactile tech used for surgical training and gamification.
Paper is an educational technology company that partners with school systems to provide an unlimited on-demand Educational Support System (ESS) that offers one-on-one tutoring, coaching on writing skills, college, and career support, AI-powered literacy help, gamified learning, and after-school enrichment. They raised a US$270M Series D in February 2022.
What has been the most challenging part of growing the ecosystem? Is there anything that stands out in terms of obstacles that can get in the way?
Montreal's startup community has grown enormously over the past 10 years. A significant number of startups have been created by local founders. A whole ecosystem has sprung up around them to support and guide them to success. Despite these advances, a number of challenges remain:
- a still small number of startups that achieve growth, or even hyper-growth and internationalization of their businesses
- women and people from cultural communities are not yet sufficiently represented.
Startup Montréal's challenge and mission is to develop the ecosystem's full potential, making it more diversified and more focused on economic and social impact. We also have a mission to make the ecosystem more visible on the international scene: Montréal is still little known for its economic dynamism and its large startup community, both on the world stage and in the rest of Canada.