After studying economics and marketing in France, Pierre, one of our recent marketing interns, came to us ready to see what was happening “somewhere else.” TandemLaunch was precisely that, especially compared to his last internship with the 5th largest telecom operator in the world (Orange-France Telecom). Since startups are all about new ideas and fresh perspectives, here are his thoughts on Montreal’s startup environment as an outsider.
While some elements of an entrepreneurial ecosystem can be “easily” controlled (like tax credits, event organization, etc.), other elements are more difficult to create (such as culture and the right balance of fresh ideas, technical know-how, and experience). Will Montreal be the next Silicon Valley? Probably not quite as big, but here are some things that make Montreal a dynamic startup hub:
The people: An optimal place for startups requires a base of talented people. Ideally, these people will be from different age groups: young professionals are likely to be dynamic and “eager”, while the experience of more seasoned professionals can provide the foundation that an ecosystem needs. From this perspective, Montreal is one of the best cities in the world. With 4 major universities, Montreal is the number 1 city in North America for per capita university students. It also ranks 5th in North America for its concentration of high-tech jobs. The skilled people needed for a great tech startup ecosystem clearly exist in Montreal. The population also has the added advantages of language and cultural diversity. And it is simply in the DNA of the city that 52% of Montreal residents are bilingual, while 18% speak 3 languages. It also has a lot of highly qualified foreigners: people who come to Canada from other countries ((more than half of TandemLaunch’s staff was born elsewhere) and who have had to learn to be flexible and adaptable (if they weren’t already). They also have insider knowledge of the countries from which they’ve come. This is great for business as people from diverse backgrounds bring different ideas and perspectives that infuse creativity into startups.
The culture: Beyond access to skilled people, there is an ‘effervescence’ in Montreal that can only profit startup developments. The city is cosmopolitan, sharing North American and European culture. This is most obvious in the languages spoken, but that is only the tip of the iceberg; Montreal is culturally in the middle of Europe and North America, which have two very different ways of thinking about business. North America is in general more action and goal oriented; while Europe, especially France, is more concept and process oriented. Montreal benefits from both ways of thinking, which clash by times, but also create great business ideas and strategy.
Start-up culture and community: Startup communities start with a synergy between their people and culture. To be viable, the community needs to be large enough and organized enough to enable partnerships and knowledge exchange. More than in any other form of business, entrepreneurship is as much about finding the right people to work with as having a great idea. I hesitate to use the word “networking,” because the term implies using people to achieve a specific goal. What I really mean is fundamental “relationship building.” My time at TandemLaunch has taught me that relationship building is about creating better collaborations with partners and investors over the long term; aligning interests rather than pushing an agenda. Relationship building takes time, but also depends on getting that first contact. So does Montreal’s community enable that? It’s moving in that direction to be sure. The 1st International Startup Festival in July was a great success with over 1000 attendees, from over 100 cities around the world, more than 40 speakers, and future collaborations being built! Montreal also offers a Start-up camp every year that brings together entrepreneurs, people considering entrepreneurship, start-up employees, investors and others. Most importantly, there are multiple formal and informal occasions to be in touch with these people: Startup Drinks Montreal, Girls Geek Dinner, start-up tour, tech entrepreneur breakfast, student organization founded events, and many other workshops, open-networking events, and pitch events every month. The avenues are there, and people are investing in building them.
Government will: Canada and Quebec’s R&D tax incentives are among the most generous in the world and are especially favourable for small businesses. Each year, the R&D program provides more than $4-billion in tax credits to more than 18,000 claimants, 75% of which are small businesses. This is good news for the tech entrepreneur.
A success story: A success story is inspiring, and makes others think, “hey, I could do that too.” It also builds confidence in the community, and gives free indirect advertisement for the benefits of entrepreneurship. It’s essential (but not sufficient) for the active and future start-up, and for the reputation of the city as a business place, to leverage talented individuals to gain credibility with investors. While Montreal has had several successful startups, like Copernic, it has yet to have a massive success hit the newspaper headlines. But there’s nothing keeping it from happening.
The conditions exist for tech entrepreneurs in Montreal, they just need to do what North Americans do best: keep striving for success.