With artificial intelligence (AI) transforming into a ubiquitous tech buzzword in the past couple of years, Montreal has emerged as a leading AI hub in Canada and globally.
The announcement from Facebook in September that McGill professor Dr. Joelle Pineau would be leading Facebook’s fourth Artificial Intelligence Research Lab (FAIR) (and first research and development investment in Canada) set off a domino effect of similar announcements from Samsung, Stradigi, and RBC Borealis AI.
AI-powerhouse Element AI, which raised a historic a historic $137.5 million Series A last summer and announced the opening of a new AI lab in London, England in January, compiled a report and analysis of the global supply of AI researchers in an effort to better understand the high-demand industry. The report found that Canada has the third largest concentration of AI researchers in the world.
“Given this distinct competitive advantage, Montreal is the perfect place to launch an AI-focused accelerator program and add another important building block to the city’s AI capabilities. Today, Real Ventures, in partnership with Techstars, is thrilled to announce the launch of the Techstars Montreal AI Accelerator, which will bring Techstars’ world-class program to a second Canadian city. This time the focus is on startups that advance the development and application of AI across all industries,” reads the blog post.
Real Ventures partnered with Techstars last year to bring the accelerator program to Toronto. Co-CEO of Techstars David Brown is a born-and-raised, bilingual Montrealer hailing from Outremont. He moved to the United States over 20 years ago because of the lack of opportunity at the time for high tech workers. Things are different today, he said.
“Canada is close to us, it has lots of great entrepreneurs and it’s my citizenship, so it made all kinds of sense. We’re in the business of helping entrepreneurs succeed all around the world,” Brown told MTLinTECH last year.
“We have a very symbiotic relationship with Real Ventures,” he added. “They’ve invested in a lot of companies that have been through Techstars and they have a great program in Montreal. There’s great opportunity in Toronto and we’re really happy to partner.”
Techstars was founded in Boulder in 2006 by David Cohen, Brad Feld, David Brown, and Jared Polis. Today it holds 13-week programs in Boulder and nine other American cities, London, Tel Aviv, Cape Town and Berlin. It’s considered one of the best startup accelerators in the world next to Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator.
Along with “city-driven” accelerators, Techstars also runs sponsor-driven programs, like the Target program in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There, startups benefit from and gain access to corporate companies.
“The addition of the Techstars Montreal AI Accelerator is a significant complementary addition to our ecosystem,” said Hélène Desmarais, Chairman of the Board and CEO, CEIM and Co-Chair of SCALE.AI, Canada’s AI-focused supercluster initiative. “Techstars’ track record of supporting high potential entrepreneurs coupled with Real Ventures’ approach to ecosystem building and deep knowledge of the city’s AI networks, align perfectly with SCALE.AI’s goals to bolster Canada’s leadership in AI, shape a new global supply chain platform and accelerate industry adoption of AI-enabled technologies.”
Real Ventures and Techstars will also be collaborating with existing organizations like Montreal’s Institute For Data Valorization (IVADO) and CDL-Montreal, who will provide additional support from both an academic and business perspective.
“It’s important that the latest developments in artificial intelligence are accessible to the next generation of entrepreneurs so that we can make major positive change in our society,” said Yoshua Bengio, AI pioneer, scientific director of the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), and co-founder of Element AI. “By attracting more talented entrepreneurs to Montreal, the Techstars AI Accelerator can help ensure that the latest AI research is integrated into technologies that are accessible to everyone.”
The program kicks off in September 2018 and will conclude with Demo Day in December during NIPS 2018 in Montreal. Applications are open until May 13, 2018. Startups focused on (but not limited to) the following themes are encouraged to apply:
- Deep Learning, machine learning, reinforcement learning
- The advancement of image recognition and other domain/industry specific applications
- Speech recognition, linguistics and natural language processing (bonus points for multi-lingual systems!)
- IoT / sensor systems and autonomous vehicles / drones
- Predictive analytics and recommendation systems (domain/industry specific applications)
- Diverse application of AI in control systems, agent enablers and cognitive computing
- “Augmenting” human experts across industries including supply chain, advanced manufacturing and robotics; smart mobility, transportation and smart city; cybersecurity, automated vulnerability assessment and intelligent remediation; health and medical advancement, from personalized medicine to genomics data processing; financial modeling, fraud prediction and detection; media creation, production, distribution and monetization.
“Building on our long-standing relationship with Techstars and the positive experience Real Ventures has had in Toronto with the first Techstars Accelerator in Canada, we felt it was vital to bring an AI-focused accelerator program with global reach to Montreal,” said Real Ventures partner, John Stokes. “With Techstars’ reputation and international network, it will be possible to attract extremely high-caliber and globally-minded startups to the ecosystem and create a positive feedback loop that will lead to greater success all round.”
Interested entrepreneurs should check out the Application Toolkit.
The blog post also notes that the newly announced program is also looking for corporate partners who want to double down on AI in Montreal and invest in the ecosystem. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information